Somebody asked me the other day, “What is wrong with kids these days?” They had seen on the news a story about some kids relentlessly bullying another kid on the school bus. As an educator, I get asked this question a lot. I work with an organization called Safe School Ambassadors as a Bully Prevention Specialist and travel the nation teaching bully prevention to elementary, middle and high schools. I have seen it all. From verbal mistreatment to physical mistreatment. From suicide to homicide. When we imagine our students going to school everyday, it is important to know most of them are walking into a battlefield. It is plaguing students across the country on daily basis. In fact, bullying is now a national epidemic.
The most common current definition of bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. It appears to me that we now have a definition for something that has existed for ages; we just have a name, an age group and a box to put it in. It is a behavior that is modeled by people of all ages; yet, the emphasis seems to be on the young. What about everybody else? Notice that even in the current definition of bullying it addresses school aged children only. Here is where I invite our society to take a different look at bullying.
These generations of young people are simply a reflection of our society and us. Young people are like sponges; they soak up all that is around them and use what they observe as guidance on how to navigate in this world. What if we really looked closely and took responsibility for who we are as a society? What are we really offering in terms of modeling empathy? Are we treating others with respect? Are we kind to one another? Instead of looking outward at who did what to whom, lets look inward at how we contribute to this epidemic.
We have become accustomed and desensitized to news full of violence and negative stories. Movies that make the most money at the box office are usually violent. Video games that are the most appealing involve killing people with guns for points. Politics is about making the other person look bad to show who has the most power. Reality T.V. shows are the most popular when they have drama, verbal fighting, disrespect and competition.
People will say to me, “It was not like this when I was growing up.” No it wasn’t. It was a different day and time and it is crucial that we take this into consideration. We cannot expect this current generation to be the same as us. We live in a society where we say kids should be kids yet we expect them to act like adults but we don’t give them the tools to do so. They simply need guidance.
“The children are the future” is a common cliché and I realize that even this article is a redundant conversation. If it is redundant that is because we know what the problem is but we don’t focus enough on the solutions. We need to truly recognize that this generation is literally our future. Do we want to continue to look the other way or do we want to be a part of the positive change? Therefore, what can we do on a daily basis to break this cycle of mistreatment?
Take small steps. Perhaps volunteer at a school or community recreation center. Attend a school board meeting and learn what is going on at your local school. Pay attention to what laws are available in terms of school safety and help raise awareness to them. Learn about what the anti-bullying rules are at your child’s school. Review them with your family. Ask your children what bullying looks like at their school. Research what your state’s requires schools to do in the state’s anti-bullying law. Educate yourself about federal laws that require schools to address harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, and disabilities and ways to report situations that have not been adequately addressed to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. (www.stopbullying.gov)
Most of all, don’t underestimate the power of one. When an individual chooses to walk in peace and compassion, they influence those around them to be peaceful and it becomes a ripple effect. Practice empathy and model mindfulness so your influence can support a healthier environment for children. “When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” Stephan Covey
Focus more attentively on what society is supplying to our youth. Next time you hear a story in the news about a child being a part of a violent crime, take a few seconds to consider what violence that child may have personally experienced and/or witnessed him or herself. If you hear of a child bullying another child, take time to wonder if that child comes from an abusive home and is repeating the cycle. Consider compassion and understanding to the challenges young people face on a daily basis.
So, back to the question, “What is wrong with kids these days?” My answer is, “What is wrong with our society these days?” It is time for us to recognize the negativity and violence we are exposing our children to. It is time for us to stop expecting them to not be violent amongst us. We have a responsibility to the youth of our society and we are letting them down. Let’s be the change we wish to see in the world for our young people. Let’s make kindness the social norm. Our kids are counting on us.
Take action now by signing the Help Stop Bullying: Pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act petition:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
TISHA MARINA BERNARD has a Master’s Degree in Human Development with an emphasis on Social Change & Human Services. She is the founder of the I Choose Peace Academy, whose educational mission is to empower young leaders with the courage, compassion, and leadership skills to create peace within themselves and their peers.
As a bully prevention specialist, Tisha has worked with hundreds of schools across the nation to help create a safe school environment. She is also the recipient of the 2009 Season for Non-Violence Local Hero Award from the Common Peace Center for the Advancement of Non-Violence.
An avid hooper and featured artist in the documentary The Hooping Life, she also uses dance and dance education as a vehicle for social change. More information on her work can be found at www.choosingpeace.org.