National News, General

The debate about bullying and mental health

Note: The following was originally published by Univision
Across the United States, there is a concerning uptick in bullying incidents. Videos ranging from racial slurs to physical attacks are going viral, making it clear that it’s time for parents and school administrators to take action.

Recently, cases in Tennessee, Nevada, Minnesota and Florida have sparked debate on bullying and its long lasting effects on the mental health of our children.
After a video of a student in Osceola County, Florida being punched from behind received millions of views, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on the importance of protecting our youth’s mental health.
According to the advisory, “since the pandemic began, rates of psychological distress among young people, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, have increased.”

These unaddressed issues are leading to physical altercations and troublesome events that need broad and general intervention from parents, students, faculty and staff. These incidents not only require a medical obligation to act now; but also society’s moral obligation.
I have had the privilege to work with families in an educational capacity for the better part of six years now, and in my experience, families are affected by bullying more often than reported.
As a matter of fact, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) says that one in every five students report being bullied in school. Only 46% of bullied students ages 12-18 notified an adult.

Furthermore, the NCES found race-related bullying is significantly associated with negative emotional and physical health effects, especially for the 23% of African-American students and 16% of Hispanic students who reported being victims of school bullying.
I have encountered parents and children that have been disregarded although serious bullying, harassment, or intimidation had been reported. Take Carmen Lopez, for example, whose son was bullied for being overweight. When brought to the attention of teachers and principals, the incidents were swept under the rug, forcing Carmen to seek new educational opportunities for her boy.

The truth is the covid-19 pandemic has forced parents to take a more active role in the educational experience of their kids. Schooling is now front and center throughout our nations kitchen tables, and parents are now faced with the realization that they need more empowerment over their children’s education.
The pandemic, coupled with teachers unions peddling their own agenda, has led to millions of furious parents voicing their opinions about curriculum at school boards, droves of parents desperate for individual student funding, not institutional funding, and a growing movement of parents seeking school choice options— no matter race, age or economic status.
Research shows that students attending institutions with school choice programs are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as bullying, drug use, fighting and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting these school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students affording them access to high-quality education that meets their unique needs and circumstances.
Knowledge is power, and in an era of easy access to information, parents of bullied children can now equip themselves with the necessary tools for understanding their rights. It is a school’s obligation to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate any report of bullying. All parties must be interviewed and documentation should be filed. And consequences or disciplinary action must also be taken.

Bullying and harassment is an ill that our society must face head-on with proactive steps to ensure the educational, emotional and mental wellbeing of children is always at the forefront. Raising awareness, and teaching acceptance and inclusion are just some of the prevention solutions to this mounting problem. However, stopping this scourge in our current society will take embracing our differences and restoring parental freedom over our children’s educational opportunities.
( Valeria Gurr serves as director of external affairs relations for the American Federation for Children.)


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