It is with great shock and alarm that I watched the disturbing drama involving the eight teenagers who kidnapped and assaulted one of their peers. The resulting videotape, shown in the news reports, confirmed the horror of this tragic and brutal assault. It staggers the mind to think that some teens could be so callous, brutal and cruel.
Today, as in days past, bullying starts with angry and insolent words hurled between individuals followed by threats and, in some cases, by violence. But in today's world, and thanks to the Internet, personal attacks can be launched between children in a more indirect and detached method. The new fad of "cyber bullying" has expanded the playing field and has exacerbated the problem of bullying.
Add this to a media-driven culture that includes violent television, and the nightly news depicting terrorist bombings, and we sadly find ourselves a country that has become horribly desensitized to the pain and suffering of others.
Our schools represent the front lines of the fight against bullying. Their challenge is great, and their resources limited. We, as a community, must seek ways of assisting them in this ongoing perilous struggle. If for no other reason than self-defense, we need to unite and support our educators in their quest to build stronger character qualities in our youth. But, of course, that's not the real reason we should become involved; we should become actively involve because it is the right thing to do.
Most of our school-age children are conscientious, and indeed, good-hearted. So we need to consider ways to involve them in the solution. If any group has the chance to reverse a negative behavior pattern, it is them. They can, indeed, exert the power of peer pressure within their social setting.
Here we need to find ways to empower our young people to speak up for their peers, resist the group dynamic of piling on, and teach the skill of seeking a negotiated settlement. Our kids do have the power to change norms, dynamics and the atmosphere in their environment.
Our job, as parents, is critical. Imagine the shock those parents must have experienced when they received news that their teenagers were to face the criminal charges of kidnapping, battery and witness tampering. As a parent it is our responsibility to monitor our dependent child's behavior.
We must be ever alert and watchful, for if we are not the result might well bring both civil as well as criminal litigation and prosecution. Careful coordination with school personnel, other parents and our child's closest friends might well be the key to heading off a building confrontation. Keeping a watchful eye on your child's computer activity might also help make a difference in keeping Dr. Phil out of your child's life.
Sadly, for every bully there is the tragic experience of a seriously damaged youngster. Unfortunately, victims of abuse, mental or physical, might suffer post-traumatic scars for the rest of their natural lives. We, as a community, owe our children support and our best efforts in curbing and discouraging such hurtful behavior. And, friends and neighbors, the time has come for us to take both useful and caring action.
On June 18, the American Dream will hold its seventh congress in which we will discuss the timely topic of bullying in our schools and community. Presenters include representatives from Sunrise of Pasco County Inc.; state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; and the keynote speaker, school Superintendent Heather Fiorentino.
The American Dream Congress is open to the public. We invite parents, citizens and child care practitioners to attend. Registration is at 8 a.m. June 18 at the Community Arts Center at Wesley Chapel High School. Wachovia Bank will provide lunch. The event will be hosted by Projects of Pasco Inc.
I hope to see you at this timely and important event.
Bob Loring heads Toys for Tots of East Pasco and the American Dream Congress.