Battling Bullying

Article excerpt

As bullying has become a growing concern nationwide, Catholic schools are taking action to address the problem before it happens

It happens every day at schools around the country, in most cases going unreported and unseen. It causes thousands of children to stay home from school each day and it can leave long-lasting emotional and psychological scars. But as more parents and educators are becoming aware of its prevalence, Catholic schools are beginning to take a strong stand against bullying.

In recent years, stories of bullying that has gone too far-often with tragic consequences-have become common in the mainstream media. And while the number of incidents that make the news continues to grow, there are still untold numbers of children who suffer through severe cases of bullying without anyone ever knowing.

"Bullying occurs in just about every school and it occurs under the radar," said Philip Lazarus, president-elect of the National Association of School Psychologists and director of the School Psychology Training Program at Florida International University. "A lot of kids just won't tell teachers or administrators if they are actually being bullied."

Studies indicate that as many as 30 percent of all students are in some way involved in bullying: 13 percent as bullies, 11 percent as targets of bullying and six percent as both a bully and a victim. By the time they graduate high school. 70 percent of all students report having been bullied at some point in their education, with many cases being repeated and prolonged. Yet only one in eight students who say they have been bullied reported the abuse to an adult, either due to fear of retaliation, feelings of shame or the belief that nothing would be done about it.

Part of the reason for the pervasiveness of bullying today, according to Lazarus, is the wide array of forms that it can take. At one time, bullying was limited to physical violence, name calling or being ostracized by other students at school, all things that would end when a child went home. But now, bullying can occur any time, from any place.

"We have kinds of bullying that we didn't ever have before." said Lazarus, pointing to the vast amount of online incidents, known as cyberbullying. "Technology really makes things a lot worse because technology is 24/7," he explained. "A youngster can be bullied through Web pages, through social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, they can get bullied any time they turn on their phone, so they can't escape it. And the cyberbullying in many ways is even more destructive of a youngster's feeling of self esteem sometimes than the physical bullying."

But Lazarus, a consultant on bullying prevention for the national Catholic child protection program Virtus, said that there are a number of steps schools can take to counteract bullying in all its forms.

"There are effective programs that focus on knowledge, that focus on attitude change, that teach skill development through modeling and role play," he said. "But those efforts need to be continued for a long time. Patience is required, and if you are looking to change the culture of a school, it can take one, two, even five years to make an appreciable difference."

Zero Tolerance

With the increased focus on cases of school bullying in the media, many Catholic schools have responded by instituting comprehensive anti-bullying policies, which clearly spell out what types of behavior constitute bullying and what steps will be taken if disciplinary action is needed.

At St. Louis Catholic School in Castroville, Texas, input from the entire school community was used to develop an anti-bullying policy in 2009. While bullying had not been a serious issue in the school, reported incidents at public schools in nearby San Antonio created a growing awareness of the problem, said Principal Larry Dorsey-Spitz.

"We're all aware of it constantly," he said. …