Youth protection

Capitol first-responders
This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"If you see someone being bullied, make it stop. Why is that so hard for us to do?" — Susane Colasanti, bestselling writer of teen novels and former high school science teacher.

It probably is fair to say that most everyone who has attended school has either been bullied, been a bully, egged on a bully, been frightened by a bully, run from a bully, stood up for the bullied, consoled or befriended the bullied, or witnessed acts of bullying that, even decades later, are impossible to forget.

The point is, nobody has to define for us what it means to be "picked on," or to convince us that bullying is harmful, at times devastatingly so, and, in a growing number of cases, ends in suicide. It is the second-leading cause of death among Utah youths age 10 to 17.

As with adults, not all who attempt suicide succeed. In Utah, two a day are treated after trying and failing.

A few months ago a 14-year-old boy, a student at Bennion Junior High School, took his own life in clear view of other students. The day before he had been publicly mocked and humiliated by classmates.

This and other instances of teen suicide have shown that teen bullying has grown into a much greater problem than when most adult Utahns attended junior and senior high. Public concern has produced timely legislation offering overdue assistance to parents and schools in understanding and addressing suicide and the bullying that too often plays a part.

On Friday, the Legislature completed passage of HB298, requiring school districts, once a year, to hold parent seminars on suicide and bullying with a curriculum drawn up by the state school board. If districts don't want to participate, they must tell the state why. The governor should sign it.

Sen. Luz Robles rightly sees suicide and bullying as epidemic. Her SB184, awaiting action on the Senate floor, is the most critical of four bills because it addresses the issues directly, requiring schools to notify parents of students involved in bullying. The same requirement applies when a student threatens suicide. There is no reason not to hustle the bill to the governor.

Rep. Steve Eliason's HB298 encourages school districts to offer parents seminars on problems that often intersect. Besides bullying and suicide, they can learn more about substance abuse, Internet safety and mental health.

The bill should, but does not, require that school districts perform this public service, for only parents and schools together can begin to cure this affliction.