National Youth Violence Prevention Week: Will you be the change in a child’s life?

Michelle Edwards

I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed this week and I saw a friend’s post. “Learning my middle schooler didn't eat lunch yesterday because a fellow student purposefully poured a carton of milk over his entire tray of food — didn't put me in the best of moods this morning.” A few thoughts flew through my mind in rapid succession. I was sad for that kid and I was angry for that mom. I was terrified for my niece who will be in first grade next year. Finally, my stomach tightened thinking about my own school experiences.

In 2015, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that 7.8% of youth grades 9-12 reported being in a physical fight on school property in the last 12 months before the survey. 5.6% said they missed school one or more days in the 30 days previous to the survey because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. 20.2% reported being bullied on school property and 15.5 % reported being bullied electronically during the 12 months before the survey.

I think back to my school days. I suffered in silence. My family of origin was unable to be present for me. There were some really bad days that turned into weeks and eventually years. There are several things that I believe saved my life. First, my school-age years were forged in the 90’s. A lot of LGBTQ folks were closeted. Being gay was not something we talked about. Second, there were a few teachers throughout the years that befriended me.

In the 90s, we also didn’t talk about abuse or bullying. Many people in my life did not have the knowledge or tools to help me. I often felt alone, but there were a few teachers who noticed me. There was no one available to remove me from my situation, but knowing that there were people who felt positively toward me and valued me gave me the strength I needed to survive another day. I firmly believe they saved my life.

It only takes one person to change the outcome of a child’s life. How can you help? The CDC states: “Not all injuries are visible. Exposure to youth violence and school violence can lead to a wide array of negative health behaviors and outcomes, including alcohol and drug use and suicide. Depression, anxiety, and many other psychological problems, including fear, can result from school violence.” You can be the voice a child needs by being aware and paying attention. There may be evidence beyond physical symptoms.

National Youth Violence Prevention Week is March 19-23. It is organized by Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) and Sandy Hook Promise. They will be focusing on a different prevention strategy each day of the week.
Monday: Knowing the Signs
Tuesday: Promoting Respect and Tolerance
Wednesday: Being an Upstander
Thursday: Resolving Conflicts Peacefully
Friday: Uniting in Action.
Check out their website for more information, including activities you can participate in throughout the week.

As I look at the picture of my sweet five-year-old niece, I hope and pray that she has people who will advocate for her while she is at school. We can all be an advocate for those who are bullied and marginalized. It only takes one person to change a life. This week, choose a day to learn how you can help change a young person’s life.