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Do reach out to teens; don't tolerate bullying

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2001

To believe that school violence "can never happen here" - in Juneau or other places dear to us - is to deny the sobering reality that dozens of students have used guns to kill or wound their fellow students and teachers in a variety of campus settings around the nation.

To believe that school violence "can never happen here" also requires denying the fact that more incidents of "assault-battery-fighting-attempting to do bodily harm" have occurred at Juneau-Douglas High School this year than last year.

To believe that school violence "can never happen here" on the second anniversary of Columbine further requires ignoring one JDHS teacher's assessment of the situation:

"We are the right size. We have kids who think about violence. We have kids who are disenfranchised."

None of this means a tragedy involving students and guns will occur in Juneau. It does mean that teachers, administrators, police, parents and students are right to be alert to the possibility and to try to identify and neutralize the factors that could ignite an incident.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the student-violence epidemic is that suburban and rural campuses, rather than inner city schools, have been the venues for most of the shootings.

The shooters include students from privileged backgrounds and those of lesser economic standing. Some teen-age killers lack family stability while others come from families that appear to be rock solid. Some student shooters want attention in the way that John Hinkley Jr. wanted to make himself more attractive to actress Jodie Foster. Some appear to be unable to cope with bullying. Some hold a grudge against a teacher. Some are resentful of former girlfriends or boyfriends.

The examples go on and on, serving to reinforce the unsettling truth: There is no one kind of kid attending only a certain kind of school in a well-defined community somewhere over the distant horizon who is likely to bring a gun to school.

The best way to prevent violence is to acknowledge the reality that it can happen here. Avoiding denial enables parents, teachers, counselors, administrators and other students to see and hear what is going on around them.

Is bullying present and tolerated? Are cliques present and thought harmless? Are racial slurs overheard and dismissed as jokes?

"Pro-active" should be more than a buzz word. Students must be taught at home and in school to be accepting of people who are different. Conformity must not be a campus, family or community creed. Parents have a huge responsibility in widening teen tolerance.

Peace and safety begin with family communications. When a family is dysfunctional, the schools and social service organizations have a greater need to be available, to show an interest. As much as kids need to be reassured that it's OK to be different, they also need to know that somebody cares. Finding a way to take and to show an interest in a kid can make a lifetime difference.

Don't be too busy for parenting or to be a friend.



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