The fall chill is in the air, albeit earlier than most of us had hoped. The hustle and bustle of school is upon us. Even for those of us without school-aged children, there's just no way to ignore the signs - the school buses, the busy crosswalks, and the packs of kids moving from one bus zone to another.
During what should be a fun, carefree time, heading back to school is not necessarily easy. Students are faced with the societal demands of peer pressure, growing up, and blending in. For students who have experienced harassment and bullying, back to school is not just the routine marking of one seasons end and the beginning of another.
For any student perceived as different, an otherwise welcoming school can turn into a hostile place filled with menacing peers. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, school is often a source of great pain and difficulty.
A recent report from the American Psychological Association stated that nine out 10 LGBT students experience harassment, which was the main contributor to the higher school drop-out rate among LGBT students.
As concerned adults, it is our job to recognize signs of harassment and bullying, and to check in with the young people in our lives.
For a variety of reasons, half of bullied students don’t report it to their parents, guardians, teachers or another safe adult. Bullying is repeated acts of physical, emotional or social behavior intentionally designed to control or hurt a peer. Changes in eating/sleeping patterns, refusing to go to school, and reporting toys and other belongings as lost can all be red flags of possible bullying.
The bottom line is that school bullying is a problem that requires adult intervention. Unstopped, bullying can lead students to perform poorly in school, to drop out, and to attempt or complete suicide.
LGBT students often report hearing derogatory phrases at school such as “That’s so gay.” Left unchecked, this behavior can contribute to increased bullying and hate motivated violence.
Since students spend the majority of their time at school, there should continue to be opportunities for teaching tolerance across differences. Student organized and led gay/straight alliances (GSAs), diversity groups and regular teacher and student training can go a long way in advancing safety for everyone.
Statistics show that a high percentage of childhood bullies are charged with more egregious crimes by age 25. Childhood bullies need support and training to help learn more effective conflict resolution and anger management skills. While this level of support and training is often more time consuming upfront, the long-term results are well worth the effort.
The social costs and long-term implications of uneducated young people is too high. We should work to reduce dropout rates by ensuring that every student has the opportunity, mentoring and support to access a safe and welcoming educational environment.
In addition, schools are representative of students’ future workplaces and society at large. Whether it is a family member, a schoolmate, or a work colleague, everyone will, at one time or another, have to interact with someone different.
By offering students the opportunity to learn diversity skills in a structured environment, schools are ensuring that we have a capable and prepared future workforce.
For more information about bullying prevention, visit the Safe Schools Coalition at www.safeschoolscoalition.org.
Seth Kirby of Olympia is a proud member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. He is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.