Sue Scheff: Bullying in Schools

Its seems that bullying is a growing and stinging problem. Years ago we remember being teased or made fun of, but today it seems bullying has become more vicious and malicious. We now know that sticks and stones can break your bones - but words CAN hurt you! The emotional damage can sting a lot longer than a physical injury.

Take the time to be an educated parent. Here is a timely article from Connect with Kids with some great tips and resources.

Bullying in Schools

“It's a big world out there... there's not just one group of kids, there's not just one girl who you need to be friends with. Your life doesn't end if you move away from the group you're having trouble with and make friends somewhere else.”

– Stacey DeWitt, President, Connect with Kids, Inc.

Online bullying has gotten a lot of attention lately, but a new study by the U.S. Justice Department and the C-D-C shows that the old fashioned kind of bullying hasn't gone away. According to the report, more than one in five of our children is physically bullied by other kids.

Alison was bullied in middle school. "I'd be walking down the, walking down the hallway and they'd be like, 'Alison, you can take your mask off, it's not Halloween anymore.' Or, 'Alison, you're so ugly, no guy would ever kiss you'," she remembers.

Two students taunted Michelle in high school. "Her and this boy were calling me a fat a-s-s, and the boy finally said 'man, fat people sure do stink', and so I said well why don't you take a bath?"

How do you help your child?

One answer is help them understand you can move on and find new friends. "It's a big world out there... there's not just one group of kids, there's not just one girl who you need to be friends with," explains Stacey DeWitt, President of Connect with Kids. "Your life doesn't end if you move away from the group you're having trouble with and make friends somewhere else."

But what if a child is trapped on a school bus?

That's where Russell was assaulted. "And umm, he might've punched me like fifteen or twenty times, and I got like, maybe punched him maybe once or twice, but not much," says Russell.

"And he walked off [the bus] with big tears running down his face and I mean, it's heartbreaking," says Elizabeth Kendall, Russell's Mother.

He told his mom that he was getting beaten on the ride home from school, "and at that point, she looked at her son and said 'you know what, there are just some things, some problems that adults need to hand'," says DeWitt.

If it's violent, if it threatens your child's well-being and self-confidence, DeWitt says parents may have to intervene. "That is my job as a parent, my job as a parent is to protect you physically and to protect you emotionally."

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) says that bullying – the act of threatening to hurt or frighten someone – may be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual in nature:

■Physical bullying includes punching, poking, strangling, hair pulling, beating, biting and excessive tickling.
■Verbal bullying includes such acts as hurtful name-calling, teasing and gossiping.
■Emotional bullying includes rejecting, terrorizing, extorting, defaming, humiliating, blackmailing, rating/ranking of personal characteristics – such as race, disability, ethnicity or perceived sexual orientation – manipulating friendships, isolating, ostracizing and peer pressure.
■Sexual bullying includes many of the actions listed above as well as exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning, sexual harassment and abuse involving actual physical contact and sexual assault.
All of these types of bullying can interfere with students' learning. The U.S. DOE cites these negative consequences that bullying victims often experience:

■Grades may suffer because attention is drawn away from learning.
■Fear may lead to absenteeism, truancy or dropping out.
■Victims may lose or fail to develop self-esteem, experience feelings of isolation and may become withdrawn and depressed.
■As students and later as adults, victims may be hesitant to take social, intellectual, emotional or vocational risks.
■If the problem persists, victims occasionally feel compelled to take drastic measures, such as vengeance in the form of fighting back, weapon-carrying or even suicide.
■Victims are more likely than non-victims to grow up being socially anxious and insecure, displaying more symptoms of depression than those who were not victimized as children.
In addition, bystanders and peers of victims can be negatively affected by acts of bullying:

■They may become afraid to associate with the victim for fear of lowering their own status or of retribution from the bully and becoming victims themselves.
■They may fear reporting bullying incidents because they do not want to be called a "snitch," a "tattler" or an "informer."
■Some experience feelings of guilt or helplessness for not standing up to the bully on behalf of their classmate.
■Many may be drawn into bullying behavior by group pressure.
■They may feel unsafe, unable to take action or a loss of control.
Even the bullies themselves can experience long-term outcomes from harassing others. The National Resource Center for Safe Schools (NRCSS) reports that bullies identified by age 8 are six times more likely than non-bullies to be convicted of a crime by the time they reach age 24 and five times more likely to end up with serious criminal records by age 30.

Tips for Parents

Who is likely to be a victim of bullying? The NCRSS says that passive loners are the most frequent victims, especially if they cry easily or lack social self-defense skills. Many victims are unable to deflect a conflict with humor and don't think quickly on their feet. They are usually anxious, insecure and cautious and suffer from low self-esteem. In addition, they rarely defend themselves or retaliate and tend to lack friends, making them easy to isolate.

If you suspect that your child is being bullied, you can help him or her in the following ways cited by the Committee for Children:

■Encourage your child to report bullying incidents to you. Validate your child's feelings by letting him or her know that it is normal to feel hurt, sad, scared, angry, etc. Help your child be specific in describing bullying incidents – who, what, where and when.
■Ask your child how he or she has tried to stop the bullying. Coach him or her in possible coping methods – avoidance of the bully and making new friends for support.
■Treat the school as your ally. Share your child's concerns and specific information around bullying incidents with appropriate school personnel. Work with school staff to protect your child from possible retaliation. Establish a plan with the school and your child for dealing with future bullying incidents. Volunteer time to help supervise on field trips, on the playground or in the lunchroom. And become an advocate for school-wide bullying prevention programs and policies.
■Encourage your child to continue to talk with you about all bullying incidents. Never ignore your child's report. Remember that you should not advise your child to physically fight back. Bullying lasts longer and becomes more severe when children fight back, and physical injuries often result. Also, you should not confront the bullying child or his or her parents.
Unlike victims, bullies appear to suffer little anxiety and possess strong self-esteem, according to the NCRSS. They often come from homes where physical punishment is used and where children are taught to strike back physically as a way of handling problems. Bullies thus believe that it is all right for stronger children to hit weaker children. They frequently lack parental warmth and involvement and seem to desire power and control.

If you suspect that your child is bullying others, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests you seek help for him or her as soon as possible. Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal difficulties. Talk to your child's pediatrician, teacher, principal, school counselor or family physician. If the bullying continues, the AACAP advises you to arrange a comprehensive evaluation of your child by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional should be arranged.

The Coalition for Children says that you can also help your child by discussing with him or her these key points about bullying:

■Remind your child that bullying is not acceptable in your family or in society.
■Provide your child with alternatives to taking frustration or aggression out on others. You can even role-play different ways to behave in situations where your child would normally bully another.
■Specify concretely the consequences if the aggression or bullying continue.
While bullying, harassment and teasing are unfortunate aspects of childhood, you can help minimize these occurrences by raising non-violent children. The American Academy of Pediatrics cites the following tips for curbing hurtful behavior in your child:

■Give your child consistent love and attention. Every child needs a strong, loving, relationship with a parent or other adult to feel safe and secure and to develop a sense of trust. Without a steady bond to a caring adult, a child is at risk for becoming hostile, difficult and hard to manage.
■Make sure your child is supervised. A child depends on his or her parents and family members for encouragement, protection and support as he or she learns to think for himself or herself. Without proper supervision, your child will not receive the guidance he or she needs. Studies report that unsupervised children often have behavior problems.
■Show your child appropriate behaviors by the way you act. Children often learn by example. The behavior, values and attitudes of parents and siblings have a strong influence on them. Most children sometimes act aggressively and may hit another person. Be firm with your child about the possible dangers of violent behavior. Also remember to praise your child when he or she solves problems constructively without violence.
■Don't hit your child. Hitting or slapping your child as punishment shows him or her that it's OK to hit others to solve problems and can train him or her to punish others in the same way he or she were punished.
■Be consistent about rules and discipline. When you make a rule, stick to it. Your child needs structure with clear expectations for his or her behavior. Setting rules and then not enforcing them is confusing and sets up your child to "see what he or she can get away with."
■Make sure your child does not have access to guns. Guns and children can be a deadly combination. Teach your child about the dangers of firearms or other weapons if you own and use them. If you keep a gun in your home, unload it and lock it up separately from the bullets. Don't carry a gun or a weapon. If you do, this tells your child that using guns solves problems.
■Try to keep your child from seeing violence in the home or community. Violence in the home can be frightening and harmful to children. A child who has seen violence at home does not always become violent, but he or she may be more likely to try to resolve conflicts with violence.
■Try to keep your child from seeing too much violence in the media. Watching a lot of violence on television, in the movies and in video games can lead children to behave aggressively. As a parent, you can control the amount of violence your child sees in the media by limiting television viewing and previewing games, movies, etc., before allowing access to them by your child.
■Help your child stand up against violence. Support your child in standing up against violence. Teach him or her to respond with calm but firm words when others insult, threaten or hit another person. Help your child understand that it takes more courage and leadership to resist violence than to go along with it.

■American Academy of Pediatrics
■American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
■Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
■Coalition for Children
■Committee for Children
■Families and Work Institute
■National Resource Center for Safe Schools
■National School Safety Center
■U.S. Department of Education
■U.S. Department of Justice

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