Last week, I conducted a remarkable and far-reaching telephone town hall meeting that connected me with over 15,000 constituents to discuss the very urgent problem of bullying. We presented national and state education experts, digital media representatives and counselors who deal with this problem every day.
But nothing was as moving as the personal and sometimes painful stories shared by the young listeners who called in.
Their stories confirmed that many young people, more than adults realize, are truly at risk, and it’s obvious that the problem is growing.
We have all heard the terrible news reports over the last year of young people who were driven to suicide because no one, either at home or at school, put a stop to the bullying.
According to a major national study just released by the Pew Research Center:
Twenty percent of American teens have been bullied in the past year…either in-person; on-line; by text message; or by phone. That represents over three million young Americans who have been bullied this year. Up to half of them report being repeatedly bullied on-line, usually via a social networking site.
That’s why all levels of government need to work more closely with major social network sites like Facebook and Twitter to act quickly when threatening pages and messages first appear.
In Congress, I’ve cosponsored the Anti-Bullying and Harassment Act of 2011. The legislation would require states to use grants for safe and drug-free schools to collect and report information on the incidence of bullying and harassment, and to prevent and respond to incidents without delay. The act also establishes procedures for students and parents to register complaints regarding such threatening conduct.
Some of our kids are bullied because of how they look. They’re either too heavy…too thin, too short, or too tall.
Some are even targeted because of a physical disability.
Others are bullied because of their sexual orientation.
Some young people are targeted because of their religion, race or ethnic background.
And there is also widespread evidence of bullying of students who are recent immigrants.
All of these reasons violate the most basic principle: Every child should be safe at home, safe in school and safe online.
As the father of two children myself, I certainly expect nothing less than that for my kids. And I’m sure that most of you feel the same way. Our kids are connected in a way that most adults can never really understand. That’s why this problem is spreading so fast, and why it’s so hard to control.
We need educators, parents and elected officials to act as one to treat this problem in a comprehensive way that puts the safety and security of our children first.
Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay represents Missouri’s First Congressional District.
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