You may have seen the heartbreaking story of a 14-year-old boy from Buffalo who took his own life last week after being bullied. Tragedies like these remind us that bullying is a serious problem that is threatening the well-being of our children.
The boy had contributed a video to the It Gets Better Project, which focuses on helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) youths, before his death. The project has received an enormous amount of support, with over 25,000 user-created videos and the creation of a New York Times best-selling book.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. This is an appropriate time to reflect on what we can do to help eliminate bullying in our community. Some of the statistics are startling. Eighty-seven percent of teachers observe bullying in school on a monthly basis.i Over 20 percent of kids admit to being victims of cyber-bullying.ii Yet only 58 percent of teachers say their schools have formal bullying prevention efforts.iii
Two years ago, I sponsored the Dignity for All Students Act, establishing a statewide anti-harassment and discrimination policy at any public school or school-sponsored activity so that students are afforded an environment free of bullying, taunting or intimidation (Ch. 482 of 2010). This Act will take effect July 1, 2012, and also includes guidelines for educational training programs for school personnel to raise awareness and enable employees to prevent and respond to discrimination or harassment.
New York State offers comprehensive information on bullying and what we can do to prevent it. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) has an online cyber-bullying guide for parents, teachers and children. Since our youths are online more and more every day, cyber-bullying is a major issue. Through use of social networking sites, bullying can occur anonymously and continuously. The DCJS website, www.criminaljustice.state.ny.us, contains a number of preventive measures and lists other organizations that can provide help. Additionally, the Department of Health and the New York State Police have a wealth of information on their websites: www.health.ny.gov and www.troopers.ny.gov.
Facebook and Time Warner recently teamed up to create a software application (“app”) known as Stop Bullying: Speak Up Social Pledge that contains information about bullying prevention from non-profits and government groups, in addition to a pledge to stand up to bullying. Having a presence within social media sites is key to curbing the cyber-bullying problem.
Nationwide, there has been significant movement on this issue. Federally, the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and four others are now part of a task force on bullying. In August 2010, the task force staged the first-ever National Bullying Summit with over 150 state, local, civic and corporate leaders to create a national plan to end bullying. They also launched a website, www.stopbullying.gov, which provides information from various government agencies on how kids, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying.
Good role models are key to combating bullying and discrimination. We can all help foster a climate where kids refuse to allow bullying to persist. During National Bullying Prevention Month, I renew my support for legislation that will further curb bullying both in our schools and online. All children deserve a childhood free of bullying.