In 2009, the US Department of Education conducted a study on bullying and found that nearly one in three middle and high school students report being bullied. In that same study, 54% of Asian American teenagers were bullied in school, significantly higher than any other ethnic group: 38.4% for African-American, 34.3% for Hispanics and 31.3% for whites. Suicide rates and depression are on the rise as well for Asian youths. Statistics and numbers don't really tell the story. Let's put faces to this problem.
In December 2009, at a South Philadelphia high school, 26 Asian immigrant students were being bullied and physically assaulted sending 13 of them to the hospital. In 2011, 19-year-old Danny Chen, who was serving in the US Army in Afghanistan, apparently committed suicide after being bullied with racial slurs and physical attacks by his peers and supervisors. He often endured taunts including racial slurs like "gook" "chink" and "dragon lady." Lance Corporal Harry Lew, USMC, committed suicide after fellow marines physically assaulted him punching and stomping on his back and throwing sand in his face. Before taking his life, Lew wrote on his arm, "may hate me now, but in the long run this was the right choice I'm sorry my mom deserves the truth."
Some of the reasons Asian may be targeted for bullying could include the "nerd" stereotype and passiveness, obvious language differences or accents when speaking English, social awkwardness or even the trending anti-immigration sentiment in some parts of the US. These things are difficult to change, but there is another potential reason that can be changed. Many Asian parents place pressure on their kids to acclimate into society, often telling them to "suck it up " or "don't make waves." There is also a tendency (maybe it's cultural) for Asians in general to be quiet and hold their emotions inside rather than talk through issues or express one's emotions.
I spoke to a friend of mine, Dan Puder, who founded My Life, My Power, a program to help youths combat bullying through various means including self esteem, self-empowerment and body image. He also has a unique approach to dealing with bullies utilizing education and realization from the victims' perspectives instead of just punishment. Dan told me that communication is critical in dealing with kids today. "They are a different generation and are programmed differently”, said Dan. "Parents need to adjust to how life is today for their kids instead of looking at how they handled things when they were kids."
I am certainly not implying that anyone is not parenting correctly or that your kids suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide. But I do believe bullying is a serious problem and I do believe we can help our kids deal with it. So take some time to talk to your teenagers and let them know they can come talk to you about anything. Talk to them about bullying. Let them know there are resources they can utilize if they are not comfortable talking to you. Believe me, they are experiencing bullying whether they talk about it or not. I know I did. I know I never talked about it as a kid.
Image Credit: Pacific Citizen