Is there someone that really gets under your skin because of their continual taunting? Do they find fault with your race or religious affiliation? Are you a victim of repeated spousal or supervisor criticism? Do you feel powerless to stop the behavior? If your answer is "yes" to any of these questions, then you can relate to the nearly 4 million American schoolchildren who are bullied each year.
Bullying can happen anywhere. In the school environment, it may start at the bus stop, because that's where the school day begins. It can also occur in the hallway, during gym, lunch, on the playground, even during class.
Often, bullying behavior will escalate during the day and, ultimately, a victim can be terrorized on the bus at day's end. Why? Because bullies are shrewd predators who will use any opportunity to inflict damage. The school bus is, unfortunately, just one venue among many.
Bullying: The definition.
"Bullying involves a pattern of repeated aggression, a deliberate intent to harm or disturb a victim despite the victim's apparent distress, and a real or perceived imbalance of power. Bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional, and legal problems" (American Family Physician, Nov. 1, 2004).
The consequence of this abnormal, and typically escalating, behavior is that it can lead to violence in the workplace and, according to guidance counseling experts, is the "best predictor of adult criminality."
In a discussion on workplace violence, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states, "On average 20 U.S workers are murdered and 18,000 assaulted each week at work." And those tip-of-the-iceberg figures do not take into account the large number of unreported offenses, notably verbal and physical abuse.
What is most distressing is that until now, the focus has been in bully identification and treatment instead of examining the larger environmental issues that foster the behavior in the first place. According to the American Psychological Association, "the only way to prevent violence is to involve an organization in changing the way it approaches the problem."
Apathy: Why bullying continues
Despite the ridicule and suffering many of us have experienced, little has been done to stop this behavior. There has been an historical prevalence of apathy toward bullying, either on the bus or on school grounds. It has been dismissed as "boys being boys," or as "a rite of passage."
According to the study "Bullying Behaviors Among U.S. Youth," published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as early as April 2001, the following conclusion was noted: "the prevalence among U.S. youth is substantial…[and] merits serious attention [for] preventive intervention."
However, at that time the report stated, "no national data on the prevalence of bullying are available." Results of the survey showed that 29.9 percent of students have either been bullies, victims or both. This report was written after the 1998 incident that shocked the nation and resulted in the tragic death of Georgia youth, Josh Belluardo. Belluardo was departing the bus, eager to end another day of relentless bullying and sustained a blow from behind leveled by his attacker.
Apathy among educators is another source of concern, as illustrated by the results of a 2004 survey done by the Society for Public Health Education of 700 principals on anti-bullying programs. Fifty-five percent responded that only one in five schools was using an anti-bullying program even though no barriers were listed for program participation.
Bullying continues not only in and around school but with the advent of MySpace and Facebook, cyberbullying has now come into vogue. Four out of 10 teens have been victims of cyberspace bullying. One in eight were frightened enough to avoid school, according to a National Crime Prevention Council Survey. Clearly, the issue is not going away.
What can we do about bullying?
Previous strategies have tried and failed to address the issue. Many school districts are overburdened with rising costs and shrinking budgets, and are forced to make difficult choices with dwindling resources. They have denied bullying exists, punished the bully, blamed the victim or dismissed the bully. These strategies only worsen the problem or transfer it to someone else.
In an article that appeared in American Family Physician, studies of successful anti-bullying programs suggest that a "comprehensive approach in schools can change student behaviors and attitudes, and increase adults' willingness to intervene. Efforts to prevent bullying must address individual, familial and community risk factors, as well as promote an understanding of the severity of the problem. Parents, teachers, bus drivers and health care professionals must become more adept at identifying possible victims and bullies."
To lend a hand on a national level, the Stop Bullying Now! Campaign was introduced in 2004 by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HSRA). This bullying prevention campaign was created with the help of more than 70 health, education, faith-based and safety organizations to educate the public and provide necessary resources in order to prevent bullying and stop student violence. Resources include public service announcements, tool kits for educators, health professionals, parents and students, and video conferencing capability. "Tip sheets" for adults and children are provided with helpful hints regarding behavior strategies. In addition, a cadre of 9-to-13-year-olds comprises the HSRA's Youth Expert Panel. The campaign Website is www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.
Another example of a comprehensive, organizational approach to antibullying comes from Cherry Hill (N.J.) Middle School. First, students were surveyed to define the scope of the problem. Then they created rules banning bullying, with a corresponding contract that students signed, coupled with a school-wide assembly to raise awareness. The school library is now heavily stocked with books and tapes on the subject and a bullying prevention team meets monthly to plan prevention activities. All of these activities are supplemented by poster contests, newsletters and a drama club that performs skits in and out of school to heighten consciousness.
Another refreshing perspective is offered in an approach called Tribes TLC®. This model of instruction teaches small groups of four to six students the values of attentive listening, mutual respect, collaboration skills and more in a school setting that engages teachers, administrators, students and families working together as a learning community. Visit www.tribes.com for more information.
Like it or not, bullying is endemic to our culture. There are potential solutions, and we can pursue those solutions now or suffer the consequences later. If you think a child is being bullied on a school bus, talk to the child and the bus driver. Schedule a meeting with the school guidance counselor. In addition, have a discussion with the school's administrative head and let the guidance counselor and driver know you have apprised him/her of the situation.
We preach to our children that they should not solve life's challenges with violence. As adults, we need to acknowledge the potentially devastating effects that these incidents have on our youngsters and respond in a manner that models the behavior we expect from civilized individuals.