EXTENSION NEWS 1/23/13

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Bullying happens in every school, and occurs from pre-school through high school. Research suggests that about half of all students experience some type of bullying during their schooling career. Most definitions of bullying include behavior such as: name calling, rudeness, humiliation, harassment, verbally picking on someone, spreading rumors, telling mean jokes, writing unkind things, ignoring someone when spoken to, embarrassing a classmate or simply making fun of someone. Left unaddressed, bullying can eventually escalate to such serious levels as threatening, stealing, damaging and destroying property, pushing, kicking, hitting or punching.   

Educators today are more aware of bullying as a problem and many have specific programs in place to prevent and deal with it. However good these measures are, it’s unrealistic to expect that any school can be bully-free or that any teacher can be immediately able to stop each episode of bullying as soon as it is discovered. The key to preventing bullying comes from children, parents and schools all working together to address the problem.

Carl Bosch is a middle school counselor and author of the choose-your-own-ending book, “Bully on the Bus.” Through studying bullies and their motivation, Bosch is able to offer valuable insight that can help parents and children deal with these situations if they arise.   

The first tip Bosch points out is the importance of understanding what makes a child likely to be a victim. Some children seem to simply attract bullies. Perhaps they are quiet and shy, not able to bounce back with a quick retort, not athletic or good at games, always keep to themselves, or do not dress or act like everyone else. Sometimes even a tense incident between children, like an argument or accidentally bumping into someone, can turn into a bullying situation. Sometimes all it takes is for a child to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another key in defusing bullying situations is to know when to ignore something and when it is necessary to seek help. Mild, social kinds of bullying can often be made obsolete by ignoring the bully. Bosch describes this as “making the bully invisible.” If a bully gains delight by calling other children names, victims can take some of the fun away by refusing to listen or acknowledge the intimidator, thus making the bully “invisible” to them. If the bully fails to get a reaction, then he or she may begin to lose interest. If ignoring the antagonist is ineffective and the bullying escalates, then adult intervention may be necessary. It is important for a child to feel safe when at school. Therefore, if the bullying is physical or frightening at the outset, they shouldn’t try to ignore it, but rather get help right away.   

Children are commonly told to just ignore bullies or to stand up for themselves and confront the bully. Be careful about encouraging this response in all bullying situation, as every instance needs to be dealt with individually. As mentioned earlier, ignoring the problem is never appropriate when a child is being hurt or frightened. As for confrontation of the bully, if a child hits the bully, then he or she may end up getting in more trouble than the bully. Adult intervention is ALWAYS a better choice in these situations.

Hopefully these tips will help you better understand the issue of bullying and how to properly address the problem if it arises. Make sure that your kids talk to their counselors or other school administrators if they ever feel threatened by a bully. Each child has the right to a safe and bully-free school experience.

Resource materials were utilized from parentingpress.com and their Parenting Tip of the Week, “Responding to Bullying” by Shari Steelsmith from the Nov. 22, 2003 edition and Carl Bosch’s book, “Bullying on the Bus.”

Bill Stone is 4-H Youth Development Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.