Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 23, 24 or 25
A 15-year-old Connecticut boy whose family says he was bullied for years died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Aug. 27, and a 12-year-old Florida girl killed herself by throwing herself from a tower on Sept. 9 and authorities blame years of being bullied at school. They’re reminiscent of the 2006 suicide of a 13-year-old Missouri girl harassed on social media.
Elsewhere, a 6th grader wrote a bullying expert to express relief that she’d been held back a grade because it allowed her to escape her persecutors.
“To think that a child would intentionally fail in school just to stop being bullied shows the desperation felt by many victims,” said Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a physician at Rowan University in Stratford, N.J. “Too often, that sense of desperation has led children and teenagers to tragic results.”
Some may consider being bullied as a rite of passage. But in recent years, attention to bullying has increased among school personnel, the public and policymakers – for good reason, according to research.
Also, bullying has become a cause for well-known figures ranging from comic actor Stephen Colbert and recording artist LeAnn Rimes, to professional athletes such as NBA star Rick Fox and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican who co-sponsored a federal anti-bullying bill.
Annual Bullying Awareness Weeks now occur worldwide (the next one is scheduled for Nov. 17-23, with the theme “Stand up! [to bullying]”).
Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate another. Four types of this abuse are cyber, emotional, physical and verbal. It’s criminal.
“Despite heightened awareness, bullying continues to affect more than one-third of students, and bullying extends well beyond pushing, hitting or name-calling at school,” said Caudle, who’s spoken to thousands of students and teachers over the last 10 years and written scholarly articles about bullying and short- and long-term psychosocial outcomes, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.
“Once targeted, a child can continue to be bullied electronically, through social media and cell phones, creating a constant and harrowing experience for the victim,” she added.
A 2013 study in Psychological Science shows that perpetrators and victims alike can suffer adverse effects. Involvement with bullying at any level – bully, victim or both – is associated with negative financial, health, behavioral and social outcomes later in life.
In Illinois, law enforcement and the courts generally leave bullying to schools to handle, although the law clearly makes it a crime, and for years, educators tended to prefer one-on-one chats and occasional outside speakers to try to reduce bullying. But increased concerns have led schools and legislatures to more organized responses to deal with aggression and to promote respect.
Bullying, including online harassment and cyber-bullying, is prohibited in all school districts, according to state law, which says, “No student shall be subjected to bullying at school or a school-sponsored event, or using a school computer, network or other similar equipment.”
Illinois school boards are required by law to include provisions in student-discipline policies to address bullying. The provisions must include procedures for notifying parents and early-intervention procedures based upon available community and district resources. Schools must update these policies every two years and file them with the State Board of Education, which monitors implementation.
However, bullying touches on other crimes, too – aggravated assault, stalking, battery, and harassment by telephone are separate charges – so some prosecutors say bullying may be pursued in different ways or as juvenile cases.
In schools, the trend regarding bullying is to reward positive behavior, whether demonstrating respectful actions or stopping someone from picking on another person. Such approaches works, according to a recent report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, which said discipline reports at schools using approaches such as the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Positive Behavior Interventions & Support network have dropped by a third.
Caudle urges families to talk about the subject.
“Ask your children not only if they’ve been bullied but also if they have bullied others,” she said. “Be compassionate and let your children know that you are there to listen, not to judge, and that they can count on you for support. Remind them, too, that there are two basic rules about bullying – treat everyone with respect and always tell an adult whenever they experience or witness bullying.”
[PICTURED: graphic from thebullyproject.startempathy.org]