Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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Where I Stand: Sun Youth Forum:

Students dig to find roots of bullying

About 1,000 students from high schools throughout Southern Nevada participated in the 57th annual Sun Youth Forum on Nov. 13. The students were divided into groups to discuss a variety of topics. A representative was chosen from each group to write a column about the students’ findings. Phenix Johnson of Desert Oasis High School writes about the issues covered by her group, School Days.

As each student in the School Days room at the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum stood and stated what they wanted to study after graduating from high school, it became very clear how diverse this group of juniors and seniors was. The room was full of future teachers, politicians, engineers, surgeons and theater majors. Yet, a common thread ran through all of us, something deeper than our goals for the future or choice of college: compassion.

The group moderator stood and asked which topic we would like to discuss first. Every hand shot up, then went down just as quickly after bullying was mentioned.

At least an hour was spent on this topic, and almost every topic, whether it was dress codes or assemblies, related back to it.

It was pointed out that strict dress codes or uniforms cause more emphasis on brand names. Students will still look for ways to stand out with their clothing, and more expensive brands are the way they do this. Also, even though school assemblies and activities encourage participation in school and higher grades, some schools exclude certain clubs and place the emphasis on the more popular sports or clubs.

As it became clear bullying was the theme for the day, we brought the discussion directly back to it. When asked, every single person said they had been bullied at one point. What might have shocked an outsider, however, was the fact that almost every student also said he or she had been a bully. As one student pointed out, many assume bullying is verbal and don’t think about cyberbullying. But just because someone doesn’t hear it doesn’t make it any less painful.

Bullying is fueled by the culture of its participants. It isn’t exclusive to teenagers, either. Media stars get ridiculed for what they wear on the red carpet, our parents come home talking about a verbally abusive boss, we listen to songs about money making someone cooler. We aren’t bad kids. We have bad examples.

We’re learning to ignore this, though, to form our own ideals and become more accepting. A discussion on arming teachers was proof of that.

That topic brought about a distinct separation in the room. Those for arming teachers argued that in case of an emergency, teachers could be a first response and make students feel safer. Those against it pointed out the money needed to train teachers and the availability of guns already in school would create easy access for someone looking to cause harm.

Also, guns in the hands of teachers could have the opposite of the desired effect. Many of us agreed we would be scared to go to school knowing our teachers had guns.

Whatever these differences though, everyone’s opinions were respected. The group remained cordial and never made the argument into a personal attack. Because of this, these students left a huge impression on me and always will.

As the day drew to an end, it was pointed out that schools are taking the wrong approach. They are focusing on treating the symptoms rather than curing the disease. Counselors aren’t approachable, and most students said they wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing a problem with their counselor.

No matter what the problem, there was a fear that the counselor either couldn’t or wouldn’t really help. Or even worse, the student would get in trouble. I implore anyone reading this to think what a difference it would make if students had a trusted adult they could confide in during school.

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