By Cameron Keegan
At this very moment, every teenager in America possesses a deadly weapon. In fact, I’m almost positive all of you have it. Maybe you today left it at home. Maybe, you have instant access to it right now. I am, of course, talking about the internet, the number one enabler to teen suicides today. Currently, valuable and priceless, innocent lives full of potential have had all of their energy and enthusiasm relentlessly whittled down by bullying from their peers.
Let’s think about all the issues we currently face today. We all have problems, personal ones and ones within our families. Then we have issues in our communities, nations, and even larger ones like the education reform, global economic meltdown, climate change, corruption, HIV/AIDS, epidemic disease; the list goes on and on. Unlike an epidemic, we not only are able to quarantine bullying, but we are obligated to do so not only for the well-being of our youth, but for the future, before this issue gets even more out of hand.
One question that comes to mind, of course, is if something this innate and natural to human beings (especially those immature) has always happened, why now has it worsened? The answer, as I’ve stated before, lies within the access to the internet. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Formspring, and many others have let the bullying prevail even after the afternoon bell has rung, creating a deadly relentlessness that has America’s youth second guessing themselves every step of the way. Here is a prime example: Phoebe Prince, a 13-year-old Irish girl moves to Massachusetts where she immediately starts dating a popular football player. Other girls absolutely hated her, for no apparent reason. Her picture was crossed out in student-body posters, sexual slurs of “You Irish whore” were flung left and right throughout the halls, and energy drinks were hurled at her. And, thanks to the ever-popular “Facebook”, the abuse didn’t stop when she got home from school. January 14th, 2010 marks the date she came home from school, and hung herself from the rafters of her home with the scarf her sister gave her for Christmas. Her bullies? They proceeded to log on Facebook and only dehumanize her further by mocking her death. Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in New York, threw himself over the George Washington Bridge after his homophobic roommate posted a video of him kissing another man on YouTube. Seth Walsh, who liked Pokémon, dance music, and reading the bible, hung himself in his backyard at only 13 years of age, because he was relentlessly tormented for being gay. And occurrences like these have also popped up in Houston, Texas, Greensburg, Indiana, and Tehachapi, California. The current state of bullying in America? Horrifying. 160,000 students miss school every single day because they are afraid of being physically attacked by their peers. There are approximately 2.1 million bullies in the U.S. and 2.7 million victims. 1 out of 20 students has seen one of his or her classmates bring a gun to school. 90% of 4th through 8th graders have been victims of bullying. 46% of males have reported being in fights. That’s nearly half. Violence is clearly a problem when half of all males are fighting. Ask yourself, what’s going to happen when they grow up?
This day and age, almost every, if not all schools in this nation at least have policies against bullying. That’s mostly because state legislation have passed bills that declare schools must have anti-bullying laws. What many schools lack, however, is real-life, practical solutions to bullying, not just inconsistently enforced policies. Research shows that these programs can cut bullying by 50%, or in some cases, even more. To do so, the whole school must be involved, raising awareness about the issue, increasing supervision from teachers and faculty, providing firm, fair, and clear school-wide consistently enforced policies, and offering intervention and protection to their student body. One New York elementary school went from having lines outside the principal’s office of kids who were being tormented to creating a one hundred percent bully free school by the implementation of after-school detention, a peer-mediation program, and the “Don’t Laugh at Me” program in which students address all of their concerns about the subject in a “Constitution of Caring” that has the signatures of all the students.
I’ve seen a lot of bullying in my lifetime. However, I’m extremely fortunate that I have never had to take part in or witness a case such as Phoebe Prince, Seth Walsh, or Tyler Clementi. In our modern refined era we call the twenty-first century, we have phones that talk to us and the ability to perform medical miracles. Why then is our “innocent” youth treating each other with so much hostility and inhumanity like animals?
Mahatma Gandhi once said “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent”. The violence done unto Phoebe: permanent. The violence done unto Tyler: permanent. The violence done unto Seth: permanent. The current state of bullying: not permanent, however. Today is the time for us to intervene, as we are obligated to break this cycle. Our youth, our generation, will grow up to face some of the toughest global issues humanity has ever faced: worsening climate change, the increasing poverty level, overpopulation, unsustainable economics, political fragmentation and revolt, and terrorism, just to name a few. The absolute last thing we want our generation to think is that they aren’t good enough; that they cannot lead our world out of the hole we have dug ourselves. So please, for the sake of Tyler, Seth, Phoebe, the and for the countless other suicide incidents this nation has faced, for the countless other teens across America contemplating it right now, and of course for the future of our youth and our world; intervene.