The election season is upon us and I wish to remind everyone that our children are watching, listening and learning. As school districts across our nation continue to develop and implement policies in response to bullying, I believe that we must reflect on why this has become a national issue.

I am not proposing that this opinion piece will address all the reasons why bullying has seemingly increased. What I do propose is that the behaviors of those in the public eye, sports stars, musicians and, yes, politicians do influence our impressionable youth.

I admire all who seek to serve in local, state and national governments. They are to be commended for entering into a democratic process that can be vicious. But the brutality of running for office has intensified to the point where many citizens will not make the attempt, because by doing so they risk attacks on their reputation, character and family. Our students, with their eyes wide open, observe how we adults behave. It is my belief that adult behavior is part of the problem with the rise in the number of bullying incidents that occur in and outside of our schools.

I am fully aware that bullies have been a part of society throughout human existence. Yet, the intensity of such behavior has increased to a level that some children feel that the only way to escape a bully or bullies is to commit suicide. It should not be surprising that the rise in social media has given the public another tool with which to intimidate, humiliate and disgrace and I am not proposing that politicians are solely to blame. However, as an educator, I am cognizant that children are keen observers of human behavior and they are influenced by the conduct of public officials.

Reflect upon the number of political advertisements which intimidate, humiliate and disgrace. Observe the political speeches which often times do not center on the critical issues that face our nation but rather carry a tone of disrespect, dishonor and dishonesty. Yes, our children observe all of this and, unfortunately, have grown so accustomed to such conduct that they mirror these behaviors in their own lives.

So how does one recognize a bully? There is no single color, no level of income or level of education which characterizes a bully; a bully comes in all shapes and sizes. A bully can be young or old, can attend a private, public or charter school, and can speak any language. A bully is a member of every religion and political party. One recognizes a bully by his or her behavior.

We are all human and imperfect. As the leader of a school district, I believe it is my responsibility to self-reflect to ensure that I do not behave like a bully. I ask our leaders to do the same so that when we view a political advertisement or hear a political speech, we observe civility and respect.

Educators will continue to do all we can to prevent a bully from inflicting harm, intimidating the most vulnerable and disgracing someone into submission. I ask that politicians across our nation do their part to behave in a dignified manner and properly debate the issues in a civil manner so that differences can be resolved for the betterment of society. Yes, our children are watching, they are listening and they are learning. Political leaders: how will you choose to behave?

• Dr. Kenneth R. Baca is superintendent of the Tempe Union High School District.

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