The Back-to-School Conversation We Should Be Having … But Aren’t

sad-little-girlNine out of 10. That’s how many kids in American elementary schools say they’re bullied in school every year.

Sixty-four percent. That’s how many kids admit they’re bullied but never report it – be it out of fear or a feeling of helplessness.

Startled yet? How about this statistic? In one survey of moms, 43 percent said they would be upset if their child was the “smelly kid” in class, but only 17 percent would be upset if their kid was a whiner, and 13 percent would hate to raise the snob. In other words: A kid with a poor attitude is less upsetting to parents than a kid with an easily addressed problem (it’s called deodorant, folks).

And we wonder how it is that every state has an anti-bullying policy, 49 states have an anti-bullying law, and yet bullying is as problematic as ever in our schools.

Parents, it’s our fault.

With back-to-school season in full swing, we are doling out our annual lectures on school bus safety and homework responsibilities, but how many parents are sitting their kids down to say, “Listen, Junior, one of your goals for this year should be to be the kindest kid you can be”?

It’s hard to quantify. Our kids don’t come home with a “kindness” grade on the report card or get stickers from the teacher for not being a jerk. Sharing pencils with the kid who forgot hers or doesn’t have money to buy them isn’t something they can put on a college application and inviting the boy who never has anyone to eat lunch with to sit at their table won’t land your kid on the honor roll.

And yet, the effects of bullying are obvious. Depression. Anxiety. Sleep difficulties. Poor school performance. All risks for victims of being bullied. One 10-year-old, when asked if they’re excited to go back to school, told me, “No.” Then issued a shrug. “I have a bully who pretends to be a friend,” she said, using air quotes around the word “friend.”

This is a back-to-school reality that we have to face: In a country where universal education is guaranteed and school is supposed to represent a safe space for our kids, nine out of 10 kids aren’t safe. Sixty-four percent of our kids are feeling defenseless. And 43 percent of parents could use a little reminder that your stinky kid would be a whole lot better off in a world where kids were taught to be kind … even if someone smells a bit off.

 

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