Although bullying among young children is not a new occurrence, it has gained increased attention in the United States following the Columbine shootings. Schools, parents, and communities have been faced with the notion that bullying is a problem that needs attention and, if ignored, can be devastating.
Different kinds of bullying
When we talk about bullying, we are actually talking about many different behaviors in a variety of settings. Bullying can take many forms, such as hitting and or pushing (physical bullying), teasing or name-calling (verbal bullying), intimidation or social exclusion (emotional bullying) and sending insulting messages through phone or computer e-mail (cyberbullying). The most common form of bullying is verbal, which includes such things as teasing, name-calling and put-downs. When I was growing up, we were taught “sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never harm you”. We know now that is far from the truth, and name-calling and other forms of verbal bullying can deeply hurt a person. A person who is a victim to thisrepeatedly and over a long period of time begins to doubt his/her self-worth and loses confidence in himself. Cyber- bullying is increasing in frequency, particularly among our middle and high school students. This form of bullying allows the bully to make comments to a victim or about a victim, that she may not have the nerve to say face to face. It also allows for a more rapid spread of rumors, which can be devastating.
Bullies, victims and bystanders
As indicated above, verbal bullying is the most common form of bullying experienced by boys and girls. Boys are more likely to be physical bullied than girls and girls are more likely to experience social isolation or exclusion than boys. Experts differ on their opinion about students who bully. Some say that bullies have high self-esteem while others say they don’t feel good about themselves. (The jury is still out on that one.) In either case, students who bully are often impulsive, lack empathy and may be desensitized to violence. Sometimes they have been victims of bullying themselves who then pick on someone else. Most bully behavior occurs in front of peers, as a way to gain attention and approval from others. The bystanders or witnesses play a tremendous role in stopping or encouraging the behavior. If we teach our students the difference between silly tattling and serious reporting, we can send an important message. When asked, most students say that they have been the victims of name calling or teasing at some point. There are fewer students, however, who are actually the victims of bullying over an extended period of time. The students whom we refer to as victims or targets are often different in some noticeable way from their peers. A student whose ears stick, has a weight problem or is a teacher’s pet may be targeted. We need to empower these students as well as teach tolerance across the board.
Where is it happening?
Surveys indicate that most bullying happens in areas where there is less adult supervision. School buses, cafeterias, hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms and playgrounds are the “hot spots” for bullying. A survey that we administered to students in grades three through five at Carver Elementary School supports this. It is imperative that we monitor these areas closely and also give students who may be “bystanders’ or witnesses the tools to report bullying to adults. As parents and educators, it is critical for us to listen to these reports and take them seriously. Schools need to have rules and policies in place for dealing with bullying and be consistent in the enforcement of these. Parents, similarly, need to listen to their children and contact the school if your child reports bullying to you.
What can we do?
I am well aware that some students may not feel comfortable reporting bullying to an adult for fear of repercussions or questions regarding their own involvement. We need to look for warning signs that a student is being bullied; unexplained cuts and bruises, seems afraid of school or riding the bus, lost interest in schoolwork or other activities, complains of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments, and trouble sleeping or bad dreams. If y our child shows any of these signs, this does not necessarily mean that he or she has is being bullied, but it is a possibility worth exploring.
If you suspect your child is being bullied, talk with your child. Tell your child that you are concerned and that you’d like to help. Next, contact your child’s teacher. He or she is a good position to see how your child interacts with others. Share your concerns with him/her and ask questions about how your child gets along with other students and whether or not he has suspected your child is being bullied. If you are not satisfied with the conversation, make an appointment to speak with the Principal or guidance counselor to discuss your concerns.
How can we prevent or reduce bullying?
Although reported incidents of bullying are on the rise, we do know that there are certain steps we can take to prevent or reduce the number of bullying incidents in our schools.
A focus on creating a school-wide environment that discourages bullying
Survey students to assess the nature and extent of bullying behavior
Training staff to recognize and respond to bullying
Development of consistent rules against bullying
Review and enhance school disciplinary policy related to bullying behavior
Classroom activities to discuss issues related to bullying and integrate these ideas across the curriculum
Individual work with students who have been bullied
Individual work with students who have bullied their peers
Involvement of parents in bully prevention and early identification
In closing, I would like to reassure the parents and staff of Henry County School that our schools are safe. When we begin to talk about bullying, we are mindful of the hidden message some people may read. We have become more sensitive to the long-term impact that bullying can have and are committed to maintaining safe schools and communities. Through modeling positive behaviors, recognizing problems early on and dealing consistently with bully incidents, we will reduce the bullying incidents in our schools. Together, we can help all of our children feel good about themselves and honor one another with respect and tolerance.
U.S. Department of Health and Human services. Stop BullyingNow! Bully-Free Virginia. ( www.bullyfreevirgnia.org)