Thursday, December 15, 2011

What IS The Answer?

A short while ago, I posted yet another story about yet another young person who’d ended their life far too early.  Hours before, I, along with several others, worked feverishly for an hour or so helping another young man who was at-risk and in a very bad place.  Earlier in the day, someone sent me an article about yet another teen who’d ended HIS life too early.  That’s a staggering rate of carnage.  It leaves me to wonder just what IS the answer? 
Is more laws and stiffer penalties for bullying really the answer?  Well, that’s a mixed bag.  On the one hand, yes, it certainly is at least part of the answer.  See, kids today have a sense of carte blanche when it comes to trampling on the emotions of other, more vulnerable youth.  We watch a video of a teenaged thug who waits for his victim at the classroom door and, when his target arrives, proceeds to pummel the poor boy, causing physical damage and unimaginable emotional and psychological harm.  His punishment?  A three-day suspension.  A THREE-DAY SUSPENSION for savagely beating a boy because he is gay.  That’s called first-degree assault.  And, first-degree assault is punishable by years of incarceration.  Yet, lawmakers across the country are hesitant to stiffen the laws to protect these young people from being attacked, be it verbally, emotionally, or physically.  Worse, far too often, the school officials are reluctant to act at all.  One of my favorite quotes came from a year ago and Asher Brown’s bullying and consequent suicide.  His parents were told “if he didn’t act [gay], he wouldn’t be bullied.”  Really?  So, because he acted “like he was gay”, it was alright for him to be bullied?  No charges were pressed against anyone in this case, which is a tragedy in itself.  Certainly, stiffer laws and stronger penalties are needed to protect these young people from attacks.  ”Boys will be boys” is no longer acceptable.  What’s needed is a zero-tolerance policy for bullying or any acts of intolerance and hatred.  But, that’s still not THE answer. 
Are we seeing the results of a media feeding frenzy when it comes to teen-aged suicides?  Quite possibly.  I found it incredibly unnerving when two beautiful 10-year-old girls hanged themselves within two weeks of each other.  It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the thought of a 10-year-old being so distraught that she feels no other recourse but to end her life.  When I was 10, I didn’t even know what suicide was, let alone have a concept of how to commit it.  But, we won’t go there because then we’d have to discuss things like the Wright Brothers, the Model T, and black-and-white televisions.  When I was 10, however, there was no such thing as 24-hour cable news channels (or, CABLE, for that matter), or the Internet.  I didn’t have immediate access to what was going on RIGHT NOW in the world.  I didn’t get to know that a boy in Arkansas shot himself or a girl in Spokane took an overdose of pills.  Suicide, in fact, wasn’t even part of our vernacular.  Today’s youth are inundated with very graphic details about what’s going on in the world, both good and bad.  So, when a very young child hears or reads about another very young child, somewhere in a whole different part of the country or world, being so distraught from being bullied that she ended up taking their very young life, do you not think that that leaves an imprint on that young person’s psyche?  Well, of course it does.  The problem here is that there’s no way to stop the media machine.  They make their living by reporting the news, and unfortunately sex and death, and everything related to both!, sells!!!!!  Although the media machine can’t be controlled, the information received by these young people CAN.  And, that my third point.
I very strongly believe that this war has to be won in the homes first and foremost.  The bullies are, in many if not most cases, learning their behaviors at home.  Some are most likely bullied or abused at home by one or both of their parents or older (or just bigger) siblings.  Some learn their intolerance and hatred from listening to the rhetoric of their intolerant, possibly bigoted parents.  That’s not to make an excuse for either group.  Rather, it’s to underscore the reality that the frontline in this battle is definitely in the home.  Similarly, the at-risk youth need to be re-educated to report any and all acts of bullying and discrimination to a trusted adult, preferably their parents, absolutely must be done.  And, it must be done in the home.  Teachers, and other school administrators, need to be more proactive, and interactive, as opposed to reactive, in the schools.   Conversely, if they're not 100% reactive after an incident has occurred, if they are unwilling to hold the person or people accountable, then they, too, must be held accountable.  Zero tolerance.

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