Bullying has become a significant societal issue and a major problem in our school systems.

Bullying “is the most enduring and underrated problem in United States schools,” according to the National School Safety Center.

A study published in Psychology in Schools reports that one in five children is a victim of bullying; bullyingstatistics.org reports that 15 percent of students who miss school cite fear of bullying as the cause.

For these reasons, the subject of bullying deserves time and attention.

Bullying is a devastating form of abuse that can have long-term effects on children, such as lowering self-esteem and isolation from peers.

Children who witness bullying also can be affected, by feeling helpless and afraid that they might be the next target. And 60 percent of teens in the United States witness bullying at least once a day, according to a study conducted by the Family and Work Institute.

Bullying also can be detrimental to the perpetrators of bullying themselves. Bullies learn that aggression, threats and violence are ways to handle conflict, and their behavior can continue into adulthood.

In a study conducted by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, almost 60 percent of middle school boys whom the researchers saw demonstrating bullying behavior were convicted of a crime by age 24. Forty percent of those had more than three convictions.

For the past two decades, bullying has been a hot topic in the media because of incidents such as the shootings at Columbine High School. Media also have called attention to high-profile suicides of teenage victims of bullying. Recently, the It Gets Better campaign brought attention to the effects of bullying on gay and lesbian youth.

A significant amount of research has been done about mental health issues resulting from bullying. The research has reached similar conclusions: Bullying has detrimental effects on children and later adult mental well-being.

Bullying has been connected to higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety and eating disorders.

Is there any wonder that bullying has such a deep impact on children?

Humans are social creatures and a major part of our existence is our interactions with others. For children, a significant part of these interactions is at school with their teachers and peers.

When children feel unsafe with their peers, their academic performance may decline or they may avoid attending school. Missing school or having poor grades can have a long-term affect on a child’s future.

The National Education Association reported that more than 40 percent of students surveyed in 2010 said bullying was a moderate or major problem in their school.

Every child has the right not only to feel safe and secure but also to be able to attend a school where he or she can learn and grow.

In the next few weeks, the Legislature will vote on whether to pass L.D. 1237, an act to prohibit bullying in schools. The act will require school administrative units to adopt preventative measures for bullying, intimidation and harassment.

The new school policies would be required to be posted on public sites and to be communicated to family, teachers and guardians. It also must secure a way for incidents of bullying to be reported.

One of the changes proposed in this bill is the inclusion of cyber-bullying. With the creation and widespread use of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, bullying has risen to an entirely different level of harassment. These social networking websites, and others, are places where students are able to bully each other with relatively little oversight.

L.D. 1237 will include all communications through electronic means, so harassment via texting would be prohibited as well.

The Legislature’s Education Committee voted last month to unanimously pass L.D. 1237.

Children have a right to feel safe to attend school and to be protected from witnessing and experiencing harassment and violence. People who agree with this anti-bullying bill are encouraged to voice their support to their legislators.

Jessica Gilbert is aUniversity of Maine student working on a master’s degree in social work.

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