Fear Factor: Harassment Hurts

The effect of bullying goes beyond simple schoolyard scuffles to cause lasting emotional wounds.

The effect of bullying goes beyond simple schoolyard scuffles to cause lasting emotional wounds.
harassment hurts
Credit: William Duke

Last year, Lakeside Middle School, in Millville, New Jersey, received disturbing news: It had been added to the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools. The parents, staff, and students were stunned. None considered the school dangerous.

Though the community disagreed with the designation (which, the school believes, was the result of overreporting of school fights), it used the information as an opportunity to recommit parents, teachers, and students to stopping all forms of school violence.

Lakeside already had a successful Peace and Respect Initiative that offered special treats or class parties to students to keep the school fight free. Students were encouraged to report fights, rather than simply watch as students came to blows. But here was a chance to drill deeper into the issue of school safety. To help every student feel safe at school, Lakeside took on a precursor to fighting -- and one of the most serious behavior issues facing schools today: bullying.

"Our philosophy is not to dish out consequences in a vengeful way but to change the behavior of the bully," explains Vice Principal Tom Denning. Lakeside and the community launched a comprehensive program on bullying awareness and prevention. Using a federal grant from the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, the school implemented the Second Step violence-prevention program, which includes bullying intervention as a key component.

For staff, the school began offering new courses and training in anger management, classroom discipline, and social and emotional learning. An on-staff mental health counselor worked with students and staff to teach them how to address behavior issues as they arise, rather than let them simmer until they explode.

Menace of the Meanies

Most adults remember their school bullies, often with visceral clarity. Every school has them. But whereas free-swinging kids once were shrugged off with limp phrases like "Boys will be boys," police investigations have disclosed that bullying is usually the root cause of school shootings.

Bullying seems alarmingly common. More than 16 percent of U.S. schoolchildren said they'd recently been bullied, according to a 2001 survey by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Some estimates are higher. In a 1999 survey of nearly 4,500 third graders in Maine by the Maine Project Against Bullying, 23 percent said they'd been threatened, 40 percent called hurtful names, and 38 percent hit, kicked, or pushed.

Bullying takes many forms: hitting, spreading rumors, name-calling, threats, and social isolation (see "Mean Girls," below). A bully usually chooses a weaker, smaller, or more sensitive student as a target. Kids who are perceived as "brains," or are disabled, gay or sexually ambivalent, new to the school or area, or different in some other way are typically picked on. Bullies often play to a group of bystanders; their goal is to create an imbalance of power by humiliating one child and gaining the "loyalty" of bystanders who want to avoid becoming the next victim.

Attitude Adjustments

Changing everyone's behavior is the crux of an effective bullying-prevention program, experts say. "A program cannot address only a few kids; it must be schoolwide," says William Lassiter of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence. "It must also reach into the community because bullying happens there as much as at school -- on the way home, in Little League, and at Boy Scouts."

And on the school bus. In February, a twelve-year-old boy in Florida was beaten up by six bullies during a bus ride. The incident was captured on a surveillance tape and made national news. But any kid will tell you that a lot of bullying occurs on the way to and from school. The bus, the walk home, and the cafeteria are also popular bully haunts -- places where adults typically don't see the offending behavior.

Any successful program on bullying prevention and awareness has to begin with education: Students, teachers, and parents need to know how to identify bullying and how destructive it is.

"From education, you have to move quickly to intervention," advises Chuck Saufler of the Maine Project Against Bullying. "Every adult who works in the school -- teachers, parent volunteers, food-service workers -- must be trained in how to intervene." Saufler suggests starting with a survey to find out when, where, and by whom bullying occurs.

But there's no quick fix. After education and intervention, the effort must be vigilant and ongoing. The end result is to change the culture of the school -- and to maintain that change -- so bullying isn't accepted.

"We have zero tolerance for bullying," says Denning. "We love the kids and we respect them and we don't turn our back on them. We have our eyes on the kids from the time they come in until the time they leave."

Bye-Bye, Bullies

One year after Lakeside was labeled "persistently dangerous," the school's efforts to educate the school community about the dangers of bullying are paying off. The school is no longer labeled as dangerous, and parents, teachers, and students see a change in the school culture.

Christi Finney's daughter, a student at Lakeside, offers a good example. "Whitney might be susceptible to bullying," her mom says, "because she's different. She has Down syndrome. But the kids here know her and look out for her. I think that's because of the character education."

Two new programs this year extend the school's efforts. Lakeside principal Kevin Laughlin will join with principals throughout the district in a program sponsored by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office of Biased Crimes. Together they'll arrange workshops for teachers and students on bullying and sexual-harassment prevention. The school also participates in a national initiative called 15+ Make Time to Listen . . . Take Time to Talk. The program provides information about bullying and other child-development and safety issues. It also helps develop the tools necessary to communicate with children about what the program calls the "climate of fear created by bullying."

Janet Oliver, the mother of two Lakeside students, hopes that efforts to end bullying will make school a safer, more comfortable place for her children. "Aggression is part of life," says Oliver. "But we can teach our kids kinder ways of dealing with each other."

Christina Wood is a freelance writer living in North Carolina.

Check out our Bullying Prevention landing page for more resources.

This article originally published on 11/11/2004

see more see less

Comments (14)

Comment RSS

overwhelmed.

Was this helpful?
0

i am really overwhelmed 5by the task 5before me. i work i6n a semi rural school i6n south africa . the faculty have u6ndertake6n to impleme6nt a cooperative approach to lear6ni6ng. which i have agreed to facillitate. further i am trying to influence the aprroach to clasroom management /discipline ,which at present is by means of a short stick (o6ne teacher said to me yesterday whe6n i tried to talk to her a5bout this - it is the word of god that we should do this, use the switch.- i suspect that i may be thrown out as a heretic if i try reason with this.) the childre6n are unruly, aggressive, very far behind academically and creativly. i am currently working with two classes , grade R and grade three . there is little point trying to engage the parents ,violence, alcholism a6nd social trauma are absoluty endemic and widley accepted. almost every single child is wounded and angry to various degrees. both the parents and the teachers use corporal punishment , neglect, an abusive environment and hunger home are common place. the classes are very large , fights break out continually, - unlless the teacher is there to threate6n them., and freque6ntly she is not. if i take the time to focus on one incident, the rest of the class erupts ...... and i am still learni6ng the language (isixhosa).
i feel for these kids, and i dont want to walk away .
Any suggestions ?
this situation is NOT uncommon across south african public schools conditio6ns are similar. It is a legacy of apartheid

Single dad (2 boys, 12 yrs & 9 yrs) Denver, Colorado

What They See is What We Get!

Was this helpful?
0

First, I think we need to get that there is truth behind the old adage, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree". We, the grown-ups of the world, teachers but more specifically parents, need to see that our kids are a reflection of us. From before birth to around six our children are in a state of intense learning through observation of their caregivers and they WILL begin to mimic our behavior, our beliefs, our tolerance, our reactions, our level of compassion and empathy toward others and our optimistic or pessimistic ways of explaining our life experience. Our children take on these traits we provide for them as we have from our parents and caregivers and this creates who we are. I am a single dad of two boys and I truly believe that I need to BE who I wish to see in my kids. If I want my kids to be self-confident, trustworthy, respectful, mindful, optimistic, motivated, inspired to be and do their best,kind and compassionate to others and happy, I MUST MODEL THIS FOR THEM!!! And I'm happy to report, my boys are all of these. Finally, I am also a firm believer that what we focus on expands in our experience, so by focusing all of our attention and resources toward what is wrong trying to "fix it", we will likely see more of "whats wrong." It seems more logical to focus on what is right and create more of it. Anytime war is declared on anything, we tend to get more of what we are at war against (ie: war on terror, war on drugs)so to declare an all out war on bullying will likely have the same effect, and it clearly is! "Don't fight the darkness, bring the light and the darkness will fade' (Maharishi Mahesh - Founder of Transcendental Meditation) "Be the change you want to see in the world" (Mahatma Gandhi) Be who you want to see in your child (me)

Single dad (2 boys, 12 yrs & 9 yrs) Denver, Colorado

A Program for the Potential Victim

Was this helpful?
0

This post is for "Dazed in TN". I agree with you in that all of our attention is focused on the bully. I do also agree that those children with tendencies to bully do require serious attention (perhaps more so their parents). Everyone knows bullying is just wrong, but to place all resources toward 'what is wrong" may just create more of "what is wrong". It seems that what we focus on expands, so if we really want more of "whats RIGHT" then perhaps that might be where we focus our attention. The majority of the student population in most schools consists of "bystanders" and potential "victims" who deserve to have more attention placed on them, than on the minority of children who cause problems. Declaring "war" on a problem does not make the problem go away (cases in point: war on drugs, war on terror) Declaring an all out "war on bullying" will likely expand the problem. The Character education/social and emotional learning route seems the most logical in that these programs empower and inspire and focus on "whats right" to create more of it, rather than "whats wrong" to reduce it. But character education begins AT HOME!! We, the grown-ups of the world must "put our oxygen mask on first" so to speak, meaning if we truly want to see our children treat each other with respect and instill empathy and compassion into "who they are", we need to BE who we wish to SEE in our children and model compassion and empathy for them. This is so much more than trying to teach our kids to "just be nice". It is about being our authentic self and really focus on who we really are, what want to be and on our strengths and our passions and making the world a better place. When it comes to our children, What they SEE is what WE get! I came across a program that empowers the potential victim (www.Bullies2buddies.com) I had the pleasure of interviewing the creator of this program, Izzy Kalman on an internet based interview series I co-hosted, www.happierkidsnow.com, and his revolutionary approach to end school violence is the most promising I have come across so far. Though I do believe character education and social/emotional learning must begin at home!1

Couldn’t be written any

Was this helpful?
0

Couldn’t be written any better

Labeling

Was this helpful?
0

My only problem with bullyproofing or anti-bullying programs is that by identifying the "bully" we place a label on him/her and, therefore, leave an indelible imprint on his or her and others' minds that seems to remain even into adulthood.

Melissa (not verified)

Sad Commentary on Our Society

Was this helpful?
0

It's a sad commentary on our society when statements like "Aggression is part of life," are standard responses to horrible behavior.

We as a society have allowed it to be so. Agression does not have to be a part of life. Until we all have better self esteem and a goal of reaching our full potentional (neither of which are taught or even tolerated in most schools), we will have bullies. It might become more subtle, but it will still be prevalent.

We have created a society within a society in the form of the public school system. A system that pigeonholes children as "sensitive" or "aggressive" or "geeky", these labels are rarely changed throughout the student's school career, unless the student succeeds at being invisible (great! We've taught our kids how to be invisible!).

We are not getting at the root of the problem if we only teach kids to manage their anger and we don't explore where that anger is stemming from.

I don't know yet what the answer is, but the public school system has failed the majority of it's inmates (I mean children). The way bullying is overlooked and/or tolerated is only one piece of the barely edible pie we call public education.

Connie G. (not verified)

Anger Mangement

Was this helpful?
0

Isn't anger management one of the things that should be taught at home by parents?

I guess that is only in a perfect world and most of our children aren't recieveing the education that they are supposed to at home and society is depending on the schools to teach everything, education, social skills, responsiblity......

OlivaB. (not verified)

Anger Management for All Schools

Was this helpful?
0

I agree with Jeri, this is an issue for all schools. I think at this time of their lives, students need to learn how to control their anger. If this were applied to all schools, can you even imagine what kind of society we'd be in when they get to adulthood? What a concept.
---------
OliviaB.
Portland DUI lawyer

Dazed in TN (not verified)

bullying

Was this helpful?
0

That's all great news for the bullys (to help them become better people now that we understand them) - but what are we doing for the victims? Fifth grade has been the worst of all and my child is that sensitve kid who makes a great target for them. I want to know what we can do to empower the victim - bullys are not "throw away kids" but here we go again - focus on the bad behaviour and give it all the attention which just leaves the others behind.

Natalia (not verified)

Root causes of harassment or Addicted to cruelty

Was this helpful?
0

Root causes
Addicted to cruelty

Complaining does not prevent such devastating behavior. The root of the cause has not been addressed for every child that acts this way there is a parent or teacher that condones it or is absent minded, incompetent and doesn’t care to get involved. Plus the parents that perpetrated and displayed such conduct as well are not held accountable. They reinforce that behavior by praising all those despicable attitudes. They find it fun, they enjoy creating anxiety and FEAR in others, and they’ll keep pursuing such activities whether they are at home, school or online. That is why it never stops, because they have become addicted to the feeling of over powering or submitting someone. These people have dismissed any empathy towards others, their sense of entitlement prevails, and they steal, break and lie openly. They are the future criminals, selfish and unrepentant. To stand up to the bully and defy his insinuations is what I call self-defense.
This confrontation has been sociably condemned, and also affects the person who has placed in the position of victim. To be so weak and secretly hoping the bully has had his fun and will go away, also ashamed of not finding the courage to be ruthless and looking like a bully for defending himself. But by then its too late the opportunity is much too hard for the bully to resist, its like adding wood to the fire. We must see both sides of the issue; on one side you have the addict looking for his next fix. And on the other you’ll find a youngster unwilling to fight for his rights. So many bullies have the astonishing ability to lie that when questioned they turn everything around and convincing the parent or teacher that they were in fact being victimized by the other child.
So lying is the first problem we all have. Stop the lying and hold every one accountable, from the moment they are in the crib, those babies that manipulate the mother to the point Root causes addicted to cruelty

Complaining does not prevent such devastating behavior. The root of the cause has not been addressed for every child that acts this way there is a parent or teacher that condones it or is absent minded, incompetent and doesn’t care to get involved. Plus the parents that perpetrated and displayed such conduct as well are not held accountable. They reinforce that behavior by praising all those despicable attitudes. They find it fun, they enjoy creating anxiety in others, and they’ll keep pursuing such activities where they are at home, school or online. That is why it never stops, because they have become addicted to the feeling of over powering or submitting someone. These people have dismissed any empathy towards others, their sense of entitlement prevails, and they steal, break and lie openly. They are the future criminals, selfish and unrepentant. To stand up to the bully and defy his insinuations is what I call self-defense.
This confrontation has been sociably condemned, and also affects the person who has placed in the position of victim. To be so weak and secretly hoping the bully has had his fun and will go away, also ashamed of not finding the courage to be ruthless and looking like a bully for defending himself. But by then its too late the opportunity is much too hard for the bully to resist, its like adding wood to the fire. We must see both sides of the issue; on one side you have the addict looking for his next fix. And on the other you’ll find a youngster unwilling to fight for his rights. So many bullies have the astonishing ability to lie that when questioned they turn everything around and convincing the parent or teacher that they were in fact being victimized by the other child.
So lying is the first problem we all have. Stop the lying and hold every one accountable, from the moment they are in the crib those babies that manipulate the mother to the point that she can’t change his diaper, and she allows this behavior. Instead if she states loud and clear STAY PUT, right now I am changing your diaper! Communication is essential between us, happy parents make happy children, and miserable people oppress those who seem happier than them. Lets not lie to each other ever! Then we can be held accountable and share the problems as well as the benefits of our collective reality.

see more see less