By Mary Majerus-Collins
HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Bullying is a serious problem for young people that must be addressed, according to members of Congressional Youth Cabinets in Connecticut and Missouri.
Connecticut high school and college students who make up Congressman John Larson’s youth cabinet and Missouri teens who comprise Congressman William Lacy Clay’s cabinet discussed bullying and how to prevent it in a videoconference Saturday.
“If children don’t feel safe at their own school, how are they supposed to succeed?” said cabinet member Matthew Wilson, a junior at Wethersfield High School in Wethersfield, Conn. “One of the reasons why people bully people is because they don’t understand the other person.”
Among the various programs discussed was the Youth Establishing Strength, a campaign against bullying.
Also the cabinets viewed a short video about Challenge Day, a seven-hour program designed to demonstrate to both students and teachers how much people have in common with one another and how easy it can be to make friends.
In Challenge Day the participants shared their experiences and problems with each other. By the end, students said, they knew and cared about every person there, while before they had only cared about their friends.
Patrick Nickoletti, an associate professor of human development and family studies at St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Conn., addressed the cabinets.
Nickoletti said state policy punishes schools that report bullying and that a state certificate should be given to schools that include anti-bullying programs in their curriculum.
The United States is a “country based on equalities,” Nickoletti said, but “tolerates inequalities.”
Matthew Wilson, a member
of the Connecticut
Cabinet, and Andrea
Kandel, executive director
of the National Conference
for Community and Justice.
Andrea Kandel, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice in Windsor, Conn., told the youth cabinets that she thinks that family members will want to be involved in anti-bullying programs because the only way they can help now is to complain to the school administration.
Many adults who are familiar with bullying still have no experience with the type of online abuse faced by teens today through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Some of the youth said teachers don’t always respond when they bullying.
“Somehow the teachers and the faculty members are seeing the bullying but for whatever reasons they are not reporting it because they think it is not one of their responsibilities to do it,” Kandel said. “Even if they do, the school doesn’t do anything with it because they don’t want to upset the wrong people but they are still upsetting other people.”
Now all Connecticut teachers are mandatory reporters, obligated to report any bullying or abusive behavior they see.
Some schools punish students who bully by giving them a detention or suspending them from school for a day or two.
But Nicholas Grondin, a Congressional Youth Cabinet member from Newington, Conn., said it doesn't work.
“Suspending students doesn’t help," said Grondin. "It’s is like a little break instead of doing something about the issue."