The smell of fall is in the air, and for parents, it’s a busy time of buying back-to-school supplies and gearing up for early morning sports practice. As our children prepare for a year of learning inside and outside the classroom, we urge parents to talk with their kids about tolerance.
It’s a topic that’s been on the minds of many lately. Our country celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I had a dream” speech and the March on Washington last week.
Within our own community, after a gay pride flag was asked to be removed in Eastsound, discrimination and intolerance have been discussed at length. For an update on that story, go here.
Some of us learn that differences are what make the world such a thrilling, rewarding place. But the islands are not immune to prejudice and bullying. It happens in our schools and it happens in our community.
When students are involved in harassment, they often play more than one role – they can be the bully, the victim or a witness. And it can happen in person or over the internet via social media.
When students are teased, ridiculed or excluded, they are more vulnerable to depression, drug use, dangerous relationships and poor grades.
Conversely, those who are bullies often engage in risky behavior well into adulthood.
According to www.stopbullying.gov, children who are bullied can have one or more of the following risk factors:
• Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford the stuff that kids consider “cool”
• Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
• Are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
• Are less popular than others and have few friends
• Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention
In addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth and children with disabilities are at an increased risk of being harassed.
It is important to nurture a safe environment for all of our youth. Kids thrive when they feel supported. Bullying cannot be tolerated. We can’t allow it to become part of our social culture.
That means parents and students need to speak up. Help kids understand bullying. Talk about what it is and how to stand up to it safely.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
If we can teach our children open-mindedness, we have succeeded as parents, community members and educators.
For information and resources about bullying, visit www.stopbullying.gov