"I hope you don't remember me," the email began, "but I wanted you to know how sorry I am that my buddies and I made fun of the way you looked in junior high school. I have worried for years about my actions back then and I just found your email address. Please forgive me."
Fortunately, I do not remember the incidents that had caused the writer angst for more than 50 years. (I do remember an elementary school bully who caught me at a footbridge after school one day and insisted that I sing a song about a chocolate pie before he would let me cross, but that just happened once.) I guess I am lucky that whatever occurred in junior high didn't have a lasting impact. Today, I might not be as fortunate. And, as the father of an eight year-old, I worry for her and her classmates.
According to a study published last month in School Psychology Quarterly, nearly one third of middle and high school students in California have been bullied. Nearly 50 percent of those students have been targeted due to a bias such as their apparence, ethnicity, religion, disability or gender. More than 10 percent of all students -- approximately 301,000 -- missed at least one day of school because they didn't feel safe.
Unlike my experience, many of these children will not forget the bullies of their lives. In addition to experiencing anxiety for personal safety and depression, some will turn to substance abuse and others to violence.
The California study attempts to estimate the economic cost of bullying. In states where funding is based upon daily school attendance, the economic cost of bias bullying absences can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The study suggests that by learning the economic cost, school districts may be encouraged to spend more to address bullying.
It is far too easy to chalk this up as a subject for school systems to solve. This is a challenge for the entire community. Leaders of youth programs in all settings -- athletics, scouts, faith-based organizations -- all need to understand how to recognize bullying and its impact. To ignore it, invites increasing incidents of violence and the trauma that accompanies it.