Teens in Crisis: Combating Teen Violence
This week marked another tragedy in the U.S. schools when a 17-year-old student in Nebraska fatally shot his school’s assistant principal and wounded the principal before taking his own life. Apparently the young man had posted a rant on Facebook the morning of the shooting warning of the “evil” things he did and blamed the school for leading him to violence. It seems that more and more we are hearing about American youth in crisis who take their own lives or the lives of others. Last October, MSNBC reported on a surge in teen suicides due to anti-gay harassment. Phoebe Prince took her life last year after fellow students tormented her with bullying text messages and Facebook posts. Eleven-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself after kids at school teased him relentlessly calling him “gay.” His mother pleaded with the school to intervene, but no action was taken. It’s truly heartbreaking to see teens in crisis turn to violence against themselves or others.
What Does Bullying Look Like?
The U.S. has some pretty alarming statistics on bullying. Thirty percent of students in grades 6-10 are involved in bullying, on either side, and on playgrounds a child is bullied every seven minutes with virtually no intervention. In fact peers intervene more than adults do at a rate of 11% over 4%. Pacer Teens Against Bullying has a fantastic website geared towards teens to help them identify and respond to bullying. While the look and feel of the site is for a teen audience, the content is helpful for parents to better understand bullying and how to help their kids with it. Stop Bullying Now uses a cast of animated characters in a series of webisodes and games to help kids better understand bullying and how to handle it. This site is geared more towards kids and tweens. There is also a section for parents with resources on awareness, intervention and prevention. The section of tip sheets has information for any adult who interacts with kids from parents to teachers to law enforcement.
With the surge in social media and the popularity of text messaging, a whole new world of bullying has opened up called cyberbullying. As in the case of Phoebe Prince classmates used technology to bully the young teen. Threatening messages, taunting, and even something called sexting where sexual images and messages are sent via cell phones or other media are all forms of cyberbullying. Be Web Aware is a great resource to learn about what your kids do online. In addition to defining the technology and the challenges associated with it, this site offers safety tips by age and an e-Parenting Tutorial to become more cyber-savvy. Web Wise Kids offers a series of detective-style games to help your kids learn about Internet safety as well as a report on putting an end to cyberbullying with information on how to purchase their cyberbullying prevention and response kit. Finally, NetSmartz from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides tips and information in a workshop format for kids, tweens, teens, parents, educators and law enforcement with the goal of keeping kids safe both on- and offline.
How Can We Help?
Identifying and naming the problem seems to be the first step. No longer can the excuse of “it’s just kids being kids” suffice when the stakes are so high. Rachel Simmons is an author, educator and coach who has taken the subject of girl bullying to new levels. Before Simmons’ research that led to her acclaimed book, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (if you have a daughter then this is a must-read), there was virtually no information on female bullying or psychological aggression in girls, which typically is very different from male bullying. Simmons’ site has some terrific blog entries and videos about bullying and how parents can effectively work with their kids and the schools to intervene.
Challenge Day is an incredibly powerful program that helps kids break boundaries, stereotypes, and walls that cause intolerance and indifference so that all children can grow up in a world where they feel safe and loved. The videos on this site that capture the resulting transformations that occur at Challenge Days are incredibly moving and you can find out how to bring Challenge Day to your child’s school. Kids at Hope is another program that can be brought into schools and youth organizations to help kids overcome anger and aggression through the concept that every child is capable of success without exception.
STRYVE from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a goal of reducing youth violence in all of its forms from bullying to gang activity. The site has some helpful online tutorials for adults and information on prevention. To keep kids safe from being a target of violence or from committing acts of violence, the United States Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs has a good list of resources to curb youth violence.