Monday, October 25, 2010

The Rising Issue of Cyber-Bullying

Due to the rise in popularity of social networks over the past ten years, cyber-bullying has been on the increase, and some social scientists believe bullying may be one of the most prevalent causes of teen suicide. As a result of cyber-bullying, teens’ personal, private situations are becoming public for the world to see, and some teens see no other way out. Imagine being a fifteen years old and your friends have been collecting pictures of you on the weekends. One evening the pictures are posted to Facebook and every picture displays you making intimate physical contact with male classmates. Each friend comments under the pictures making references about your sexual reputation. At fifteen this would be extremely embarrassing. The thought of showing your face in school Monday morning would be impossible. Your private, extra-curricular conduct is now the talk of the school. Seemingly, the only way out at such a vulnerable age is suicide.
Recently, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, took his own life after his roommate streamed a video on the internet revealing an intimate encounter between Tyler and another man. As a result of the video being leaked onto the internet, Clementi took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. This story, sadly, is one of many.
In a recent class discussion, one of the CFCC Student Fellows mentioned that one of the Truancy Court Program participants was being bullied by her fellow peers, and the school seemed to brush off the situation. When situations like this occur, the school needs to play an active role in extinguishing the problem as soon as it is presented. The bully needs to be reprimanded for his or her actions, because if the problem persists, the bully will soon realize he or she can continue to bully his or her peers, fulfilling a sense of power and entitlement.
Bullying has been around for ages. It is nothing new; however, with the rise of social networks, the scope of bullying has broadened from merely in-school, to out of school, and children and young adults are being affected in a whole new way. This reaction may be due to a lag between school policies and new technology. Education begins with the students. Teens need to be educated on what is and what is not appropriate for the internet. The internet is a very powerful tool. Teen girls might not think the consequences a Myspace hoax played on their thirteen year old friend would ultimately lead to her taking her own life. Teenagers need to be supervised both at home, in the neighborhood, and at school. Parents need to get involved and speak to their children about both how to deal with a bully and the consequences of bullying. Schools need to implement strict policies on how to deal with bullying, including counseling sessions, providing protection for the victims of bullying, and providing for sanctions for bullies, whether or not their conduct falls within the scope of their education.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Empowering Our Youth to be Agents for Change in their Home, School and Communities

I am also a CFCC Student Fellow this fall participating in the Truancy Court Program at Violetville elementary/middle school. I agree with the previous blogger that it is important that we all work together to see that our students our successful. I wanted to focus my blog on ways community members can reach out to empower youth to be more proactive about their education, their school and their community, especially where the youth lack sufficient encouragement and motivation at home.

Schools and community organizations must reach out to these youth and provide them with

opportunities for youth leadership and community involvement. Schools can provide student leadership opportunities by having a student government and other student clubs where the students are put in leadership positions. Community Groups can promote youth leadership by having youth led groups in religious communities, YMCAs, community associations, neighborhood watch groups and other similarly situated groups in the community.

By getting youth more involved in leadership positions in the school and larger community they will be empowered to act as positive agents for change. For this to be effective the positions must come with actual responsibilities, accountability and be set up in a way that the students feel that their peers and adults are listening to them. This framework will give youth greater incentives to continue to do well because they will want to hold their positions and they will not want to disappoint their peers, teachers and other community members. Personal accountability and an understanding of consequences for bad actions is one area where poor parenting has left many youth lacking, but leadership opportunities for youth that incentivize good behavior and hold them accountable could supplement the inadequate training at home.

I recently researched Youth Courts for our CFCC class. Youth Courts are an excellent example of a structure in place that empowers youth to address the problem of juvenile crime in their community.[1] Youth Courts are diversion courts that are led primarily by youth who have been trained as judges, lawyers, clerks, bailiffs and jurors to hear cases about delinquent conduct committed by their peers. There are various Youth Court models but in all programs the youth are actively involved in the process and are given the responsibility of deciding the best way of holding the delinquent offender accountable for his or her conduct. The program focuses on restorative justice requiring the offender to make amends for their actions and getting them involved in the community. The Youth Court participants serve as positive role models for the young offenders, who see young people their own age who are responsible, socially engaged and respected by the community.

I think that the success of the youth courts demonstrates that youth are capable of acting as agents for positive change in their school and community when given the opportunity to assume leadership positions.

[1] Goodwin, Tracy. Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment: An Implementation Guide for Teen Court Programs. Chapter 1 pg 3. U.S. Department of Transportation,1996.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where are the parents?

I have been a volunteer and student fellow in the CFCC’s Truancy Court Program for over the last year. From my tutoring in math to my observations as the student fellow, I have been introduced to a world I did not know and it is nothing like the one I grew up in. I never had to worry about my clothes being clean in the morning or if I would have breakfast. My homework was done after school and my parents always made time to sit down and talk with me about my day. There was no one I was afraid of, no gangs, no bullies and no fighting. There was also no internet, no cell phones and news only traveled as fast as your neighbors could talk. The world was an easier place to grow up in.

Not going to school was never an option. My mom never kept me home because she had a disagreement with my dad. We didn’t move each year. There was consistency and a connection with my school, my teachers, my friends and my life. This is not the case today. As the economy fell apart, families split, communities broke down and the children have suffered almost silently. Parents are no longer at home, having to work 2 jobs or extra hours just to pay the bills. So, the kids can just stay at home if they feel like it. They skip their homework assignments with no one checking on them. The television or video game system has become the babysitter and they are falling behind. If they are having trouble with another student, there is no one to talk to so they keep it to themselves.

Today’s children have to worry about everything. Along with a lack of parental support and parental supervision, social media has exploded. Style is everything and reputations can change in an instant. Being the cool kid has replaced being the smart kid. I have been told on more than one occasion that, “I couldn’t come to school because my hair wasn’t done.” This came from a 7th grader. In 7th grade my biggest worry was getting from class to class in the 5 minutes we were given and remembering my lunch each morning. Style wasn’t much of a thought and my hair was a curly mess.

There were no web-pages dedicated to hating me, pictures of me half dressed being text to everyone in the school or an aunt driving up to me in a McDonald’s parking lot to threaten me for disrespecting their 13 year old niece. Yet, these are the stories I have been reading about and hearing from my students. Each story more horrific then the last and each with one glaring consistency, the parent never knew or the parent wasn’t there. Where were the parents?

We are so quick to blame others in our society. We can never accept that our own inaction could have been at fault. So we blame the school and the teachers. Why didn’t they know? Why didn’t they act? They should have known and they should have done something. It’s everyone else fault and could not have been my own. Then the media portrays the parents as the victims and rests the blame squarely on the schools. They should know better.

Parents need to get back to being parents. Their children need them, the schools need them and the communities need them. In a time of economic unrest and social change, we need to be better parents, active parents. Parents build the bridges between school and home, between the children and teachers. Parents are the only ones who can do this.

When we all work together, our children succeed and we all share in their success.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Law School and What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

I am a CFCC Student Fellow this fall, participating in the Truancy Court Program at a Baltimore City elementary/middle school. I returned to law school mid-life after working from home for my children’s younger years because I hoped to take my professional life into a new direction. I wanted to work with people, make a difference in my community, and try to harmonize my work and ideals.

During my first year of law school I often found myself crying and wondering what I had done to myself. The often inscrutable and abstract material of Contracts, Civil Procedure and Property was just not resonating with me. For Property class one day, I had to go to Baltimore City rent court; the gritty, mundane reality of that court seemed very far removed from my law school experience thus far. When I was finally able to choose my courses, I took Interviewing, Negotiating and Counseling, and was somewhat shocked to remember that lawyers deal with real human beings who are often struggling with emotional issues.

Academics often complain about the disconnect between the law and the everyday people the law affects. The bureaucratic institutions that craft laws and policy often don’t or can’t envision how their rules and regulations will play out in the day-to-day lives of everyday people. Legal scholars debate the question of how much social work should be required of legal institutions. Many believe the courts and judges aren’t social workers. But I think that’s wrong: social work’s focus on preventive, non-adversarial measures should take precedence in the practice of law, particularly in the area of family law.

At my Truancy Court Program orientation, the fifteen or so elementary and middle school participants were instructed to fill out fairly detailed forms asking for contact information and information about themselves. I spotted an adorable nine-year-old boy who looked a little lost. I bent down on my knees and guided him through the forms. When he got to “What career would you like to have after you graduate from college?” he looked up at me with blank eyes. I clarified by asking him, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” He blurted out, “How do you spell scientist?” I spelled the word for him and a hardness that has grown around my heart these past three years of law school softened a bit. That simple question has been the most humane moment of my law school career.