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Preventing Bullying in Michigan: "Adults Have to do More"

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Advocates for teens worry about an increase in online bullying during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
Advocates for teens worry about an increase in online bullying during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
October 30, 2020

LANSING, Mich. - Bullying continues to be a pervasive problem among Michigan youth, and it's more common among high school students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer-plus.

Young people who are bullied or harassed are at greater risk for depression, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.

Jamie Erdheim, coordinator of MY Consent Culture with the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health, explained the pandemic and the current political climate are both intensifying bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identify.

She said young people often find themselves dealing with the problem alone.

"Youth are the ones often fighting for better protections, or having people take harassment or violence seriously," said Erdheim. "And that's a travesty. Adults are the ones that set the culture. They're the ones that set the climate. Adults have the power. It's on adults. We have to do more."

Erdheim contended addressing bullying is more than a single conversation, but an entire culture shift. And while progress has been made in recent years on equality, she said discrimination against some groups continues - and the harm it causes is too often minimized.

Erdheim said ensuring student safety in the virtual learning environment is uncharted territory for Michigan educators. Her organization - MOASH - has been providing training and professional development to help teachers learn ways to keep lines of open communication with their students.

"People are trying to skill-build, skill-share and then troubleshoot," said Erdheim. "What have you tried, what's worked, what's not worked? How to be trauma-informed in a virtual space; how to interact with youth; how to connect with youth outside of class. We're all kind of just building the bike as we're riding it."

Erdheim said what's especially tricky is helping a student who's being harassed at home. She said it's important to examine how best to support these young people outside the classroom environment.

"I can't make your home life better, per se," said Erdheim. "But we can work with educators and trusted people in your school to make it affirming. We can't be everywhere all the time, and we can't change hearts and minds. We want youth to stay in their homes, and we want those homes to be safe."

Before the pandemic, one-in-five students reported being bullied, with 15% of incidents occurring online or through texting.

Disclosure: Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, LGBTQIA Issues, Reproductive Health, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI