By Paule T. Pachter, A.C.S.W., L.M.S.W.
Deputy Executive Director
Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services, Inc.
When the new school season began earlier this month, many parents and students made the pilgrimage to purchase new clothes and school supplies. Optimistic parents and students anticipate meeting their teachers and friends, and learning new things. Most students will be challenged in our schools by a highly qualified faculty and their experiences will be positive and long-lasting. However, some students will also be traumatized by bullies and for them the experience will be shattered and the scars of being victimized will last even longer.
Unfortunately, violence has become a way of life for many children who try to cope with perceived social and/or emotional pressures. Given the images we encounter daily through television, movies, in music videos, on the Internet or in our homes, bullying and youth violence are significant social problems that we must address.
As many of you have learned, Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville was the target of an anonymous threat on Monday, Sept. 18. Using the Internet and the popular website MySpace.com, messages were posted threatening a violent act at the school on Sept. 18. Thankfully, school administrators and the Nassau County Police Department were alerted and immediately took action to secure the school and ensure the safety of all students and faculty members. Nearly seven years after the incident at Columbine, we're still experiencing a wave of copycat incidents across the country and in other countries as well. The incidence of youth violence in our nation is so prevalent that under former President Bill Clinton, the Surgeon General was asked to develop a special report describing the magnitude of the problem, its causes and potential responses.
What would possess children to threaten or hurt other children? Research suggests several factors that may contribute. Among the more common causes are: substance use; low family socioeconomic status; antisocial behavior at home; harsh or poor parental discipline; neglect; psychological conditions; and peer pressure. Because public health research is based on observation and statistical probabilities in large populations, risk factors can be used to predict aggression and violence among groups of children with particular characteristics or environmental conditions, but not among individuals.
As parents, we must adopt a proactive approach to dealing with bullying and youth violence. The responsibility to address this problem rests with all parties affected, including families, schools, law enforcement and local communities. If your child is being threatened, stalked, harassed or abused in school or online, you must take this issue seriously. As parents, we must do everything rational in our power to protect the health and safety of our children. If your child is being threatened or victimized, report any incidents to the appropriate parties. For instance, working cooperatively with school personnel you can determine the most effective way to proceed by involving law enforcement, the parents or guardians of the offender or the courts. However, the local police may not be able to involve themselves because our laws are written in ways that only allow them to respond if an actual crime has been committed, something we would all like to avoid at any cost.
The incidents, which become front page stories in our local newspapers are sadly only the tip of the iceberg. Bullying and youth violence are serious problems that affect the quality of life for innocent children and families. There are trained mental health professionals who can help both the victims and perpetrators of these acts. The important step for parents and families rests in an ability to take action to stop the aggressive behavior and avoid a social and emotional catastrophe.
If you feel that your child or family needs help you can contact our counseling center at 822-6111, or visit us online at www.centralnassau.org.