Exactly what will happen now that some Artesia community leaders got together to talk about youth bullying remains uncertain, but panelists and participants said that the important thing was to start a conversation with each other and begin talking with kids.
The Artesia office of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico and the Artesia Arts Council organized an anti-bullying workshop Friday at the Ocotillo Performing Art Center on Main Street for youth leaders to talk about bullying among kids, including online bullying.
“We started the conversations as adults, because that is where the conversation needs to start, and now y’all will take it to the kids,” said Laurie Schotz, executive director of the Artesia Arts Council and the facilitator for a panel discussion.
She added that she and a panel member, Jessica Caballero of the Changing Lives Coalition, plan to organize a bullying prevention effort in January that will have youth creating videos on the topic. Caballero is involved in several programs in schools for at-risk youth.
About 21 people attended the workshop, movie screening and panel discussion, representing such organizations as local schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Grammy’s House, 702 4 U, Faith Baptist Church and Altrusa.
The first workshop was intended only for adults working with youth, but the fictional movie “Cyberbully” and the following question-and-answer session with panelists were open to the public.
No youth attended the event, but panelists encouraged those present to talk to youth about the topics raised in the movie. The movie is similar to the real-life case of Megan Meier of Missouri, who committed suicide at age 13 after experiencing social media harassment when people created a fake profile to make her think a boy liked her and then began shaming her once she shared personal information and began to care about the online persona. “Cyberbully” also is about the attempted suicide of the main character and the subsequent efforts of teens and adults to change laws and the school environment. (New Mexico has laws and policies against bullying and cyberbullying of youth.)
Caballero said modeling and teaching healthy behaviors has to begin at basic levels.
Also one of the facilitators of the GIrl Power Lunch group at the Artesia junior high, she said that youth are sometimes struggling at young ages with issues of addiction, abuse and neglect, in themselves and their families. They need help defining what respectful behavior means and learning how people behave when they care and listen to each other.
Stacie Heacox of Big Brothers Big Sisters added that adults also need to explain and model to youth what it means to stand up for themselves and each other. They also need to understand the difference between the ideal of assertive conversation versus submissive or aggressive statements.
Panelists and attendees also talked about the importance of adults and school officials initiating the discussions about mental health concerns following such difficulties following divorce and deaths in families and to address suicidal thoughts before situations reach a critical point.
“They think they are alone,” said teacher Ashley Mason. “I’ve heard it called the Superman syndrome, where they think they are invincible and that this couldn’t happen to me. They feel like they are alone in their struggle, even though every single person at the school has probably experienced something like that.”
Youth minister Paul Dunbar of Faith Baptist Church, who works with fifth graders and younger children, said he feels it is important to remind youth of the value of their lives. He said younger kids don’t have the ability to understand the permanence of what they say and do. He stressed the importance of such talks in the today’s world, one where an app has gone viral that encourages teens to complete 50 dares, with the last one being suicide. (Suicide was the second-leading cause of death in 2014 for people 15 to 19, according to a National Vital Statistics Report issued by the Center for Disease Control in 2016.)
“Every day when they come in, I remind them that they were created for a purpose, that they are important and that they are special,” he said, “and when I leave I tell them the same thing. … The people in this room are a catalyst for making something happen.”
The panelists also talked about the importance of training youth to counsel other youth, recognizing that adolescents and teens often will pay more attention to what their peers say. An audience member also suggested getting youth involved in service projects that will show them that they have talents and abilities that are valued and appreciated by others.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.