By Terry Dean
Children who bully other kids, or engage in violence, oftentimes learn such behavior from adults, said several parents at a recent APPLE meeting at OPRF High School that included Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley.
Tanksley was the keynote speaker at the Feb. 12 meeting, attended by more that two-dozen people. Tanksley addressed such issues as bullying and gang activity in Oak Park in his talk that eventually broadened into a larger discussion with attendees. "Helping kids make better choices" was the night's theme.
There was much discussion about bullying and how to empower kids to talk about it and ask for help if they're being victimized. One parent noted that in any school, including OPRF, the kids and teachers know who the bullies are. And those bullies are usually a small group of kids but they're behavioral impact is huge.
A lot of kids are scared to speak out, said another parent, fearing that they themselves will be bullied for "snitching." And it's not just kids bullying one another, the group agreed — adults can also bully each other, and their kids sometimes take on that behavior at school.
Mark Vance, a 30-year veteran teacher at OPRF who attended the meeting, spoke passionately about what kids face.
"Some of us are guilty for setting the tone," he said, recalling a recent incident involving one of his students who was suspended for fighting.
"One of the young ladies was recently in an altercation where now she's out of class…and I told her, if I were her grandfather, 'You're not supposed to fight in school,'" Vance said. "But the young lady said — and we need to take this into consideration, because we raise our children: 'Don't let anyone hit you and get away with it.' And many of our kids, they take that in."
The school, Vance added, has rules different than those in some homes and kids have to be taught to navigate both. Vance stressed that a lot of kids are confused by those mix messages of defending one's self versus finding an adult to help mediate disputes. Tanksley said he tells children — boys and girls — to settle their differences without resorting to violence.
"Fighting is not going to resolve anything. What happens when you're 35 and you come to a disagreement — you're going to start fighting with somebody?" Tanksley said. "No, you've got to be able to resolve it in more appropriate ways. You got to talk it out or find somebody to help you talk it out."
Tanksley also addressed gang activity and how best to keep kids away from gangs, in response to a parent's question. Street gangs are hard to resist for some youth because of peer pressure, Tanksley said.
"They can threaten you and you have to seek out help and tell somebody," he said.
The chief noted, however, the difficulty in pinpointing certain behaviors as gang-related — much of the activity he sees is tied to just bad juvenile behavior. Some kids, he added, do claim affiliation with gangs in Chicago, Berwyn or elsewhere.
"It's hard to say that some of the activity that we see is strictly gang-related. Some of it is but much of it isn't," Tanksley said, adding that his department looks for gang graffiti as a sign of activity.
Ninety percent of the graffiti his officers see in the community is not gang-related, the chief told the audience.