The statistics are staggering.
Over 13 million kids will be bullied in the United States this year.
Three million students are absent each month because they do not feel safe at school.
With the release of the documentary “Bully” in select theaters across the country, and the accompanying launch of the movie’s website, thebullyproject.com, from where these statistics are drawn, it is clear that Hollywood is trying to shed some light on what has become a growing problem in schools across the country.
However, with the numbers of victims reaching into the millions, it would be, at the least, short-sighted, if not downright silly to think such a nationwide trend is not also a local problem.
As is the hope with the documentary on a broad spectrum, schools — and in some cases, students themselves — are trying locally to bring the problem into sharp focus. Just this week, both Minooka and Morris high schools hosted presentations on the evils of bullying. Earlier this month, it was Saratoga School in Morris doing the same.
The presentations have all taken different forms. Saratoga, during its mid-March presentation, focused on the negativity of the word “retarded” and the need to respect other people, no matter who they are. Minooka High used dramatizations to depict typical bullying situations and how to combat them. Morris High hosted a speaker to discuss cyberbullying, sexting and other technology-based problems that teenagers face.
While the focus was different in each case, the message was singular and clear — bullying other people because they are different than you (or for any other reason) has no place in school, out of school or on the World Wide Web.
We at the Morris Daily Herald applaud these schools, and all others that have somehow addressed the issue of bullying this year, for not taking a Not-In-My-Backyard attitude when it comes to a problem that can have deadly consequences. By realizing there is a problem and facing it head on, these schools are creating an environment where it is clear that such behavior will not be accepted.
It is our hope, however, that these presentations are not an isolated point of discussion. Instead of an hour out of a school day that is soon forgotten, these programs need to become the starting point for a never-ending series of discussions, policies and decisive actions all aimed at allowing students to be themselves, feel safe, and learn all they can learn without worry, nervousness or overarching fear.
We are not, however, putting the pressure only on schools to spread these messages and foster these ideals. We, as a newspaper, are willing to do our part, and we hope schools, students, parents and community members will also willing to do theirs.
As for the MDH, we are already planning, along with several of our sister papers in Shaw Media, to present to our readers a multi-day, multi-story package of information shortly after school resumes in the fall that examines numerous aspects of bullying. The plan is to offer stories that provide insight and perspective from experts, victims and, hopefully, even former bullies themselves.
Our hope for this series — as it is for the recently completed school programs — is that, as a result, people will start talking, recognizing and speaking out against the problem. Parents and, possibly even to a greater degree, students themselves must be at the forefront of this effort.
Students are the ones who are most in contact with their fellow students. While we acknowledge it is difficult, they are the ones who must stand up to their classmates when they see bullying occurring. They are the ones who must stop it, or at least report it. They are the ones who must, among themselves, decide that nobody deserves to be bullied, no matter how different they may be.
And while students are the ones who need to open their mouths, parents need to be opening their eyes and ears. They need to watch for warning signs in their kids and they must be willing to listen — and respond — when their son or daughter has enough courage to finally admit they are being picked on, mistreated or worse.
While this may be a national problem impacting millions of kids, it is never as big of a problem as when it is impacting someone you know, or even more so, someone you love. We all must do our part to stop this national tragedy the best way we can — one child at a time.
The Morris Daily Herald Editorial Board is led by Publisher Gerry Burke and editors Patrick Graziano and Mark Malone. It makes its editorial decisions in consultation with other members of the Herald staff.