Magazine article Momentum

Redefining and Dealing with Bullying

Magazine article Momentum

Redefining and Dealing with Bullying

Article excerpt

Breaking the bullying cycle involves proactively teaching skills to students as well as providing professional development to school staff

A seven-year-old boy, with tears streaming down his face, sits alone in the principal's office. He's there because minutes earlier he was involved in a knockdown, drag-out fight on the playground. With paper and pencil in hand, he recalls the incident:

He has buged me for over 2 years, also overtime he has punched, kicked and smaked me. He has followed me wherever I went & kep doing it no mater what I did, how many times I told on him, or how many time I asked to leave me alone. Today he has called me poophead, stupid, shrimpy piece of crap. So I snapped.

The words of this second-grader poignantly describe the definition of bullying and how bullying can make schools unsafe for students. While his story is sad, imagine how much worse it might have been if he had snapped when he was 17 instead of 7. As one administrator said, "He would have hit harder and caused more damage."

Defining Bullying

Bullying is defined as repeated acts of aggression by individuals who have more power than their victims. By power, we mean differences in strength, confidence, status or aggressiveness. Bullying can be done in many ways, including physical attacks, verbal insults, social isolation and emotional manipulation. Bullies can attack their victims face-to-face, publicly or secretly. Bullies use their bodies, notes, gossip and technology (instant messaging, emails, Web logs) to attack their victims. Dan Olweus (1993), a forerunner in bullying research and prevention, refers to bullying as "peer abuse."

Too often the harassment that goes on in schools is ignored or discounted by adults who accept the myth that bullying is a natural part of growing up. For example, children at nearly every grade level use words such as "faggot," "lezzy" and "gay" in their everyday speech. Dr. Jessie Klein describes the emasculating effect this has on young males: "Boys who appear less masculine in traditional terms turn to horrifically violent measures to try to prove their masculinity." Teachers who are quick to address inappropriate comments that include curse words may ignore these gender-related words, identifying them as examples of harmless horseplay. Dismissing these behaviors effectively dismisses the victim because the bullying behaviors are simply shrugged off and, as a result, trivialized (2003, p. 13a).

A bullied student is a terrorized youth. Wirthlin Worldwide conducted a survey with more than 500 teenagers and found that they consider bullying to be the most frightening threat to children, surpassing even the perceived threat of terrorism.

Six out of every ten American teenagers witness bullying in school at least once a day (NCPC). In 2000, an estimated 160,000 students per day reported staying at home because of bullying (Education World, 2000).

Ending Bullying

Bullying can happen anywhere. But bullying really thrives in "unowned areas" (Astor, Meyer, & Behre, 1999). Un-owned areas, or "hot spots," are where youth feel particularly threatened. hot spots notoriously lack proper adult supervision. Typical hot spots include restrooms, locker rooms, hallways, parking lots, buses and playgrounds. Improving the quality and amount of supervision in these unowned areas is the only way to reclaim them.

Gaining control of hot spots may be as simple as placing an adult where none stood before or placing several adults in areas where dozens or hundreds of students gather. Good supervisors have vigilant eyes and open ears. They know how to resolve conflicts and they aren't afraid to interact with students.

Although bullies are difficult to deal with, there are many things educators can do to minimize opportunities for bullying to occur. A positive first step is to administer a student survey to determine the who, what, where and when of bullying. …

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