Getting to the heart of the problem of school bullying

In the weeks since school started, I've noticed an increase in incidents of bullying and aggression in my role as a mentor at the Magnolia Community Center. Having brought up this topic in the past, I now feel compelled to once again bring this problem to light.

Since school started in September, I have witnessed almost every day some form of aggression between students. Some students have disclosed to me things that they have done to other students, as well as what other students have done to them. It is not uncommon to hear among boys such epithets as "bastard," "fag," "gay," "idiot" and "stupid," and "bitch" and "slut" used among girls. These words are being exchanged not just by teens but among kids at elementary-school age.

When no adult is present, boys and girls will get into physical fights. I've witnessed these situations brewing and have stepped in before things could go anywhere; there also are times when fights have escalated and I only hear about them later.

Some folks will say that there has always been fighting among youth, that this is typical and normal behavior. "Adversity is great, it's how we learn." I agree that adversity is important, but what these kids are going through is not strictly adversity; it is abuse. It might be shocking to think of it in this way, but this is how serious this issue is. Students call each other names, saying it is just fun, but nobody sees what happens when those kids leave the scene with tears in their eyes about what someone called them.

Often when someone is bullied, they go to find someone else down the so-called social ladder from them, and bully that person. This sequence goes on until it arrives at the end of the line. Every youth is involved in bullying in some way, even if they are only witnessing it happen. The ones that don't participate in aggression are scared to speak up, and telling an adult often results in yet more abuse from the perpetrator.

In just the past week and a half, there was a fight between a girl and a guy as well as a large confrontation between two different groups. Not a day has gone by when I haven't overheard some sort of hurtful comment between youth.

The past few weeks have seen school shootings, including the shooting in Lancaster County, at an Amish school. School and government administrators are struggling to come up with solutions to make schools safer, to ensure that students will be able to get an education without fear of a classmate coming to school with a gun. Some schools are enforcing a "no tolerance" policy toward firearms, and some even employ police officers to patrol the hallways.

These solutions, however, do not get to the heart of the problem-they don't even come close. We can sit and argue all day about the constitutional right to bear arms, or try to enforce no tolerance policies, but these gestures do not truly address the crisis.

If anybody took the time to talk to one of the kids who has shot up a school, if they took even an hour trying to see what was going on in that kid's life, the solution would become obvious. The reason for such violence is that these kids are lonely and alienated, they are hurting, they have reached a perceived dead end in their life. These youth see no way out, and they believe nobody in the world cares for them. In their mind they don't matter, and neither does anyone else.

The only true and good solution to prevent school shootings is to be involved in kids' lives. If you are a parent, make sure you know your kids: spend time with them and  create a meaningful relationship with them. If you aren't a parent, you can attempt to get to know the kids around you; try to find just one youth to build a relationship with.

If every youth has some caring, positive adult in his or her life, there would be less bullying, less aggression and, I believe, school shootings would be virtually eliminated.

Ashley Marshall works as a teen mentor at the Magnolia Community Center. She can be reached at[[In-content Ad]]