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Creating a “Bully-Free” Zone
Bullying today does not look the same as it did 20 years ago. Bullies are not always the stereotypical outcasts or the biggest kid in the class, but are now often the “popular kids” with sidekicks. It has gradually evolved from physical intimidation, in to rumors, blackmail, gossip, cyber-bullying, and exclusion. Bullying no longer happens only at recess or on the walk home from school, but can happen via text message, online, Instant Messenger, and other social media. In this hyper connected technological world, there’s no way to avoid the possibility of becoming a victim of bullying.
Since so much of the harassment and victimization doesn’t happen face to face, it has become increasingly more difficult for parents and teachers to spot and address. Over the past decade, there has been an increase of bullying-related suicides in the US and across the world. Earlier this month, Plattsmouth High School held an anti-bully seminar in the wake of losing one of their students to suicide. Following the young man’s death, there was an outpouring of local teens who admitted to considering or attempting suicide because of chronic bullying.
According to Yale University, bully victims are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. With suicide being the third leading cause of death among young people, and nearly 30 percent of students either bullies or the victim of bullies, you can understand why this has become such a concern.
“We know involvement in bullying is connected to mental health difficulties, and we know that bullying and unkind behaviors are linked to a negative school and work environments,” says Dr. Susan Swearer, Psychology Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Co-Director of Bullying research Network. “However, bullying is not an epidemic and many schools and workplaces are positive and productive places, relatively free from bullying.”
Below are some helpful tips in maintaining a positive, productive, and bully-free environment from StopBullying.gov.
Tips for teachers and school administrators:
Assess bullying in your school. It is critical to understand where, when, how often, and what kind of bullying is taking place in order to create effective policies and procedures. By having each student fill out an anonymous assessment you will gain a better insight on what is going on, as well as give you a way to measure the effectiveness of your prevention and intervention efforts.
Create bullying policies and rules. Establish a code of conduct that sets a standard for acceptable behavior and develop a reporting system that is easy, confidential, and private. Create an anti-bullying culture within the school by training teachers and staff on how to reinforce the code of conduct and how to properly respond to reported bullying.
Involve Parents and youth. Give parents and students the opportunity to contribute. Allow students to discuss their experiences and views on bullying to help establish policies, and offer leadership roles to students to help promote inclusion and respect. Gaining the support of parents will help ensure that these same behavioral standards are being followed at home, which is often where cyberbullying takes place. “Depending on the severity of the bullying, it is helpful for parents to work closely with teachers and with school personnel to address any bullying behaviors and to communicate that bullying is not okay,” says Dr. Swearer.
Tips for parents:
Understand what bullying is. According to StopBullying.gov, bullying is defined as an unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. An imbalance of power could be someone’s physical size, strength, popularity, or ability to gain information that could harm or embarrass others. Bullying also involves repetition or the possibility of reoccurrence.
Be aware of the signs. While not all bullying victims display these signs, there are many things you can look for such as lost or destroyed items, unexplained injuries or bruises, change in eating or sleeping habits, sudden loss of interest in activities or friendships, and declining grades.
“I tell parents to create safe spaces where their children will talk with them about social relationship problems. If parents over-react and get angry, their children will learn that it isn’t okay to talk with their parents,” Swearer explains. “Parents should then listen calmly to their child’s experiences and help him or her problem-solve about what to do.”
Know your school’s policies and rules on bullying. If you are concerned that your child is involved in bullying at school, either as a victim, bystander or perpetrator, know the proper reporting process.
“Work hard to keep open lines of communication with your children and your children’s teachers. Open and honest communication is vital for reducing bullying in our schools and communities,” she said.
Start the school year off right and discuss rules about bullying both at home and at school before it even becomes a problem. Dr. Swearer states, “Stressing a respect for diversity and tolerance for differences are critical in our efforts to reduce bullying.”
RESPECT Resource Guide, “Bullying: American Schools,” pg. 4, http://respect2all.org/programs/
About Jill Sauser, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator
Jill has a B.S. in Journalism (PR/Advertising) and a Minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. During her time at UNO, she completed a two year PR practicum program where she worked with numerous nonprofit clients including the MS Society, The Archdiocese of Omaha, The Omaha Food Bank and YWCA. Jill joined The Kim Foundation as Project Coordinator in April 2014.