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Education Hot Topic: Bullying

Bullying is smoke; courage is fire”

Benjamin Disraeli


“Bullying” is one of the hot topics in education lately, in large part due to the speed at which news (especially bad news) spreads across the internet. Bullying, to be sure, is a problem, but some recent studies reflect positive news, at least with elementary and high school age students.

As reported in the journal Pediatrics, a study of more than 250,000 students in Maryland over the last ten years found that some types of bullying have decreased significantly – physical bullying, verbal bullying, spreading rumors and cyberbullying. Along with the actual bullying activities, reports of perpetrating bullying and or witnessing bullying decreased significantly as well. Why?

We don’t know. That is perhaps the most surprising finding. Maryland school districts had no anti-bullying programs! There was no active attempt by school officials to design curricula to prevent bullying. It just slowed down dramatically on its own, with a major decrease starting in 2010.

That doesn’t mean bullying isn’t an on-going issue. Cyberbullying, while diminishing, is extremely damaging because once it is online, it is there forever and it can spread like wildfire. While it is difficult to ignore a ten-year study of 250,000 students, if it is your child being bullied, all the studies in the world don’t offer much solace.

So if your child is truly being bullied, what options do you have?

*Stay calm. Don’t react emotionally or vindictively. Bullying means repeated physical, electronic or social aggression. One or two mild taunts on the playground are normal and how your child finds ways to react to this teasing is part of growing up.

*Take it seriously if your child is reporting that they really are being cyberbullied but don’t deny them access to technology. If the child feels he or she will be “punished” by taking away their computer, cell phone, tablet, etc. they may not report future bullying to you.

*If the activity is indeed bullying (as defined above), you should contact the school and inform the principal of the situation. Again, stay calm. School administrators want to know about these types of activities but the way in which parents report bullying can help or hinder the process. Parents demanding action through anger and threatened recrimination and lawsuits slow down the process. Work with, not against, the school administration.

*At our school, like many others, there is a designated person with whom the bullied child can talk. This person has the interpersonal skills to help the child deal with the bullying.

*Parents have a right to ask for a written blueprint to deal with the situation, even if it is a simple three-point plan. Something in writing keeps everyone focused on the issue.

*Remember that a key component of dealing with bullying is standing up to bullies, especially with allies who will confront the bully as a group. This takes courage but most “bullies” will fold like a deck of cards once challenged.

Children are learning to treat each more humanely, with or without a curriculum or plan. There is hope that over the long arc of history, we are evolving into “improved” versions of our previous selves.

Try to remember that when your eyes smart from the smoke of the news, if you have the courage to watch it!


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