By: Ms. K

I am a teacher, a high school teacher.

I have seen my students experience things that no one else does. And they are all my students, MY kids. A former student of mine, let’s call her Sam, described to me what happened to her in high school because she believed in feminism and equality, and spoke her voice about it.

“I experienced online, verbal, and physical harassment for standing up for myself, my friends, and my beliefs.” To hear a student tell you that they have been constantly harassed throughout their high school years is heartbreaking.

This happens every day. Have you been on Facebook? What about Twitter? The comment section is a cesspool for ignorant, rude, and uninformed people who want nothing more than to bully and put down others for their beliefs. We have all experienced it.

In our schools, bullying has been migrating from face-to-face communication to online. If you think your child, niece, nephew, grandchild, cousin, or friend has not experienced online bullying, you are wrong. I see it and hear it every day. It has taken over our internet. To make things worse, we now have options like Snapchat where pictures disappear immediately and hold no one accountability. The number of social media apps makes online harassment more widespread than ever.

Sam said, “I blocked bullies on social media and turned in screenshots of online harassment to the school counselor.” But that didn’t help. “As far as I am aware, the students who bullied me were never given any punishment more than a “talking to”.”

It is absurd that some schools refuse to punish people for what they say online. I don’t think that most of these kids have any idea what constant bullying and harassment can do to people.

According to the Center for Disease control in 2015, “Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression.” And yes, my kids have experience these things. Sam began to have chronic migraines because of the stress.

The CDC also states that students who experience bullying are at a higher risk for academic problems, substance use, and violent behavior. They are at risk for mental and behavioral health problems, and are more at risk of being suicidal and are 2.6 times more likely to attempt suicide.

The very words that people type on their screen can be same words that can cause someone to breakdown.

These statistics truly brought tears to my eyes. The more our society continues to normalize this behavior, the more likely that someone you love is going to experience the negative effects. It is awful that teenagers are more at-risk for this behavior because someone else thinks it is normal to intentionally harass young people because of their beliefs.

I have seen the results of bullying. I see it in the classroom more than I want. I’ve seen the drastic change of attitude with each student. I’ve seen the tears. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen the posts and I’ve seen the messages. I have offered students my classroom as a safe space, but the internet is everywhere. A cyber-threat. How can I protect my kids online? I am afraid that I will come to school the one day, and face an empty chair. I am afraid one of my kids would make a decision that will they will not be able to undo.

I will do everything I possibly can to make sure those hurtful words and constant harassments don’t negatively impact the future of my students. There are no words to describe how devastating it is to watch my students, my kids fall apart. Students that used to be outgoing and successful shrink inside the shell of who they were. They are afraid to go to school, and afraid to speak out, trying to become invisible.

We have to start doing more about harassment. We can no longer stand silent and allow each other to tear another apart. We can disagree, debate, and share ideas, but we cannot continue to allow students to attack each other at every opportunity.

We must understand that even though someone values something different than we do, it does not give us justification to harass them. I encourage you to always stand up for what you believe. Always stand up for what you value. Never let the words or actions of someone determine YOUR future. You are needed and loved in this world.

Sam’s words to you are, “Your beliefs matter and your voice can move mountains; don’t be silenced by small minds with big mouths.”

If you ever need to talk to someone, call the Crisis Hotline: 832-416-1177.

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