Tuesday, April 30, 2013

School Bullying

There are several different reasons for a person to be bullied.  Reasons include jealousy or being different from others—race, sexual orientation, and religion—just to name a few.  Cohn (2003) discusses factors in a child’s life that may lead to them either becoming a bully or a victim.  She says that “children who observe parents and siblings exhibiting bullying behavior” and those that receive physical punishment at home, negative feedback from teachers and other school personnel, and are trying hard to fit in with a crowd of peers are more likely to become bullies. Victims tend to be children that lack confidence and appear weak, have overprotective parents, and constantly seek approval. (para. 5)  Exploring this data really forced me to think differently about bullies.  Bullies are not just mean or bad kids—they are children that are struggling to find their place because of rejection or pain that has been infused into their life.  Parents shape their children, and they are the ultimate determinants of whom and what they become.  It is essential that parents be educated about this issue and how their own actions can impact their child’s behavior so they can make better parenting decisions.
            The National Center Against Bullying identifies four primary types of bullying: physical, verbal, covert, and cyber-bullying.  Physical bullying involves hitting, kicking, and actually causing bodily harm.  This is probably the easiest type of bullying to identify because there will be visual signs of an altercation: ripped clothes, bruises, bloody noses, etc.  Some of the most severe bullying is not physical, but it harms victims in an emotional way that leaves lasting scars.  Verbal bullying involves the typical name-calling; covert bullying occurs when a bully attempts to ruin a victim’s reputation, embarrass them, and cause humiliation.  Cyber-bullying involves bullying by use of technology: telephone, the Internet, etc.  In years past, children were targeted by bullies at school.  However, they were able to escape torment when they went home.  When a youth is a victim of cyber-bullying, there is no escape.  Bullies are able to target victims in their own homes.  This type of prison is extremely detrimental to self-esteem and demeanor.
            All types of bullying are extremely harmful throughout the duration of bullying and even leave psychological issues that last for several years.    While a child is bullied, it is reported that victims feel depressed, complain about their health, and achieve less academically.  None of these short-term effects surprised me.  Of course someone being bullied would be unhappy when someone is constantly harassing and criticizing them.  Of course a victim would complain about their health – because they do not want to go to school to be targeted.  Of course a victim’s grades would begin to fall; they are too consumed with worry and unhappiness to bother with homework.  There really is not much analysis involved—it is common sense.
            According to the Harvard Mental Health Newsletter (2009), “Victims of chronic childhood bullying are more likely to develop depression or think about suicide as adults compared with those who weren't bullied, while former bullies are more likely to be convicted of criminal charges.” (para.2) Once a person develops psychological issues, it is extremely difficult to be rid of them.  I think once a child is incessantly harassed and called names, they eventually start to believe what the bully is saying is true.  Therefore, as a bullied, depressed child becomes an adult, they will probably grow into a depressed adult.  But, why would a childhood bully be more likely to be depressed?  Could it be guilt? Maybe, but I think there is a different reason.  As discussed earlier, bullies tend to learn the behavior at home or elsewhere.  In adolescence, they are struggling to feel accepted and have experienced rejection.  It seems only logical that a bully would continue to feel this way as an adult.        
            An extremely prominent case is the story of Phoebe Prince.  Phoebe was a 15-year-old student that was beautiful, intelligent, and the victim of cyber-bullying.  After jealous girls plastered insults about her all over the Internet, she committed suicide.  Phoebe’s school is now attempting to hold students accountable for their harassment and reorganizing the way they deal with school bullying. (McNeil, 2010) This is just one of the many instances when bullying led to suicide.  The case of Prince left many with so many questions, so few answers, and a call to action to change the way schools and legislation handles bullying.
            According to the American Association of Suicidology, 4,630 people (between the ages of 10 and 24) committed suicide in the United States in 2009.  This resource also stated that about six percent of high school aged students have attempted suicide.  No one, let alone youths, should even be thinking about suicide.  These children are so unhappy that they would rather be dead than live another day of harassment.  Children do not have to experience this type of unhappiness; they need to have an ally – someone who supports and is willing to protect them.  Schools – teachers, administrators, and especially students must come together and develop a multi-faced program that will stop bullying once and for all in their school.
            Found in the book, Critical Issues in Education: Dialogues and Dialectics, to successfully curb school bullying, a complete schoolwide program needs to be implemented that includes participation from students, parents, teachers, and administrators. (Nelson, p.339) Students need to be involved in a structured program that involves learning to interact in new ways and communicate appropriately, contains active learning, and the program needs to include education for teachers, administrators and involves the parents.  When reading Implementing Bullying Prevention Programs in Schools: A How-To Guide, I found that programs that combat bullying include education specifically about bullying or social-emotional learning programs (SEL) that helps children deal with their own feelings and actions. (Jones, Doces, Swearer, & Collier, 2012, p. 2-3)  In my opinion, programs should offer information about both bullying and social-emotional training.  It is important that students and parents know rules and procedures for behavior, but if they also know how to effectively communicate and problem solve, it seems programs would be more successful.
            Perhaps the most successful bullying prevention program currently is Steps to Respect.  This elementary based program is built on three components: schoolwide implementation, staff training, and classroom curriculum.  According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Steps to Respect adopts a socio-ecological approach to bullying in a school setting, concentrating on the broad-scale impact of social interactions among students on the school environment.” (para. 4) The program teaches that everyone involved in a school is responsible to reduce bullying; its purpose is to improve social interaction amongst students and to educate teachers how to respond to problems. 
            Right now, there is such a disconnect between schools and states; some schools implement bullying prevention programs whiles others do not even have one.  Sometimes, it does take more than a school-wide program to solve problems, and help is needed from the government.  Currently, anti-bullying legislation is different from state-to-state and there are no specific federal anti-bullying laws.  I think this is deeply problematic because to be successful, everyone needs to have the same framework and the same expectations.  Only in 2011 did Michigan adopt “Matt’s Safe School Law.”  Basically, the law requires that every Michigan school adopts an anti-bullying policy and implements a specific protocol for dealing with all school bullying related issues. (“Revised School Code,” 2011)
            Presently, there are not any federal laws that protect children from bullying.  While state laws are sufficient for most circumstances, I do believe that federal laws should be enforced to protect these children in extenuating circumstances.  There are only federal civil rights laws that protect individual civil rights.  But, if a person contributes to a victim’s suicide because of harassment and tormenting, there should be some federal act that will hold that person responsible.    

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