Speak Up

Bullying and the ‘quiet little secret’

It was one of the most horrific cases of teenage bullying that captivated the country — and it took place here in South Florida. Michael Brewer, 15, was viciously attacked by a group of bullies who threw rubbing alcohol on him and then lit him on fire. Michael survived.

Stories like Brewer’s aren’t the only ones linking South Florida to the bullying epidemic. Josie Lou Ratley, then a 15-year-old Deerfield Beach middle school student was repeatedly kicked in the head by her attacker, who was wearing steel-toed boots. She was left in a coma with brain damage. That attack was the result of disparaging text messages, putting the focus on cyber bullying.

Bullying has been a problem since the beginning of time. Anytime there’s a perceived imbalance of power viewed through the eyes of someone who derives pleasure from others’ misery, you will have bullying.

Today’s bullies are vicious, and their victims are living a tortured existence with some even committing suicide. This is clearly not the scenario for a rite of passage.

Bullying in the 21st century is a matter of life and death. The statistics are staggering: 160,000 American kids stay home from school on any given day to avoid being bullied. This is not a social issue; it’s an epidemic. Anti-bullying initiatives currently in place are not enough.

The delusional thinking, as it relates to bullying, is how many teachers, school officials and religious leaders view this as a natural part of growing up. We have kids killing themselves, hiding out at home and even taking revenge in school shootings, yet some authorities have reduced it to being a part of growing up.

Glenn Stutzky, a school safety consultant, said this on ABC News: “We’ve allowed a culture of abuse to thrive unchecked in our nation’s schools and we’re paying for it with the bodies of our children. Suicide is bullying’s quiet little secret. It’s picking off our kids one at a time.”

Some kids are taking to the Internet in a cry for help. You can pull them up on YouTube. Kids plead, cry, beg and even hold up signs screaming out for someone to listen. The problem is that there are still some teachers who see the bullying and just close their doors because they don’t want to get involved.

What kind of message does that send to kids?

Some religious organizations don’t see bullying as a real problem, either. This is what the California Christian Coalition said recently about school bullying: “Bullying is a part of growing up. It’s a part of maturing. We hardly think bullying is a real issue in schools.”

The denial goes even deeper when some religious extremists attempt to align bullying with homosexuality.

Children are bullied for numerous reasons, including being gay. But does it really matter why?

Critical thinking says it’s time to pressure educators, parents and politicians to work together to end bullying in American schools. They need to stop denying the problem, closing their doors and spewing their homophobic views, and start acting like leaders.

Bullying is a critical issue that requires serious people to solve it. There’s no excuse for 160,000 kids a day cowering in terror. The blame rests on the shoulders of the leaders we trust to keep them safe. Anti-bullying laws need to carry severe punishment and be enforced. Bullies should be banished from schools and sent back to their parents. Parents need to be more involved by talking to their kids about bullying.

Find out if your child is being bullied. Find out if your child is bullying someone else. We owe it to our children to protect them and provide an environment where they can successfully and fearlessly learn and grow.

Steve Siebold, based in Boynton Beach, is an expert in critical thinking and mental toughness training. He is author of Sex, Politics, and Religion: How Delusional Thinking is Destroying America.