Kevin DeSoto wants us to educate our children that all forms of abuse is wrong. And bullying is abuse.
As a society we speak of issues that are difficult to understand or accept with words that are easier to say. So today I am challenging the world to start calling “bullying” by what it really is: abuse.
When I was growing up the word abuse was never used. One always referred to abusive people as bully’s, punks or thugs. That was in the 1970’s and I don’t think we have made much progress since. Progress, instead, comes only from the growing numbers of suicide that we hear about that are a result of bullying.
I cannot say without lying that I never considered suicide when I was growing up. At an early age and on many occasions: While being punched in a locker room, gang-beaten on my paper route, shoved up against a tree and my head pummeled so that clear liquid came out of my ears at school before I passed out. During all of those moments, thoughts would go through my head wondering if death would be better than life.
(Interestingly, after I got out of school and moved away, I never saw those idiots again. If, by chance, I did, I would certainly say something to them. Especially the guy who beat me up and eventually became a police officer in my hometown in California. Nice.)
We condition our children at an early age with the word bully. We say things such as, “he’s just a bully”, or “don’t be a bully” or “just ignore him/her, they are a bully” or “she is a mean girl.” It is my opinion that if we started calling it for what it really is — abuse — and started educating our children at an early age that abuse in all forms is wrong, we would start to see an improvement. Call it what it is — child abuse, emotional abuse, peer-to peer or youth-to-youth abuse, spousal abuse and verbal abuse. Stop conditioning our youth, stop conditioning everyone all the way up to adults, stop saying it is ok to silently accept the passive-aggressive word called “bully.”
You never hear someone say, “My spouse is a bully. He/she beats me and humiliates me and calls me names in private and sometimes in public.” That is clearly abuse. And yet the only difference between adult abuse and youth abuse is age. Same actions, same ammunition, same destructive tools. And sometimes the same sad and tragic results — a person left with low self-esteem and little or no dignity. Or a person gone forever.
Suicide is a serious public health problem that affects even young people. The CDC gives some startling statistics. For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4400 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (46 percent), suffocation (37 percent), and poisoning (8 percent).
Actual deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem. More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 15 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 11 percent reported creating a plan, and 7 percent reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 149,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency rooms across the United States.
Suicide affects all youth, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 84 percent of the deaths were males and 16 percent were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys. Cultural variations in suicide rates also exist, with Native American/Alaskan Native and Hispanic youth having the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the United States found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.
Abuse in all forms is a learned behavior and anything learned can be unlearned. Why then, are we not putting more resources into helping bullies unlearn their abusive behaviors? Do we break up a fight, walk away, hope it won’t happen again? Do we think it’s someone else’s problem to solve? We need to stop thinking of bullying as “just a phase”, or think that with a simple “stop that now” we’ve done our job. We should all have the tools to help bullies understand that their actions are abuse and abuse will not be tolerated. We need to get bullies the help they need before they push someone else to the breaking point. And, likewise, get the victims the help they need before they break.
I challenge everyone who reads this article to please, please share it with a parent, a youth, a teacher, a friend or a co-worker. If you are a school teacher or counselor — share this with your students. Read it to the classroom, ask them what they think, open up the dialog.
One life lost as a result of abuse is too many. Together we can, we must, find a way to help it stop.
photo: stevenfernandez / flickr