Social Concerns Among Students
Issues such as bullying, homelessness, depression and substance abuse may occur in or out of school, but they ultimately affect school climate as well as the community as a whole. These non-academic issues, like bullying, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and teen pregnancy can affect student learning and development and sometimes lead to safety issues for individuals and groups. Unaddressed concerns can lead to increases in dropout rates, juvenile crime activity, welfare dependency and suicide.
Keywords Bullying; Cutting; Cyber-Bullying; Depression; Homelessness; Hurricane Katrina; McKinney-Vento Act; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Pregnancy; Social Concerns; Substance Abuse; United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
What are Social Concerns?
Social concerns are non-academic issues that can affect student learning and development and sometimes lead to safety issues for individuals and groups, such as the student population and the community as a whole. Unaddressed concerns can lead to increases in dropout rates, juvenile crime activity, welfare dependency and suicide.
What are the Most Common Social Concerns?
Bullies have been around for generations, but in recent years experts have realized that bullying has long-term effects on both the victims and the bullies (Lemonick, Colton, Holton, Song, & Steptoe, 2005). Bullying refers to any type of rough behavior that is "deliberately aggressive" such as name-calling, hitting, mocking, slander, and social isolation (Lemonick, et al., 2005). Students can get bullied because of their race, sex, age, appearance, or just being different (Hall, 2007). Bullying violates a section in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that no one can be subjected to interference with family or privacy, nor to attacks upon one's reputation (Hall, 2007).
The American Medical Association released a statement in 2002 declaring bullying a public health problem because of its long-term mental health results (Lemonick, et al., 2005). Victims of bullying attend school less than other students, receive lower grades, have fewer friends and are at increased risk for depression (Lemonick, et al., 2005). The bullies are less likely to develop positive social skills and conflict resolution skills. They are also four times more likely than other students to participate in criminal activity by the time they are in their early twenties, and are more inclined to develop problems with substance abuse. Children who witness bullying are also affected by the act (Lemonick, et al., 2005).
Experts do not have a definitive reason as to why bullying exists, but they do know that it is prevalent. At a Los Angeles middle school, nearly half the students reported being bullied at least one time. Bullying can be difficult for teachers to address because it is often subtle and hard to detect. In addition, the act of cyber-bullying, sending taunting messages via email or posting on websites and chat rooms, is on the rise (Lemonick, et al., 2005).
Depression is the most common mental illness among adolescents (Cash, 2003). As many as 3.5 million high school students may be experiencing clinical depression (Salvatore, 2006). Only about one third of them will get help from a mental health professional (Cash, 2003). Most teenagers experience periods where they feel depressed, angry and alone so it is difficult to detect the difference between depression and normal teenage mood swings (Cash, 2003). Depression is more than just feeling blue; it is a persistent sadness and the inability to feel pleasure (Cash, 2003). Depression can affect anyone but post-pubescent girls are the most likely to suffer from depression. Gay and bisexual teens, students living in poverty and American Indians are also more susceptible to depression (Cash, 2003).
Adolescent depression has been known to reveal itself differently than adult depression. (Salvatore, 2006). Symptoms of depression can include: sleeping too much or too little, changes in appetite, lack of focus, low self-esteem and withdrawal from peers and activities (Cash, 2003). Changes in school behavior such as defiance, skipping classes, sudden drop in grades and focus may also be signs of depression. Teens who are depressed may exhibit other disturbing behaviors such as sexual promiscuity, substance abuse and cutting. Even more worrisome is the fact that suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teenagers. More girls attempt suicide than boys, but boys are much more likely to succeed (Cash, 2003).
Research has shown that teen drug and alcohol abuse is not only occurring on nights and weekends, but also during the school day (Finn & Willert, 2006). Shockingly, schools might be the easiest place for teens to purchase drugs ("Survey Finds," 1997). According to a recent national survey, 62% of high school students and 28% of middle school students said drugs are distributed, used, and abused on school grounds. This is a 47% increase since a 1992 study (Finn & Willert, 2006).
To make matters worse, teens who attend schools where drugs are present are three times more likely to smoke marijuana and twice as likely to experiment with alcohol (Finn & Willert, 2006). A study by the Center for Disease Control “showed that male and Hispanic students had higher levels of in school drug use than female and white students” (Finn, 2006, ¶ 1). As student age increases, so too does drug use, and the majority of students were unaware of the disciplinary action that would be taken in their schools to if they were caught using drugs. Alcohol and drug use in school lead to increased truancy rates and poor academic performance (Finn, 2006).
A study conducted in Ohio in 2005 assessed the risk factors associated with students who sell drugs. Results from an anonymous survey revealed that 11.9% of the participants had sold drugs in the past year. Students who distributed drugs were most often men and lived in single parent homes. The students were also more likely to participate in other risky behaviors such as vandalism, violent behavior and abuse of drugs and alcohol (Steinman, 2005).
One social concern that is often overlooked in education is the issue of homelessness. Homelessness is defined as living in places that do not have water, electricity and other basic services; living in motels, shelters, public spaces and temporary arrangements with other families (Berliner, 2002). Since Hurricane Katrina has displaced over 370,000 school-aged children, the issue has received more attention (Hall, R., 2007). Homeless children attending school has been a growing concern for many years but it is difficult to quantify the number of school-aged children who are homeless. Many homeless students will not admit to or discuss their living situations out of embarrassment. Homeless families often move around a lot and “avoid authorities (for fear of losing custody of their children)” making them impossible to track (Berliner, 2002, ¶ 2).
“Families with children are the fastest-growing element of the homeless population. Over the past decade, the number of homeless children has more than doubled” (Berliner, 2002, ¶ 2). The National Coalitions for the Homeless estimates that 1 million children experience homelessness each year and many are never identified or given the assistance they need (Hall, R., 2007). Although more boys are believed to be homeless than girls, race, family structure and geographic location did not serve as indicators of homelessness (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006). Contrary to popular assumptions, homelessness is not just an urban problem and higher rates of homelessness exist among families with children (Hall, R., 2007).
The risk factors associated with homelessness range from natural disasters to eviction to family conflicts such as substance abuse, violence or neglect. All of these reasons are concerns of their own, but combined with being homeless add more stress to students and their families. In addition, “homeless parents are more likely to be single women who have a mental health disorder or physical health problem and are less able to attend to the needs of their children” (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006, ¶ 13).
The impact of homelessness on a child is vast. Malnutrition, hunger, sleep deprivation and developmental delays are physical consequences of homelessness. School-aged, homeless children also display low self-esteem, anger and anxiety over their situation (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006). Social interaction is usually stunted and children tend to be withdrawn or disruptive in the classroom. Depression, aggression and suicide can result if concerns are not addressed. Simply enrolling in school is a challenge for homeless students as many parents do not have appropriate documentation or previous school records (Hall, R., 2007). “Homeless students are more likely to have low test scores, poor grades and behavior problems” (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006, ¶ 2). Many homeless students have issues with transportation resulting in high truancy and drop-out rates (Hall, R., 2007).
Teen pregnancy is occurring at an alarming rate. According to Scholl (2007), the United States has the largest number of teen pregnancies in the Western world. One out of every 10 American girls becomes pregnant before age 20, and teenagers from minority backgrounds are at an even higher risk. About half of teen pregnancies carry to...
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