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Bullying is not a rite of passage

By Julie Hertzog, Special to CNN
updated 4:42 PM EDT, Fri October 14, 2011
Schools need to be safe havens, where bullying is not dismissed as normal teenage behavior
Schools need to be safe havens, where bullying is not dismissed as normal teenage behavior
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julie Hertzog: It takes combination of schools, parents and children to stop bullying
  • She says kids who witness bullying must be encouraged to intervene or tell officials
  • Bullied studies must know it's not their fault and they can talk about it freely, she writes
  • Hertzog: Schools must stop calling it a "rite of passage" and must work with families

Editor's note: Julie Hertzog is the director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center.

(CNN) -- Tragic stories of young people committing suicide after being tormented by bullies have been widely publicized. So you'd imagine that most people would know how seriously bullying hurts people. Unfortunately, this is not always true.

Case in point: A middle-school athlete I know was being bullied by her teammates. The verbal abuse began on the volleyball court and then moved to the rest of the school. Soon, the girl's teammates were pulling down her shorts in front of others to embarrass and ridicule her.

But she did the right thing: Knowing that she didn't have to handle the situation alone, she told her parents. And her parents did the right thing: They alerted school personnel in an attempt to keep their daughter safe. Unfortunately, those who could have kept her safe told the parents that their daughter's experiences were just typical middle-school behavior -- the usual "teenage stuff" -- and that nothing could or would be done.

Never mind that this seventh-grader is now nervous about attending school and her self-esteem has plummeted. Never mind that she wants to quit the volleyball team. The acceptance of bullying as a "rite of passage" failed her. She did not get the help she needed, and the parents are considering a new school for their daughter.

Julie Hertzog
Julie Hertzog

In this case, it was the school that refused to act, but sometimes students who are bullied have a difficult time finding anyone at all who will help. It is time for a cultural shift away from silence and acceptance and the excuse that "kids will be kids" and nothing can be done.

We need to understand we can and need to do something about bullying. The "we" in that statement is imperative. There is power in community.

Imagine a community in which students who witness bullying are encouraged to intervene. More than 55% of bullying behaviors stop in less than 10 seconds when a peer steps in. That's why it's important that schools and parents stress to children that by befriending a kid who is bullied, or by asking an adult for help, they can change -- and even save -- lives.

Imagine a community where students know that it is not their fault if they are bullied, they can feel free to talk about it and can expect to be helped.

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Imagine a community united against bullying where parents listen to and believe their children. They discuss and practice with their children possible ways to respond. If problems persist, parents can work calmly with the school.

Schools must be united in the cause and abandon the myth that bullying is a rite of passage. They must educate students about bullying prevention and work with families and others to resolve bullying situations.

Community members can join forces and make use of educational resources such as those at PACER.org/bullying, TeensAgainstBullying.org and KidsAgainstBullying.org. It won't come from schools alone, parents alone or students alone, but from the entire community working in unity.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Julie Hertzog.

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