“It’s been around as long as I have,” said Highland Village Police Chief Ed O’Bara, “but now it is persistent and vicious.” O’Bara is talking about bullying, a problem that seems to have taken on a life of its own over the past few years, causing a rash of suicides across the country, including right here in Denton County.
Local concern escalated in April when one Lake Dallas teen’s suicide and another’s attempted suicide were linked to a cruel cyber-bullying campaign between three teenagers.
The police chief said he believes something can be done about it, and so a new program – “Stand Up to Bullying” – kicked off this spring at every single school in Highland Village.
The idea of the program, according to O’Bara, is to get students involved and make it a popular idea not to tolerate bullying.
The Highland Village Police Department works hand in hand with the Lewisville ISD to get the program on every Highland Village campus, as well as Marcus High School.
On June 9th, the program will be visible at Briarhill Middle School’s 8th grade graduation, when Marcus students take the stage and tell the soon-to-be 9th graders that they will befriend them as freshman, and encourage them not to tolerate bullying in any form. Coming from one student to another, that can be a powerful message.
O’Bara said the focus of the program is to reduce the incidence of bullying in our community through education, public awareness and non-tolerance from students, teachers, parents and public officials. Key messages include:
• Don’t be a victim. Tell someone if you are being bullied.
• Don’t participate in bullying.
• Stand up against bullying if you see it happening to someone else.
This spring, officers visited each school to distribute materials, wrist bands, and to make a ‘Stand Up to Bullying’ support banner that students can sign as visible support for the program.
LISD Communications Specialist Molly Fox said the district supports the program 100%. O’Bara said it does take the support of everyone, and elected officials in Highland Village plan to sign a proclamation in November declaring an official “No Bullying” week.
For parents, the police chief had a few suggestions, such as helping children learn the social skills they need to make friends because a confident resourceful child who has friends is less likely to be a bully or to bully others. He also said if parents praise children’s kindness toward others, it lets kids know that kindness is valued. And, he added, it is also important the teach children ways to resolve arguments without violent words or actions.
Michael Leavitt, Highland Village City Manager, added that monitoring your children’s social media websites is another way to catch a problem early on.
“As parents, please understand that you must have instant access to your child or children’s “Cyber Forums” – Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, phone texts, etc. And it’s not just having access as a friend – it’s taking possession of the computer or phone and making sure you know what is being said and to whom they are communicating with on a daily, weekly or bi-weekly basis,” said Leavitt.
He added, “It’s a “tough love” choice, but we must make the personal decision to help our youth of today. It is our obligation as responsible parents and this far outweighs the “personal privacy” and expectations of our children and what is being portrayed today in our society.”
O’Bara said that bullying is a widespread problem that impedes the learning process in schools.
“A lot of times, kids just hate to go to school because of the pain of bullying,” O’Bara said. “I hear consistently from teachers that bullying happens every day. It needs to be a popular choice not to participate in bullying. It’s important for our students to know they don’t have to be a victim. If it’s happening to them, they need to let somebody know.”
Come August, Highland Village police officers will start round two of visiting every campus in their jurisdiction, talking to and observing students, passing out bracelets and materials and posting a sign up sheet for students to take a stand on a situation that plagues so many young people. The police chief added he thinks it will take between three and five years for these principles to be ingrained in students
“This problem has been a candle under the basket, and we’ve brought it out in the open.”