Bullying certainly made headlines after Columbine in April,1999, but it’s taken on added urgency now in light of a recent spate of children who have taken their own lives–quite literally hounded to death. Even President Obama has made it a priority.
As he has advised, “We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage—that it’s some inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids. And to every young person out there, you need to know that if you’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help.”
To that end, October was named National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, with November touted as Anti-Bullying Month, the 15th through the 19th Anti-Bullying Week, and the first called National Anti-Bullying Day.
All very noble, but lofty labels alone, while garnering a certain amount of attention, don’t necessarily affect change. Instead, every day of the year, we must all pull together and stop attributing all this meanness to just kids being kids.
For instance, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on October 25th, 17-year-old Jesse Buchsbaum hanged himself in his Gilbertsville home; his family believes bullying contributed to his death.
That’s why our schools across the country are so committed to reducing bullying, establishing a student code of conduct, providing outreach programs for parents, and adopting such programs as Olweus and Roots of Empathy, or ROE, which is showing even more promise in halting what some call an epidemic of mistreatment.
At the heart of school-wide efforts, though, is creating a climate where students can confide in their teachers, counselors, and administrators, knowing that their concerns will be taken seriously and addressed immediately.
Take, for instance, Pennsylvania’s Pottstown High School’s “Restorative Practices,” which is producing a culture of support when kids are confronted with bullying. And, when initial efforts to stem the problem prove inadequate, as Principal Stephen Rodriguez says, “The district gets tough.”
So should we all.
A recent Josephson Institute of Ethics survey of 43,321 teens, 15 to 18, from 78 public and 22 private schools, found that 50% said they’d been “bullied, teased, or taunted in a way that seriously upset me at least once.” Meanwhile, in the past 12 months . . .
• 52% said they’d hit someone in anger;
• 37% of boys and 19% of girls said it’s OK to hit or threaten someone who angers them.
And, as if that’s not enough, along with the fact that obese children are bullied more than anyone else, an American Justice Department survey found that:
• 25% of kids are bullied.
• 14% of those who had been bullied experienced severe/bad reactions.
• 20% admitted to being a bully or doing some bullying.
• 43% fear being harassed in the school bathroom.
• 8% said they miss a day of school each month fearful of bullying.
Even more unsettling is that bullying behavior patterns are set by age six.
All of this, of course, suggests that, along with sticks and stones, words do, indeed, hurt, and that means it’s all-the-more imperative that we parents be proactive.
Start by asking that your child’s physician discuss bullying during checkups. Plus, since this is no time to adhere to some unwritten code of silence, be sure to remind your child to confide in a trusted adult—you or someone else—whenever being harassed.
Always be vigilant, too, noting behaviors that suggest bullying might be involved, such as if your child:
1) Becomes moody, withdrawn, or stressed.
2) Complains of stomach aches and/or nightmares.
3) Shows signs of physical abuse, including tattered clothing and unexplained bruises.
4) Experiences a drop in grades.
5) Expresses disdain for others and engages in a good deal of gossiping.
Bottom line: listen well to your child, paying careful attention and providing solid support–communicating openly and serving as a guide without interfering unnecessarily in his or her life. And, of course, monitor your own behavior, too, as research tells us that the typical bully comes from a conflicted family.