Eight to twelve year-olds across the country revealed, in a recently-released survey, that bullying, conflict, and meanness weighed heavy on their hearts and minds. 2171 kids throughout the US were asked to share their personal stories of bullying and conflict in a survey conducted by Naomi Drew in conjunction with Free Spirit Publishing. Across the board, what the children shared was surprisingly frank, sometimes heartbreakingly so. “I try to ignore conflicts, but if I can’t I just hurt,” said a 5th grade girl. A 6th grade boy who was cornered by a gang of kids in his school hallway wrote: “They ripped up my science book, took my hat, and laughed at me. I was so mad I went to my locker and sobbed.”
An overwhelming number of the students surveyed expressed their desire for positive change. 80% said they wanted to learn ways to end bullying, avoid fights, get along better with peers, and work out conflicts. Many felt overwhelmed by the meanness of their peers. An 11 year-old boy who was being bullied daily said, “It just makes me want to die.” With the spate of recent youth suicides that have been in the headlines, words like these can’t be ignored.
73% of the kids surveyed said other kids are somewhat to very mean. “I’ve been through a lot,” wrote a 4th grade boy. “Kids don’t like the way I look. They call me names and kick me. I am so sick of being picked on.”
Conflict is another major issue for kids. Almost 50% see conflicts happening often, every day, or all the time. 68% said being teased or made fun of is the number one source of their conflicts in their lives, and 64% listed name-calling as the cause of their conflicts. A 10 year old girl wrote, “Kids called me names every day. It got uncomfortable to be at school.” How about these break-your-heart words from a 9 year-old, “People call me names and make fun of me because I don’t have a mom.”
It’s clear from the survey that kids want and need change. Teachers want change too. A fourth grade teacher from New Jersey who responded to the survey wrote, “Anger and bullying are among the major issues I see as a teacher.” With character education programs being cut left and right, and No Child Left Behind turning our schools into testing machines, it’s time for priorities to shift. We need to stop focusing so much on test results, and do a lot more to help kids learn in an atmosphere of peace and emotional safety. In the words of a 10 year-old survey participant, “I wish there was a way to clean up this mess and find a way to make peace.”
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