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May 2016

Bullying

“I cant, im done, I give up,” are the words 15-year-old Felicia Garcia wrote on her twitter on October 22nd, 2012. Two days later, October 24th, she took her own life by jumping in front of a train. Amanda Cummings, also 15, jumped in front of a bus in December 2011. She didn’t survive. In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier hung herself in her closet just a mere three weeks before her 14th birthday. In 2010, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly recorded him having an intimate encounter with another male student. Deandre Bloomfield, 13, received second and third degree burns after his “friend” threw a flaming bottle of perfume at him back in December 2015.

Felicia, Amanda, Megan, Tyler, Deandre, and for each of these names, there are dozens more who are being bullied every day. But wait a minute, weren’t we always taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”? Hasn’t bullying always existed? Aren’t we being a little too over sensitive about the whole thing? After all, kids will be kids, right?

Wrong. It’s not hyperbole at all. Bullying is not a problem; it’s an epidemic. According to bullyingstatistics.org, 30 percent of students are either bullies themselves or victims of bullying. Statistics obtained via National Voices For Equality Education and Enlightenment (NVEEE) show that an estimated 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of being attacked or intimidated by other students. In a 2015 study comparing the best and worst states at controlling bullying, WalletHub declared, “In the next 7 minutes, a child in the U.S. will be bullied…only four out of 100 adults will step in to stop it. And only 11 percent of the child’s peers might do the same. The rest — 85 percent — will do nothing.”

In addition to the long-lasting emotional and psychological effects that bullying can have on an individual, such as growing up to be socially anxious, lacking self-esteem, and requiring more mental health services throughout their life, bullying also takes a financial toll on schools. WalleHub’s report finds that “The average public school can incur more than $2.3 million in lost funding and expenses as a result of suspensions, expulsions, vandalism, alternative placement and lower attendance.”

Out of the 42 states from which data was compiled, WalletHub found these results: Missouri, Michigan, Idaho, North Dakota, and Montana had the highest percentage of high school students bullied on school property, while the states with the highest percentage of high school students bullied online were Montana, New Hampshire, Idaho, Michigan, and Maine. Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, and Louisiana had the highest percentage of high school students who missed school due to feeling unsafe, and North Dakota, Illinois, Louisiana, District of Columbia, and Rhode Island ranked highest in percentage of high school students who have attempted suicide. Finally, while a majority of states across the U.S. have anti-bullying laws and anti-bullying policies, states such as Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Arizona, Texas, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Tennessee have only anti-bullying laws or anti-bullying policies. Not both.

But clearly anti-bullying laws and policies are not enough as even those states who have both laws and policies in place – District of Columbia and Rhode Island for example – still are among those with the highest percentage of students attempting suicide. Even with all the research – and there is a plethora on the web – dedicated to studying bullying, we still haven’t found a way to solve the problem. Perhaps we should start with asking ourselves why and how bullying has evolved from the days of simply being teased on the playground to the vicious and repetitive nature of cyberbullying that is plaguing today’s youths.

Clearly, technology has played an integral role. The more advanced we become, the easier it is for kids and teens to retreat into the anonymous and superficial world of social media. Think about it. How can we expect children and teenagers, whose cognitive skills are not even fully developed, to really understand the consequences of their actions when what is being drilled into their brains is the more likes they get and the more followers they have, the more popular they are? At least when we were their age, we could get a reprieve. There was no way for the bullies to get to us once the school day was over, unless they knew where we resided. That isn’t the case today. Being connected all the time means there is no way to escape the harassment. It could come in the form of a text, an e-mail, a Facebook post, a message on Facebook, a tweet, etc. It almost makes you wonder if pre-teens and teens know how to make a real connection without the inclusion of cellphones and laptops. How can they really get to know someone if they’re so focused on the barrage of incoming messages they’re getting? How can they gauge someone else’s emotions if they’re not looking at them face-to-face?

That is what Rock ‘Em Not Sock ‘Em would like to change, the way kids relate to each other. Now, it would feel a little too sensational to classify all bullies as inherently bad people. In fact, many bullies have been victims of bullying themselves, either by fellow classmates or in their own homes. Bullies are not inherently bad people. But they are people who feel that they need to put others down in order to get ahead in life. And that won’t change unless or until we as a society work together to change it. So, how do we do that?

Well, what about rock climbing? Admittedly, bullying and rock climbing probably seem like they are two separate threads. What does one have to do with the other, right? How can we stitch the two threads together to create a beautiful fabric? Consider the wall to be a metaphor for life. There’s many climbers all trying to reach the top, and here’s the thing: we can all reach the top. It’s a wide enough space for everyone. We don’t have to climb over anyone to get to our destination. We can climb the wall together and encourage each other. We can feel pride not only when we make it to the top, but when our friends do as well. We can learn to be present in the moment without needing to take a selfie or put it on Instagram or Snapchat to memorialize it. We can follow others up the wall without being called a copycat. Or we can forge our own paths