Trying to end the bullying

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 29, 2007

In October, Cleveland teen Asa Coon opened fire at his school, wounding four people. He told authorities he had been bullied.

n Dardenne Prairie, Mo., a 13-year-old girl killed herself last year because a neighbor posted mean things about her on the Internet.

In Paducah, Ky., in 1997, Michael Carneal opened fire at Heath High School, killing three and injuring five. He told authorities he was tired of being bullied.

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The headlines are scary: young people, unable to cope with constant harassment, physical assault and social isolation act out with violence in response to what they see is violence against them.

One Lawrence County agency is making its own stand against bullying by taking the message of zero tolerance to area schools.

“Bullying isn’t fun and it isn’t funny,” Necco visitation specialist Ruthanne Delong said.

What it is

This fall, students at Ironton Middle School, Dawson Bryant elementary and middle schools, Fairland West Elementary School and Rock Hill Elementary School got another R added to their reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic: Respect. Staff members with Necco, the South Point child care agency, conducted a seminar at each school for fifth-graders and the subject up for discussion was bullying: What is it, why it’s wrong and what students can and should do about it, even if they are not the one subjected to it.

“We chose bullying because we realized in talking to administrators that is a problem,” Delong said. While bullying is an age-old problem — schoolyard bullies have been around as long as schools have — educators, mental health care professionals and law enforcement have seen the consequences of it escalate in recent years.

Necco received an education grant from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice to pay for its program and hopes to get another grant next year to continue the program and even expand it to all the schools. Some districts opted not to take part. But Dawson-Bryant was among those that embraced Necco’s offer. The target age group was fifth graders, but when elementary school principal Eric Holmes told middle school principal Ellen Adkins how much he liked the seminar, she asked Delong and fellow Necco associate, Tami Henson to come and talk to all three grades at her facility.

Holmes said he was glad Necco was willing to provide his school with a free service he could not have afforded to pay for, but needed.

“It is encouraging for us to know an outside agency is willing to take time and get involved and work with us,” Holmes said, adding that he hopes Necco continues the program. He said his teachers felt there was a need as well.

What’s a bully?

Delong was succinct: “A bully is someone who doesn’t care if bad things happen to you, who don’t feel bad when they hurt others, who want to always be in charge, be tough, has to be in first place all the time.”

Delong pointed out that bullying takes many forms, from rumors to physical violence to the new threat, cyberbullying— the use of the Internet to harass or intimidate.

When asked if they had ever been the target of a bully,

several Dawson-Bryant Middle School students raised their hands. When asked if they had even been the subject of a rumor, others raised their hands, including two girls, who said they didn’t want to give their names for fear their parents would find out and didn’t want to talk about what had happened to them.

Holmes said one form of bullying he has noticed is verbal, some of it perhaps picked up from television.

“Kids can sometimes say things and act in certain ways and they see this on television,” he said. “It may have been meant to be humorous. But TV is not real life.”

Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students got another discussion the younger ones did not: sexual bullying.

One student at the middle school who didn’t give his name said he knew of kids that transferred from one school district to another within the county to get away from their bullies.

Henson and Delong told students that anyone can be a bully and anyone can be a victim, there are no set characteristics of one or the other. Delong said bullying is often, if not always, learned behavior: bullies often learn to be bullies from older siblings and parents and are sometimes the victim of bullying in their own home.

“The bully may be acting out problems at home, or they think they it shows they have power. Sometimes bullies bully other people because the think other people will respect them more or it will make them more popular. Sometimes they do it to get material things from their victim,” Delong said.

Delong said students can stop bullies by trying first to ignore them and if that doesn’t work, asking them why they are doing what they are doing.

“Bullies usually don’t have an answer for that,” Delong said.

She said students should group together especially in places where bullies are most likely to strike, such as lunchrooms and football stands.

Henson said victims and witnesses should tell responsible adults what is happening so action can be taken against the perpetrator.

“What do you do if you tell someone and they don’t do anything about it?” one girl asked Henson.

“If you tell the first person and they don’t do anything, then go to someone else,” Henson said. “This sends the message you are a strong person because you are brave enough to take a stand to stop it.”

Asked what he learned about buying one Dawson-Bryant middle schooler, Jacob Robinson, replied, “It’s not nice.”

Online hate

The age of technology has given the bully a new pulpit, one that has an international audience. Want to humiliate your victim for the world to see or read? It can be done with the click of a mouse.

“Cyberbullying is a big issue,” Delong said. “We did talk about it this year and I plan to expand it next year.

MySpace is a huge problem. Every school we went to, we’d ask, ‘do you know what MySpace is?’ and the hands would go up. And he would ask, ‘have you seen things posted there that are not nice?’ and the hands would go up.”

A future without bullies

Holmes said if his students learn anything about bullying from the seminar, it is that bullying is wrong and those who are victimized need not suffer in silence.

“I want kids to feel free enough that if they have a problem they can come to me or to any teacher,” Holmes said.

Delong said the students at participating school are being surveyed about what kind of bullying, if any, they have experienced and who they think should be held responsible for this behavior, the bully, the bully’s parents, school officials or the victim’s parents.