"I got this really cool hat yesterday, see? Isn't it awesome?"
"Yeah, its really awesome. Why is it in your backpack and not on your head, though?"
"These kids in my class, who always make fun of me, said it was a stupid hat and that I look gay."
"Are those the same kids who tried to choke you in the locker room?"
Bullying stories are everywhere you turn lately, and it has been widely shown that bullying can lead to an array of issues that can have a lasting impact on young people. These include low self-esteem, stunted academic progress, loneliness, depression, fear of school, school disengagement, complex behavioral problems, drug and alcohol use, and suicidal ideations.
According to the National Education Assn., 160,000 students nationwide miss school every day due to fear of being bullied. The National Alliance on Mental Illnesses also reports that bullying puts children at higher risks for depression and other mental health problems. The situations experienced by victims of bullying are painful and can lead to further development problems that can follow someone into adulthood.
"OK, so your aunt has a gun; do you know where she keeps it?"
"No. She won't tell me."
"Oh, OK. Jimmy, remember that day we talked about feeling really low and that feeling you mentioned that no one cares about you?"
"Yeah, I remember … "
"Well, during those low times have you ever thought about hurting yourself?"
"Yeah, I've thought about it. Sometimes when no one likes me at school, and when my father doesn't want to see me, I think about it."
So you would think that schools have made changes to help students who have been bullied, right? Wrong.
The reality is that schools are not required to provide any type of services for children who are victims of bullying — only to those who caused the bullying — leaving the bullied student and those who witnessed the bullying on their own. In the past 15 years, peer victimization (another name for bullying) has become recognized as a pervasive and neglected problem in schools and is a particularly great concern because of the many school shootings that have occurred in the last decade.
"Jimmy, why do you keep getting into trouble at school and then don't show up at all sometimes?"
"Because … Why would I want to be somewhere I'm not wanted?"
The U.S. Department of Mental and Human Services states that California is the only major state that is lacking an inclusive mental health component for bullying in its schools. The current law states that the alternative means of correction for a child who has engaged in bullying includes school and parent conferences, referrals to school supportive services (counselor, psychologist, or social worker), and intervention teams to promote prosocial behaviors. All of these resources are provided to the bully and none to the victim.
Proposed legislation in Sacramento would finally correct this. Assembly Bill 1455 would expand the anti-bullying provisions of the Education Code to allow for victims and even witnesses of bullying to have an increased access to mental health services. In addition, the school's administrators could refer these affected children to the school counselors, psychologists, social workers, child welfare attendance personnel, school nurses, or other resources for support.
"How are you doing today, Jimmy?"
"Good. You know the only time I feel no stress and feel that I can just breathe and be myself is when I'm here with you. During this hour on Wednesdays, I feel like I can finally relax and all that other stuff goes away for a little."
While everyone would agree that addressing the behavior of a bully is essential, it is just as important to provide support to the victims whose experiences are too often trivialized and are told to "shake it off" and "ignore them." By providing the vulnerable students with these services, California will move closer to addressing the abusive, traumatic and detrimental conduct that exists in our schools today and will direct resources to the bullied students — who really need them.
Take time now to contact your Sacramento legislator and register your support or AB 1455. Not sure who represents you? Just visit http://www.ocvote.com to look up your representative. It's easy and will make such a big difference.
Costa Mesa resident LILLIAN HOLLAWAY is a graduate student in ssocial work at USC.