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Letter: Bullying: Tackling a Tough Problem

A special thank you to the parent who chose to tell her child’s story of being bullied on this editorial page and to Pat Grace for publishing it anonymously. Those decisions have ignited a conversation about the problem of bullying in our community that was discussed with great concern at our SCA Parent Council meetings last week. Everyone has a story and you can hear the pain.

Bullying is incredibly difficult to talk about honestly in a public arena. The fear of retribution, isolation and lack of compassion from children and adults keeps victims quiet and the bullies in denial and empowered. Bullying is a tough problem, but one that must be tackled. So we must all step forward and continue this healing dialogue.

Everyone has a responsibility—not just the victims and bullies. Bystanders must ensure that victims are protected and bullying behavior is rejected. This is the most important lesson we can teach our children. They must be taught not only the skills and strength to stick up for themselves, but also to defend others.

Never should children put themselves in harm’s way. But we should teach them to report what’s happening and get help from an adult when needed.

There are many forms of bullying, some easier to identify than others. We must educate our children both at home and in the school to understand the subtleties of bullying that goes on under the radar of adults. Physical aggression is obvious. But adults need to heighten their awareness and not accept behaviors such as gossiping, teasing, exclusion and cliques as innocent or a right-of-passage. We all must recognize the seriousness of scars caused by bullying that goes unchecked.

It is imperative that all children be taught strategies to help them. This way when they see someone being mistreated in any way, they are empowered to make it clear to the offender that they will not participate and that it’s not socially acceptable. Standing up to your peers is no easy task, so parents and educators should encourage, support and reward a bystander’s intervention as one of the most noble acts of humanity.

Victims should not be solely responsible for defending themselves. How do you defend yourself from talk going on behind your back or being intentionally left out? When confronted, most bullies will dismiss their bad behavior as a joke or misunderstood, and many parents are in denial. But the problem should not be ignored because it is equally important to identify why a child is bullying others.

If bullies and their parents begin to understand that their harmful behavior won’t be tolerated; if we embrace victims with compassion and acceptance rather than look the other way; if we stand up for what is right for all, rather than just ourselves—then we will be teaching our children and ourselves what it means to be a good citizen.

Lisa Manning Siconolfi