It's easy for those of us in middle age to see all this fuss about bullying and think it's all silly. Kids picked on kids when we were young. Toughen up and get over it, some of us might think.
But we need to push past that reflex. We need to take the effects of bullying and harassment seriously. For whatever reason, kids today grow up in a culture far different from when we were their ages. Suburban preteens, teens and young adults are causing each other harm, even death.
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Consider these stories we covered last week:
• Bartlett police said a fight between a group of teenagers might have resulted in the shooting of a 17-year-old boy. The boy was shot by a male suspect seen riding off on a bicycle. The victim, thankfully, will recover.
Police are checking out rumors the fight among teens was over a girl. And there is no indication that the shooting was gang-related, police Cmdr. Michael McGuigan said.
• A DuPage County jury convicted a 21-year-old Chicagoan of shooting and killing an Addison Trail High School senior three years ago. Armando Huerta Jr. was gunned down outside his home by Luis Villavicencio-Serna less than a month before he was to graduate. Authorities said Villavicencio-Serna shot Huerta because he was upset that Huerta was contacting his 16-year-old girlfriend.
How or why young people think violence is an acceptable response to dealing with a problem is unfathomable. It's unfathomable how suburban teens continue to get easy access to weapons.
Perhaps some of it becomes ingrained at a young age as kids watch violent television, even cartoons. Or perhaps this response is learned from hours spent playing violent video games.
What hasn't changed from when we middle-agers were in school is that there are cliques, groups of kids who pick on others. Those not in the popular group feel isolated, alone, abused, left out. They suffer from low self-esteem. And those in the popular group verbally, and sometimes physically, abuse those who don't fit in so easily. Now, they also harangue and abuse them on social media sites and with texts sent to cellphones purchased by parents who hoped the phones will help keep their children safe. The irony isn't lost on us.
There are plenty of kids, teachers, parents and pop icons working hard to stem the bullying trend that too often leads to violence. Lady Gaga has created the Born This Way Foundation to do just that. Many of our schools have curriculums and events designed to educate and eradicate bullying. A 17-year-old Michigan girl, Katy Butler, who was bullied herself after telling her schoolmates she was a lesbian now, is on a crusade to get the R rating removed from a documentary called "Bully" so kids can see it without their parents.
We might not understand it, but bullying is real. It is dangerous. We all need to monitor the young ones in our lives. We need to offer our support to them and to those who are working to end youth harassment and hurt.