Every parent hopes their child is never involved in an incident such as the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, but these types of incidents aren’t the only safety concerns in our schools.
Last week at Morgantown High School, an apparent bullying situation escalated to a stabbing. The 14-year-old who allegedly stabbed a 17-year-old acted out after the 17-year-old attacked him first. The issue is much larger than school safety—it’s an issue of bullying.
Many people dismiss bullying because they feel like it’s not an actual threat in our schools, but the fact is bullying is a reality here in Morgantown and other schools around the country. It’s estimated that 42 percent of kids have been bullied while online with one in four being attacked verbally more than once, and 77 percent of students have admitted to being the victim of one type of bullying or another. This is a problem because bullying can threaten students’ physical and emotional safety at school and can negatively impact. Recently, West Virginia received a warning from the federal government about school bullying. A recent federal government survey of WV High School students found that 23 percent of students had been a victim of bullying in the last year. This is one of the highest percentages of high schoolers in the country.
“I think bullying is always a problem,” admitted Morgantown High School student Olivia VanHorn. “I, personally, have not encountered too many terrible acts of bullying, but I do know that it’s a problem every day and kids experience it often, and it sadly goes unnoticed. The first thing I think of is the stabbing incident at MHS last Wednesday. That began as bullying and obviously spiraled out of control. ”
While this most recent incident seems to be a result of verbal abuse, it’s not the only way bullying can happen at MHS. Social media is one of the fastest growing ways the world communicates, and it has given rise to the one of the fastest growing concerns among students—cyberbullying. I recently stumbled upon the @MHSproblems Twitter account. The anonymously ran account hasn’t been active since May of 2012, but some of the tweets contain some pretty harsh language, and are clearly directed at certain individuals including teachers. It’s just one example of how social media is being used to lash out at others.
“I’m absolutely stunned when I look through this Twitter account,” said VanHorn. I can’t believe that someone would actually spend time to make those tweets. I think bullying is definitely more prevalent now because of the popularity of social media. The act of “subtweeting” allows people to lash out against others who have hurt them in some way or have insulted them, so they retaliate publicly escalating the situation.”
So can we stop bullying in our schools?
Stopping bullying in schools will prove to be to be difficult, but it’s worth the fight to prevent future situations like this stabbing from happening. There are a few things schools can to do to help build a safe environment:
• Assess Bullying in Your School. You may not think bullying is a problem in your school but distributing a simple bullying survey to your students can help your institution gain some insight on how much bullying is affecting learning at your school.
• Create Policies and Rules. Rules and consequences to breaking those rules can be a huge deterrent for bullies. This doesn’t always mean it will stop bullying entirely, but it does help. Morgantown High School does have bullying policies in place, and they offer a variety of helpful tips on their website for students about bullying. Ironically, there’s only a small section on bullying under the behavior section of the Monongalia County Schools Handbook. On page 26, the handbook mentions good and bad behavior. Bullying is simply listed as a type of unacceptable behavior, but the definition and consequences seem vague in the handbook.
“Schools need to build a trustworthy environment where students feel comfortable letting others know what’s happening to them,” said VanHorn. “I think one of the biggest issues with bullying is students not feeling comfortable telling others what’s going on.”
• Actively Talk to Your Child About Bullying. Many children, especially older children are embarrassed by being bullied land are less likely to consult a parent or adult on the issue. Parents can be proactive by paying attention to their child’s behavior and asking questions. Additionally, parents can teach their child at a young age that violence is not the way to solve problems.
“I think it often goes unnoticed,” explained VanHorn. “Many kids who are bullied keep what’s happening to them bottled up inside and don’t feel comfortable talking to adults about what is happening to them. I think that is a huge problem. We need to make kids feel more comfortable talking to adults about what’s going on and taking steps towards getting them help.”
Bullying may never be completely eradicated, but by being proactive, the amount of bullying can definitely be reduced.