Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying

No one in or outside of Toledo can say our city isn’t taking bullying seriously and engaging the community in anti-bullying efforts. Thursday September 26 is case in point. At noon the University of Toledo Law School hosted nationally acclaimed author/legal expert Emily Bazelon. The well attended open to the public event was based on Ms. Bazelon’s recent book “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy” During the hour presentation Ms. Bazelon had some very compelling ideas and things to share about anti-bullying efforts that I would like to pass on to you. First of all, “If it’s mean intervene!” We do not have to determine if every situation is bullying, but mean behavior should not be tolerated or accepted and must be acted upon.

A prevailing myth is that bullying is “kids will be kids” a rite of passage if you will, but bullying is not normal behavior. If you ask any child about bullying behavior he/she will always tell you it is something they do not like. Longitudinal research points out both targets of bullying as well as bullies report increased anxiety and increased suicidal ideation 20 years later. Cyberbullying is considered a license to be cool without any accountability.

Cyberbullying among youth in part is due to limited executive brain function and poor impulse control. Research shows that girls who use online media heavily report less overall satisfaction in their relationships with peers. 63% of teens’ text with friends daily. Social media receives over 2 million complaints a day, many of which fall under the cyberbullying category.

Social media sites have lots of rules against cyberbullying, however these rules are nearly impossible to enforce. Schools and youth were encouraged to get involved in the Delete Cyberbullying Pledge you can find at: http://www.powertolearn.com/delete-cyberbullying/pledge.shtml

Bazelon suggests it is imperative youth understand that other kids are not doing this (bullying).  A decrease in bullying behavior as the social norm happens when educators and parents convey to youth that this isn’t the norm. An image was shown of a school related poster that read; “9 out of 10 students at this school do not exclude someone to make them feel bad.”

Bazelon expressed the importance of including youth in the process of exploring helpful strategies to prevent and intervene on bullying. The featured speaker concluded with a hopeful message for the future envisioning a decrease in bullying by referencing national trends in drinking and drunk driving behavior by youth.

From 1980 to 2010 there statistically has been a decrease in binge drinking from 41.2% to 23.2% and a 58% decrease in drunk driving by youth. Ms. Bazelon attributes this decline to multiple anti-drinking/driving campaigns and related prevention efforts. She believes similar campaigns against bullying will help change the culture norm and attitudes surrounding bullying.

The evening of this same day WGTE launched its second Community Forum on bullying. Hosted by Bill Harris a panel of speakers was featured to address phone in and audience questions on the topic. Dr. Susan Tellijohann in the College of Health Science at the University of Toledo, Dr. Amy Franco, Principal at Jackson Elementary in Washington Local Schools and Sheriff John Tharp made up the panel. The panel offered that there is not an upsurge in bullying only that more bullying is being recognized and reported due to education on the topic. Three general forms of bullying remain prevalent, including physical, verbal and psychological which includes indirect forms of bullying such as rumors and cyberbullying.

The psychological effects of bullying are longer lasting than any other form. There are a variety of reasons kids are targets of bullying including race, size, age, intellectual ability, etc. There is no magic solution to eliminating the problem, but that a combination of bullying policy, student surveys, focus on a positive school climate, training and educating teachers, students as well as parents and getting schools to systematically implement what are considered to be the 10 best practices of bullying prevention.

Sheriff Tharp offered that there must be a focus on the behavior and that any act of bullying is a violation of the Ohio Revised Code and can be attributed to menacing, aggravated menacing and assault. Tharp also indicated through his many years of working with DARE and in gang resistance that it is vitally important to be “firm but fair” when dealing with any situation that involves conflict resolution. Dr. Franco stated one of the major drawbacks to bullying intervention is how often parents are quick to protect their child, “my child didn’t/wouldn’t do this.”

From surveys the most prevalent form of bullying among Lucas County kids is verbal bullying. The panel agreed bullying involves considerable investigation. Dr. Franco suggest that all students involved write out what happened in order to get enough testimony to ferret out what happened and move forward with an intervention strategy. Dr. Tellijohann made clear that bullying is bigger than just a school issue but rather a community problem.

When bullying occurs at schools it is required by law that the school administrator contact in writing the parents of both the identified victim and the identified bully about the nature of the incident. The forum included taped segments by Pat Hardy the Clinical Manager for Rescue Inc. Ms. Hardy recommended the following website if anyone is concerned about the possible threat of suicide: http://www/suicidepreventionlifeline Danielle Cisterino, Project Director for TEEN PEP, a teens trained in high schools to conduct classroom presentations for their peers on a variety of teen sensitive topics and Dr. Rob Salem, professor of law at the University of Toledo Law School were also featured on video segments. The panel agreed that social media perpetuates bullying and in order to intervene hard evidence, such as screen shots is necessary.

You can find a plethora of resources on bullying on the WGTE website at: www.preventingbullying.org