We all know that children are vulnerable and need to be protected. But did you know that our school-aged children are very likely to be exposed to a serious threat every day? That threat is physical and emotional — it’s called bullying.
How do we define bullying? For a behavior to be considered bullying, it must be aggressive, repetitive and display an imbalance of personal power. Typically, kids who bully use their power such as physical strength, popularity or access to embarrassing information to control or harm others. Actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone verbally or physically or excluding someone from a group on purpose are examples of bullying behavior.
Seven years ago, my 15-year-old niece, Kristina Calco, committed suicide after years of being bullied. Like many adolescent girls, Kristina had low self-esteem. Having hateful words such as “ugly, fat and disgusting” thrown at her on a daily basis only made it worse. Kristina took those words to heart and began to believe them with every grain of her soul. Although friends tried to build her back up, their support wasn’t enough.
No one spoke out about the bullying or the devastating effect it was having on Kristina. Some may trivialize such schoolyard episodes as “teasing” but the repeated exposures to this verbal abuse and social isolation followed Kristina from middle school to high school, chipping away at her confidence and self-esteem until she had convinced herself that suicide was her only escape.
The 2008 to ’09 School Crime Supplement indicates that, nationwide, 28 percent of students in sixth to 12th grades experienced bullying. The most recent statistics available for Routt County are from 2010. In that year, suicide was the third leading cause of death for youths and young adults from ages 15 to 24. While not everyone who is bullied will get depressed — and not everyone who is depressed will commit suicide — the fact that the possibility exists is horrific and not something to be ignored. Suicide is preventable.
It Takes Courage is a community outreach team with members who share their stories of growth and resilience to demonstrate that help always is available and so is hope. The mission of the team is to raise awareness of the impacts of bullying and decrease incidents of suicide by providing our youths with tools that instill courage. It takes courage to stand up and speak out against bullying whether it’s for yourself or someone else. It takes courage to recognize the signs of depression and ask for help. It takes courage to know there is hope, even when things look hopeless.
Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, compassion and respect. These are the building blocks of an empathetic community. This is how we succeed. By teaching our children and one another the key roles these elements have in our society, we can make a difference. All we need is a little bit of courage.
Heather Savalox is the founder of It Takes Courage, a local community outreach team based in Steamboat Springs.