Make strong anti-bullying programs mandatory in schools
More than 40 states have some sort of law that makes bullying illegal, yet the harassment of young kids by their classmates remains common.
According to the latest U.S. government statistics, about one-third of students aged 12-18 say they are bullied in some fashion, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that statistic is low.
And here we are again, with the fallout from an egregious bullying situation in Massachusetts. Phoebe Prince, 15, took her own life in January after months of being bullied by other kids.
Now nine teens face charges for bullying her, including a group of girls charged with stalking, criminal harassment and violating the girl’s civil rights. Sadly, this is just one of several suicides of young people over the past year who had been bullied by classmates.
Unless the adults and the kids in every school in the country learn how to recognize and deal with these situations, bullying won’t stop.
Unfortunately, most schools don’t have programs, and many don’t have the ones known to be most effective.
Researchers say that the only kind of anti-bullying program with any hope of reducing such behavior involves the entire school community, such as the The Olweus Program (pronounced Ol-VEY-us) for elementary, junior high and middle schools. (You can find reports analyzing different bullying programs here.)
That means that every adult in the school, from the principal to the janitor, must be trained in how to recognize bullying and what actions to take to stop it.
Then every student in the school--through assemblies and then regular classroom discussions--must learn about the issue too, and be given opportunities to discuss bullying situations that arise. Kids should be taught that group dynamics can be important in escalating or de-escalating a bullying situation--and that is not acceptable to be a bystander to this kind of behavior. That doesn't mean a child should get physically involved, but should know when and how to get help.
Parents, too, should be educated about how to help their children deal with bullying.
Such training, though, takes time and money. One schoolwide assembly to discuss bullying doesn’t work. Schools that are serious about this kind of program often make time once a week for the topic to be discussed in every classroom.
The Associated Press reported that Barbara Coloroso, a nationally known anti-bullying consultant, was contacted by school officials before the death of the 15-year-old girl, but after another young boy in a nearby town had killed himself in the wake of bullying.
Coloroso said that she went to the school for a day in September to train teachers and administrators how to deal with bullying.
She said officials at the school failed to stop the bullying, and after the girl killed herself, continued to allow some of the students said to be involved in the harassment to attend classes and a school dance with no visible signs of discipline.
"The questions to ask are: Did they follow their own rules and did they keep Phoebe safe? Obviously not. And did they deal effectively with the bullies? Obviously not," Coloroso told The Associated Press Tuesday.
This in no way exonerates the school officials, but one day of training is hardly enough to make a dent in the problem.
While those nine students are facing charges, as they should, the adults in the building who are said to have ignored the bullying when it was brought to their attention apparently will not be charged.
There is no good excuse for any adult in a school in this day and age to fail to take strong action against bullies. There ought to be some consequence for their failure.
This is not a topic that we hear our education leaders talking about very much. If we ever really want kids to feel safe enough in schools to do well academically, it’s a topic that we can no longer ignore.
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| March 31, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Bullying | Tags: bullying, phoebe prince
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