The events of the week have prompted me to revisit a paper and presentation I prepared during my Masters program at Gonzaga. The topic was “bullying in schools.” The project, prompted at the time by the horrific burns of a teen boy who was set on fire by others in FL, was a passionate pursuit as a mother, friend, human to answer the question, “How have we gotten here?” I believe the incomprehensible shootings in Tucson, AZ this week have us asking it again.
Safe Schools Coalition reports that students who are subjected to bullying are more likely to carry weapons to school, binge drink, use drugs heavily, take sexual risks and think about or plan suicide (Safe Schools Coalition, 2007). The targeted students suffer physically, emotionally and mentally and are shown to be less likely to finish school or hold jobs later in life (Safe Schools Coalition, 2007).
In order to address this serious issue, we have to honestly take a look at our own lives first…even if we ourselves are indicted in the process. “What? Me? I’m not a bully. I think it’s terrible!” Good, that’s a start, but what have we allowed in our own homes, schools, businesses, churches (gasp! you can’t go there…sorry, especially here), communities?
I do not believe that bullying exists in a vacuum or that it is an isolated attitude or behavior. Rather, bullying is rooted in prejudice and stereotyping and it begins with labeling. We must take a stand against all forms of bullying in order to stop violence in schools, in our communities. That change needs to start with parents, leaders, faculty, student leaders, our own families if we hope to see a change in this world.
Brenda Allen in her book, Difference Matters, Communicating Social Identity, states that “once a person is labeled (e.g. as ‘gifted and talented’ or as ‘developmentally challenged’), that individual’s identity becomes fixed, and the label can forever have positive or negative impacts” (Allen, 2004, p.27).
Do we really believe we have that much power?
If we listen to ourselves and how we label things, how we communicate, what words we choose to describe things we don’t like…we just might hear a few things that are alarming! Better yet, listen to what your little ones are saying and you’ll know exactly how you speak at home. Nothing like a three-year old to ensure some humility!
Being the mom of teens, one of my least favorite terms that had its day was “retarded.” That word was used to describe everything from a dance move, shirt food, television show and nearly everything else between. As a former therapist, I quietly breathed a prayer of thanks when that word lost its savor. Now they are compelled to utter “gay” as the current adjective of choice. Sigh…it’s a process. We continue to work on the language of all us at home!
But that leads me to my point. We have to recognize the great power to build or destroy that comes with our communication…and we must commit to use it with care and love!
Be aware of how you speak, label, communicate. Mind your words and I believe that is the first step to curbing bullying. Maybe there is something to the golden rule after all.
If you’re still unsure, have a three-year old around for a bit….they’ll teach you everything you need to know about your language!