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home : opinions :   October 6, 2015

8/13/2014 9:34:00 AM
Column: And now, students, it's all up to you

Rachel Stella
NT Reporter

Renee Strugala of Ladd said some words at the “Operation Bully Project” forum a couple weekends ago that have stuck with me: “I screamed — I screamed real loud because nobody could help me.”

As I reported in the Aug. 4 edition of the NewsTribune, Strugala told the story of her son, Kyle, who she said was bullied for years until he attempted suicide as a teenager.

Being home-schooled, I remember being mystified by the concept of bullying as a child. I had this mental picture of a bigger, mean-looking boy pushing around and hitting a smaller boy, and maybe taking his lunch money. (The idea of having “lunch money” also was strange to me, but I digress.)

Now I realize it’s not that simple.

Some people put the onus on school administrators and teachers to make and enforce anti-bullying policies. While I think there’s something to be said for that, the reality is that a lot of bullying doesn’t fit the image of the bigger boy hurting and humiliating the smaller boy. That’s a situation an adult, could, in theory, see and immediately address.

No, much of today’s bullying, particularly among teens and young adults, is much more subtle. It could mean quietly sharing humiliating photos of someone, perhaps accompanied by a reputation-damaging rumor that may or may not have some degree of truth to it.

It could mean making vague, negative references to a person on a social networking site — references keenly felt by the target yet that would go completely over the head of an uninvolved observer.

These are just two of many methods of bullying that could easily slip through the most vigilantly anti-bullying teacher’s watch. So is the answer to require adults (who aren’t parents or guardians) to be intensely involved with the politics of young people’s social lives (digital or otherwise)?

Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 1 signed legislation that “prohibits bullying of students through technology outside the classroom or school” and “applies to devices not owned or used by a school,” according to a news release from his office.

Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) in a news release from her office described the law as “well-intentioned but potentially troublesome,” and I agree. Non-family adults shouldn’t be involved in students’ phones or home computers, and realistically, how can such a far-reaching policy be implemented?

Initiatives like Operation Bully Project give students the responsibility to stand up for the bullied and avoid becoming bullies themselves. Yes, parents and school authorities should oppose bullying and teach students to do the same. But authority figures won’t always be around.

In those situations, you students are called upon to speak up for the victims.

It’s not easy (as I discovered in college). Taking a stand among one’s peer group can be terrifying, and some sacrifice may be made on your part.

Yet I believe young people have the capacity to be morally courageous.

Rachel Stella can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or Follow her on Twitter @NT_LaSalle.

Related Stories:
• Documentary to examine area's bullying problem (video)

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