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  1. #1

    Facing the bully

    Facing the bully
    November 7, 2004
    TOM MCMAHON, Daily Nonpareil

    Note: The unattributed quotations in this story are taken from real-life situations. The source is "Bullying at School" at www.scre.ac.uk.

    "When I was at primary school I got picked on non-stop for two years. No one talked to me. I hadn't done anything to get blamed for, and I still don't know the reason I got picked on. I wasn't any wealthier or poorer or a different race.

    "I used to cry myself to sleep every night. I was miserable. My parents knew and they talked to the teacher, but he wasn't interested and said he couldn't do anything about it. My parents knew all the bullies' parents. One girl even lived in the same street, and we had been friends since we were 2. Like a sheep she dumped me because no one else talked to me.

    "This all happened in sixth grade and I have lost nearly all my self-confidence and hate being on my own. I'd hate to think this was happening to anyone else. I have a fear that if one girl doesn't talk to me they will all start again and it will never stop. I don't want it to go on for the rest of my school life. I couldn't cope."

    Those comments came from a 14-year-old - a victim of bullying.

    Bullying is when someone keeps doing or saying things to have power over another person. Bullying behaviors include name calling, saying or writing nasty things about another, excluding them from activities, not talking to them, threatening them, making them feel uncomfortable or scared, taking or damaging their things, hitting or kicking them or making them do things they don't want to do. From stealing test answers and lunch money to physical assault and even death, bullying is as old as Cain and Abel.

    But society has been taking a more proactive approach since the 1996 Columbine massacre. Shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been bullied, and one theory is their shooting rampage was revenge on their classmates. Whether one agrees with that view, since then schools and communities have taken a closer look at what can or should be done to intervene.

    Helping children manage fear and resist bullying is the topic of a two-part national satellite series to be hosted at Extension offices and various other locations throughout the United States. The "What's a Parent to Do" series will be broadcast Nov. 30 and Dec. 7.

    Kim Greder with ISU Extension said the program will help participants understand the fundamental strengths children acquire early-on to manage fear and resist predatory peer behavior such as bullying and other forms of intimidation. Participants will also examine how parents, teachers and members of a community can help support healthy social and emotional development in children and youth, Greder said.

    A 16-year-old male bully said, "I have never actually set out to bully someone myself. It usually comes about when someone is being annoyed and provides an amusing reaction that I begin to join in. At the time you do not see it as bullying, although you may have doubts later. I do not think there is anyone at school who has not bullied someone in one way or another."

    David Osher, Ph.D, said it is not true that everyone bullies. Osher, managing director of the American Institutes for Research and one of the video conference presenters, said the best research indicates about 30 percent of young people either bully, are bullied or both. "Bullies and their victims look similar in some ways," Osher said. "You often, not always, find depression or an anxiety disorder in both."

    But, Osher said, individual treatment is only one part of the equation. "To be effective at stopping bullying, the whole system needs to get involved," he said. "In places where you have a lot of bullying, the school and/or community environment contributes to it."

    Osher said parents and teachers sometimes inappropriately model bullying behavior. "A teacher who shouts or belittles kids is modeling bullying," he said. "You set up the students to do the same."

    Bonnie Korkow, a counselor at G. Stanley Hall Elementary School in Omaha, teaches students to help mediate conflict, a practice she said has reduced bullying behavior. "You intervene early to resolve issues that can escalate," she said. The former Malvern educator said she began the program, entitled the Community Board, while she was there in 1991. "I had parents asking me about it, telling me they wanted to learn it," she said. "Ignoring it is not the answer," she said. "It won't go away."

    One teacher whose school implemented a program to address bullying put it like this: "People could either say, 'That's a terrible school because they have bullying,' or they could say, 'That's a good school because they are facing up to it.' We decided to take the risk."

    Korkow said her students cover lunchroom and playground duty, being available to help their peers resolve disputes. "It is voluntary," she said. "If a student does not want to use the student mediator, a teacher will handle it and there are usually consequences." The mediators receive training and take their work seriously, she said. "We teach children there is strength in numbers. Bystanders need to be supportive, too," Korkow said. Korkow touts the program's success. She said when she started at Hall nine years ago, they had more than 800 conflict incidents per semester. Today, 50 to 75 is the average.

    Stan Sibley, Glenwood Community Schools Superintendent, said his board took the bull by the horns a little more than a year ago in dealing with the issue, forming a committee to look at creating a positive school environment. "We know if kids are being bullied and stressed they don't learn as well," he said. "There is also a safety issue." Sibley said the committee, made up of educators, parents and community leaders, is looking at ways to reduce negative peer behavior. "There are different ways of bullying," he said. Sibley said physical and verbal harassment are the most visible, but some students use passive-aggressive tactics. "Some kids shun others or spread rumors about them," he said. "That is a form of bullying, too."

    A parent said, "My daughter has been bullied since she was at primary school. Daily she is called names like bitch and slut. We have tried everything but no one listens. She has threatened to kill herself. All she wants is to be a happy kid at school with friends. I don't want any parent to suffer what we have suffered. I shall continue to fight."

    Sibley said his school district sees the need for community involvement in that fight. He said the Glenwood system will be working with students, staff and parents to educate them about the topic and provide strategies for change.

    Osher said such a systems approach has been shown to be most effective in reducing bullying. He said society or the school may have the attitude, "Boys will be boys." "Jocks shouldn't be allowed to beat up geeks," Osher said. "And because some adolescent teen girls tease or snub others doesn't mean all should have to endure it."

    He said in a school setting all students and staff need to be educated on unacceptable behavior and know how to deal with it. Osher said schools that will decrease bullying behavior are ones that: [list][*]Make sure all students have other positive connections to other students and adults. Isolated students are most vulnerable to bullies. "They (bullies) have good instincts for who is vulnerable," Osher said.[*]Enable children and adults to develop the social and emotional skills to interact effectively with others and solve problems. Osher said parents and teachers need to develop these to be effective in showing children the proper way to behave.[*]Proactively structure behavior so children will engage in positive behavior. Oshler said it is important for teachers at school and parents at home to tell children what is expected and "reinforce them for doing it right."[/list:u] Korkow said part of her program focuses on educating students about effective communication in conflict or bullying situations. "We work with students on using 'I' messages. She said an example would be, "When you talk like that, I feel angry." "We promote it a lot here," she said. It is part of creating an entire environment where respect for others is taught and bullying not tolerated.

    Korkow said bullies are usually bullied at home. "They are usually kids who don't have much control over their lives," she said. Korkow said contrary to popular belief, bullies do not necessarily have low self-esteem. "They are just aggressive."

    Osher said children who receive harsh discipline at home are more likely to bully. So where does the family fit in then? Osher said the best approach is to involve the family and school together in addressing the issue. "Sometimes other agencies, such as counseling, need to be brought in," he said. But if one piece of the system is not able or willing to be involved in addressing the bullying issue, Osher said the other pieces need to still do their part. "You can't give up and say, 'I can't do anything,'" he said.

    A newer form of bullying has also surfaced. Cyberbullying is harassing, humiliating, intimidating and/or threatening others on the Internet. It sometimes involves racial, religious or culture slurs. It can also be sexual in nature. It can involve someone the child knows or a complete stranger. Cyberbullying can include cruel jokes, malicious gossip, embarrassing information or photographs and/or Web sites designed to target a specific child or teacher. Although the private nature of the Internet attacks can be easier on the victim because there is not a face-to-face encounter, it can be more difficult because the identity of the bully might be hidden and/or the intensity of the attack may be stronger.

    Osher said there has been an increase in society's attention to bullying since Columbine and other school shootings in the 90s. He said a national review of those shootings indicated the shooter had been bullied in a large number of cases. "Not all bullies will shoot someone, almost none will," Osher said. "But we pay a large societal price when it escalates to that point."

  2. #2
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    Facing the bully

    I can relate well to this article. I was bullied from grades 5 to 8 mercilessly. It was mostly by passive methods such as exclusion and malicious rumours, but it hurt just as much. The funny thing was, I was a physically strong person (the one time a bully tried to physically assault me, I came out of the situation on top), but I was very sensitive. This is what the bullies capitalized on. Against this, I stood no chance.

    On a side note, I noticed something disturbing happening in my neighbourhood. It seems a girl in my neighbourhood is the victim of a systematic campaign of sexual harrassment. There is all sorts of grafitti going up calling her a s--- and so on. Some of them name her in full and even give her exact address. I have seen at least a dozen incidents of this in the past year. To me this goes beyond bullying and me even qualify for criminal sexual harrassment.

  3. #3

    Facing the bully

    That's my feeling too, Steve. I think it will take either criminal charges or civil litigation before we see this abating at all... right now, I think it's increasing.

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