Getting to the Heart of Safety

Cruelty 101 is taught thoroughly. Everybody gets it. Being accepted by one's peers is the #1 source of worry according to 10- to 15-year-olds we polled for The Roller-Coaster Years: Raising Your Child through the Maddening Yet Magical Middle School Years. Teachers, too, ranked social anxiety as the top worry among students. When wanting to fit in and be liked is the universal teen fantasy, school becomes the ultimate nightmare for every adolescent.

Academics illuminate the reality of peer harassment. Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft asked 1,000 middle and high school students: "Tell us what it's like to be a teenager in school today?" All students complained not about grades, pressure, or bad teachers, but about being harassed by their peers. Activist organizations revile it. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that four out of five students in 1,600 schools, grades 8 to 11, complained of sexual harassment. While 85 percent were girls, surprisingly 76 percent were boys. One-third to one-half of the harassment targets students thought to be gay. Victims (25 percent) respond by not wanting to go back to school. Sixteen percent felt their grades were affected.

Occasionally judges rule on it. In Wisconsin, a gay male student sued his school district after being regularly spat on, kicked in the stomach, urinated on, and having his head submerged in the bathroom's urinal. The district didn't take action to protect this child. The victim accepted a $900,000 settlement. The Supreme Court recently upheld a fifth grader's sexual harassment claim against her school. The girl's charges of being subjected to repeated indecent romantic overtures were ignored. The school was ruled liable.

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