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Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012

Stopping bullying when you see it

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Take a stand. Lend a hand. Stop bullying now! is the slogan for the Department of Defense Education Activity’s anti-bullying campaign, which began last year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of children ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied during the 2008-2009 school year.

Bullying, according to www.stopbullying.com, is repeated “unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” There are three types of bullying: verbal, social and physical. Verbal includes teasing, taunting and threatening to cause harm. Social bullying involves behaviors such as starting rumors, embarrassing people in public and purposefully excluding people. Physical bullying involves contact such as spitting, kicking, punching and includes damaging or taking someone else’s property.

Many states have laws that address both bullying and cyber-bullying.

Georgia, for example, defines bullying as “an act which occurs on school property, on school vehicles, at designated school bus stops, at school-related functions or activities, or by use of data or software that is accessed through a computer, computer system, computer network, or other electronic technology of a local school system,” according to state law.

The aggressor, or bully, must make a threat of or inflict harm; display force that causes fear or expectation that they will be harmed; or is a written, verbal, or physical act that is used to intimidate or harass the victim; the bullying is “severe, persistent or pervasive” enough to create a threatening atmosphere at school or disrupts the operations of the school.

For Faith Middle School eighth-grader Alexis McKinney, seventh grade was hardest. She described it as being like the “middle child” because of the uncertainty of knowing your place in school.

Some students said the grade you are in affects how you are seen and the chance of being picked on for example, being a sixth grader in middle school or a freshman in high school or college.

“(You’re) at the bottom of the totem pole again and make it all the way to the top just to be kicked back down,” seventh-grader Benjamin Stenson said.

What can a child do if they’re being bullied?

At school, a student can get in touch with a teacher, counselor or principal.

“We take a very serious approach to it and we’ve got three counselors that deal with it — we’ve got three administrators (and) we’ve got trained staff … I don’t see this as being an unsafe place for the kids,” said Faith Middle School Principal Dan Perkins.

If a child reports that he or she is being picked on, Perkins said the school investigates the incident.

“I spend my days walking around and talking to kids and we do have kids who have instances of where ‘so-and-so is picking on me and it’s happened repeatedly;’ and so in a case like that we’ll call the kids in, we’ll investigate, we’ll talk to parents as necessary, we’ll talk to other kids,”

By piecing together what happened, he said, the school can then address it through various ways, including counseling, disciplinary action or calling the parents.

Students can lower the risk of being the target or a victim by avoiding situations where teachers are less likely to be guarding, Benjamin said.

“The most places that people are bullied is in the locker rooms because almost no teachers can monitor (it) … so when people bully they usually go in there,” he said.

Besides occurring inside of school, bullying can also occur in other places, such as on the school bus. In a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2007, among the 32 percent of students who reported being bullied, 79 percent were bullied in school, 23 percent were bullied outside on school grounds, 8 percent were bullied on a school bus and 4 percent were bullied elsewhere.

Four percent of students reported being cyber-bullied. Cyber-bullying is different than other types of bullying because it can happen anywhere and anytime and can be done anonymously. It’s also harder to undo damage done online, such as an embarrassing photo, which can easily be spread around the Internet.

Alexis said instances of cyber-bullying are sometimes brought back to school, but school administrators can help to stop bullying in any form. She said disciplinary actions include calling parents, suspension and after-school detention.

“When I was in sixth and seventh grade, there wasn’t a lot of bullying,” she said. “I don’t think there is now.” If there are any instances of bullying, other students only hear about it after its dealt with, said seventh-grader Tamaria Reed.

“It starts in the middle of the year when everyone (becomes) all warm and comfortable with each other,” said seventh-grader Covya Winters.

Georgia law requires actions such as creating anti-bullying policies at each local board of education, committing third-time bullying offenders to alternative schools, establishing a policy for notifying parents of incidences of bullying and requiring teachers and other school employees to notify the school principal of any incidences of school bullying.

Parents who suspect their child is being bullied should keep written records of each incident when their child tells them, and inform and follow up with the child’s teacher. If there is no improvement after speaking with the teacher, then talk to the school’s principal.

For more information on state laws involving bullying and cyber-bullying, visit www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html.

Sources: public.doe.k12.ga.us, www.stopbullying.gov, www.dodea.edu/StopBullying

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