("The Last Straw" campaign rolls out this month to address at-risk behavior, including bullying and suicide, in the Memphis-area community. The effort is a collaboration involving the Shelby County Office of Early Childhood & Youth's All Babies Count, Ask First Campaign; the KoKo Friends Foundation; Dress for Success Memphis' Professional Women's Group; and Pursuit of God's 7 P's ministry.)
Recent incidences of bullied-related suicides authenticate the escalating problem of bullying among elementary, middle, high school and even college students across the nation. According to the National Education Association, approximately 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.
Statistics collected by the 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety revealed that approximately 20 percent of teens had been made fun of by a bully, 18 percent of teens had rumors or gossip spread about them, 11 percent were physically bullied (such as being shoved, tripped or spit on), 6 percent were threatened, 5 percent were excluded from activities they wanted to participate in, 4 percent were coerced into something they did not want to do, and 4 percent had their personal belongings destroyed by bullies.
Parents, school systems and lawmakers are dumbfounded by the sheer magnitude of the problem children are facing at school, en route to or from school, and online.
"When I walked in on my daughter about to take her life because she was a victim of bullying, my entire world was turned upside down," said Dr. Clara Denise West, founder and president of KoKo and Friends Foundation (KAFF). "After crying with and for my daughter, I realized I had to do something.
"I knew that bullying was a problem but when it came to my house, it was ON! I was not about to bury my child because of the actions of someone else's child," West said. "Not many parents will admit their child is either a bully or victim because it would imply their child is less-than-perfect or that they failed as a parent. I also came to the conclusion that many parents – like me – have no idea what is really going on with our children within their peer groups, especially in school settings."
According to West, as a nation, "We are leaving the rearing of our children to schools, sexually-obsessed media, recording artists, or worse, the children to raise themselves. Children are not mini-adults. They don't know what is best for them.
"Parents have got to step up to the plate and stop trying to be their child's friend," said West. "Being a parent means that sometimes your child won't like you – get over it. It's called parenting. Set rules and boundaries for your child and maybe the teachers can actually teach instead of having to deal with a classroom of undisciplined children."
Founded in Huntsville, Ala. in August 2009, KAFF moved to Memphis in April 2012. Its mission is to address sensitive social issues and challenges facing students in grades K through 12 and to make a positive and lasting difference in their lives. It has programs designed to "promote proactive social awareness by providing children, parents, teachers/school administrators with the resources and support they need to address the social pressures and conflicts young people face in their schools and other peer-on-peer interactions."
In 2010, KAFF piloted its anti-bullying Not on Our Watch (N.O.W.) Community Outreach Program in Huntsville.
"We have discovered that bullying is a symptom of other issues that must be addressed, in conjunction with bullying, within the context of the family and community," said West. "School systems are being unfairly held accountable for poor parenting. I think the laws should be changed to hold parents both civilly and criminally liable for not raising their children to conform to the rules of society. If parents know they could go to jail for their kid's actions, believe me, things would change immediately.
"Allowing a child to do or say whatever he or she wants to do without any boundaries or consequences, or, worse, giving a child whatever they ask for is child abuse," said West. "Not teaching your child to respect you or any other authority figure is child abuse. Parents fail both their children and society when they send them into the world unprepared for life."
(The five phases of "The Last Straw" campaign are: Stand Up! Stand Out! Speak Up! Speak Out! Pledge Up! Stay tuned for details of "The Last Straw" Memphis Rally.)