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Lyons: Bullying problem needs parental solutions

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 5:20 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 11:16 a.m. CDT

There’s a certain level of selfishness among adults with regard to bullying. We’re well on the other side of adolescence.

It’s not that bullying doesn’t exist in adulthood. Adults just have more emotional and cognitive coping skills and, in many cases, more obvious legal recourse, when necessary.

Bullies don’t rent space in most adults’ heads like they do in high school or junior high. Besides, outside of reality television and politics, boorish behavior in adult society is generally frowned upon.

Because we’ve made it, there’s a belief that others should be able to get through it. Maybe we even mistakenly believe that what didn’t kill us made us stronger. But why do people need psychological torture, humiliation and physical abuse to get stronger? Is that a plan you’d set up for your own kids?

I’ve been guilty of a kids-will-be-kids philosophy at times because my adolescent experience wasn’t much different than average people who occasionally suffered bullies without it dramatically affecting their lives.

The moment I hopped a bus to an all-boys high school on Chicago’s South Side, I was immersed in a less-than-genteel universe. Taunting and violence were part of life, but I had enough brains, wit and unrefined social skills to handle myself enough when push came to shove. That didn’t make me better than kids who didn’t have those benefits, just an unlikely target.

So many of us shrug at the subject of bullying and accept it as a part of life, smug in the security that we did fine and our kids will be OK, too.

Then you read reporter Chelsea McDougall’s story about Scott Walz and this quote from Walz’s mother about her 18-year-old son’s suicide and you are nearly drowned by about a dozen different emotions.

“In his note, taking his last breath, [he was] thinking he was a freak, a creeper, all the things people said about him,” Nancy Walz said. “He died thinking that, and I can never get over that.”

I can’t either. Neither should you. Nor should any teen, any parent, any teacher or school administrator. We owe Scott Walz, who was none of the things his tormentors said he was, that much. We owe all kids that much.

It’s easy to point the finger at schools and teachers as we often do, expecting them to handle yet another aspect of raising children that should be a parent’s job. But whether your own kids are bullied or not, teaching kids appropriate behavior and character is at the top of the list of parental responsibilities.

Character is much more than doing your school work and excelling in sports or academics. Staying out of trouble is important, but doing what’s right is much more important.

Doing the right thing often isn’t the easy path. Confronting bullies who are harassing classmates or reporting them to school officials is sometimes hard to do, although clearly the right thing. The series we’ve launched this week is a great starting point for a conversation with your own kids.

You don’t have to agree with each conclusion and may pick and choose advice that works best with your own kids. As any parent with more than one child or anyone who works with kids knows, all kids are unique and different points require different emphasis.

But you can’t read this series and conclude that bullying isn’t a serious problem or someone else’s problem. Nor can you conclude that the solutions aren’t as much parents’ responsibility as anyone’s.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com.

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