We all have seen and heard many stories in the media lately about bullying, cyber-bullying, and suicides of young people following instances of harassment. You may even know families who have been personally affected.
Trenton High School recently hosted a day of presentations on the Anti-Bullying movement, which was created to raise awareness and bring about change.
Angela Siggia, who heads the Counseling Department at Trenton High School, feels strongly about the need for focus on this issue in schools.
“The mission is to help all the schools in the area, not just Trenton,” she said. “There have been a lot of issues nationwide. We want to be proactive and provide awareness.”
National speaker Kevin Epling, author of the book “Bullycide” and an anti-bullying legislation activist, addressed a group of parents at Trenton High School on Oct. 17. A similar presentation was held earlier in the day at an assembly for the students and the staff.
The bullying issue was one of the impetuses behind the creation of Challenge Day at THS in 2008. Challenge Day brings 100 students together for one full school day to create and build connection and empathy and promote compassion and positive change (see related article on Page 11).
Epling became an anti-bullying activist after losing his son, Matt, in 2002. Matt took his own life shortly after a hazing incident in high school in East Lansing. Epling said that he and his wife, Tammy, have dedicated themselves to making sure that no other family goes through what they have.
Epling is an advocate for “Matt’s Law,” which would require every school district in Michigan to have an anti-bullying policy. Currently, Michigan is one of only three states that have not adopted such legislation. The proposed law also would require the development of a common definition of bullying, and emphasizes staff and student training in anti-bullying methods.
The Michigan State Board of Education does, however, have a model anti-bullying policy that schools are encouraged to adopt.
Since the evening’s talk was aimed at parents, Epling spoke about what parents can do.
“Be an advocate for all children, not just your own,” he said. “Talk to your kids about what is going on at school. Parents, schools and law enforcement need to work together.”
Epling wants parents to talk to their kids about bullying and to make it as important as teaching them about “stranger danger,” as they are much more likely to be affected by bullying.
He called for an end to the “ostrich principle” of schools and parents hiding their heads in the sand about the problem. He also encourages parents to talk to their senators about passing Matt’s Law in Michigan.
Epling told the parents in attendance that bullying today may not look the same as when today’s adults were young, citing cyber-bullying as a huge and growing problem. Students being harassed online or via text messages can’t go home to escape. It can happen 24/7. He called cell phones the WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction) of bullying.
He notes that the fact that it is much easier to harass someone when it is not face to face, the impersonal nature of cyber bullying is what makes it so pervasive. Parents need to remind their children that things that are posted or sent electronically cannot be erased.
Epling believes that schools and communities also have a responsibility to reach out to the students who are the bullies. He doesn’t believe in automatically expelling the offenders, but instead to intervene and help, as these students often end up with high drop-out and truancy rates, and well as criminal offenses later in life.
For more information on Epling and the anti-bullying movement, visit www.mattepling.com, and Bully Police USA at www.bullypolice.org.