Getting to the Heart of Safety

 

This "we survived it" attitude is as obsolete as black and white television. This climate of emotional violence has many casualties. Adolescent suicide is up 120 percent and one-third are gay, lesbian and bisexual students who'd rather die than face school. A New York Times profile of a self-mutilator chronicled the tale of an attractive 14-year-old who found herself labelled promiscuous in the rumor mill. Feeling dirty, she cut herself with her mother's wallpapering tool, bleeding out the pain she didn't know how else to exorcise. Dr. L. Kris Gowen studied 157 10- to 13-year-old girls and linked being socially shunned or ridiculed to developing negative body images. It's not a far stretch for middlers to think: I'm being treated like this because I'm not pretty enough, smart enough or good enough.

Girls turn their rejection and the rage it triggers inward -- next stop depression or eating disorders. Boys aim that rage right back at you -- next stop Littleton.

If we want to turn things around, it's going to take no less than a revolution. We are going to have to call for a new order -- a kinder, gentler order. This will require the effort and collaboration of administrators, parents, and adolescents, themselves.

Here's where to begin:

Administrators

• Breathe life into sexual harassment policy. Its definition, "any word or action, sexual in nature, that makes the recipient feel embarrassed and degraded" has to be recognized by students, enforced by faculty, and supported by all parents in the community.

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