Frames Bullying as Health Issue
by Ben Feller, The Associated Press, December 6, 2003
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government is planning a $3.4 million campaign to combat
bullying, drawing support from more than 70 education, law
enforcement, civic and religious groups. With an expected start
next year, the effort will frame bullying as a public health
concern, targeting kids and the adults who influence them.
The goal is to create a culture change in which bullying is not
seen as cool, parents watch for warning signs, kids stand up for
each other and teachers are trained to intervene.
Among the campaign's tools are a Web site, animated Web
episodes, commercials and a network of nonprofit groups to help
raise awareness and offer tips.
Off campus, Matt Cavedon doesn't mind the names he is called:
helper, hero, dreamer.
Yet inside school, students for years have used uglier terms to
taunt the 14-year-old, who is in a wheelchair because of a
condition that prevents him from fully extending his limbs. It's
bullying, he said,
and it happens in different ways to children all the time.
"It just lingers on your mind," said the ninth-grader at Berlin
High School in Berlin, Conn., who works with a group that
creates playgrounds for kids with disabilities.
"You can't think clearly. You're preoccupied trying to figure
out why they would say this," he said. "It can distract you from
your school work, your community, even from your friends. It
really does start to
get to you."
Bullying was long shrugged off as an afterthought, chalked up to
kids being kids. But in recent years, it has gained serious
notice as a factor in deadly campus shootings. More and more
states and schools
have taken steps toward bullying prevention, from class
discussions about peer relations to reaching out to parents
about the kind of behavior that is expected in school.
But health and safety officials say the country still doesn't
realize how pervasive bullying is, how it hampers learning and
engenders violence - and how it can be prevented.
Bullying is aggressive and repeated behavior based on an
imbalance of power among people. It ranges from slapping,
kicking and other physical abuse to verbal assaults to the new
frontier: cyberbullying, in which kids use e-mail and Web sites
to humiliate others.
Millions of students - about three in 10 - are affected as a
bully, a victim or both, according to a 2001 study of students
in sixth to 10th grade. The research was done by the National
Institute of Child Health
and Human Development.
And that does not include huge numbers of students who witness
bullying, are fearful it may happen to them and are unsure what
to do, experts say.
Students such as Matt Cavedon helped shape the upcoming
prevention campaign, which will focus on children in the
middle-school ages of nine to 13, when most bullying occurs.
Brielle McClain, a seventh-grader at Millikan Middle School in
Van Nuys, Calif., also helped campaign leaders understand what
bullying feels like. She has been belittled for being biracial,
and in turn, she
has tried to intimidate other girls by spreading rumors.
"It's like a never ending cycle," said Brielle, who turns 12 on
Dec. 14. "It just makes you feel really bad, and sometimes
really angry. I even walked out of class one time I was so mad.
You don't every really
get your mind off it."
Students who are bullied are more likely to be depressed and
miss school, while bullies are more likely than other students
to carry weapons, get into frequent scuffles and get hurt in
fights, research shows.
"Bullying has been around forever, and I think the attitude
among many adults is, 'Well, we survived it, and we're probably
more resilient people for dealing with it," said Sue Limber, a
researcher who has helped the government campaign. "But if you
look at research and listen to kids, there are good reasons to
deal with this."
After the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in which two
frequently bullied students killed 13 people and wounded 23
others before killing themselves, the Secret Service led a study
of school violence. It found that many of those who attacked
others had been bullied in ways that would amount to assault or
harassment if it happened in the workplace.
"You can't learn at high levels when you're being humiliated and
thinking of how you're going to get your butt kicked in the
boy's bathroom," said Bill Bond, a national safety consultant
for school principals. He was principal at Heath High School in
Paducah, Ky., when a freshman who had been bullied shot eight
students, killing three of them, in 1997.
"The solution is, everyone involved has to have the courage to
say, 'This isn't right,' " Bond said. "The biggest group that
can stop it is the peers, if they just have the courage to say,
'Hey, leave him alone,
that's not cool.' But you can't ask someone to tell a bully to
leave someone alone unless the principal has shown the courage
to take action, too."
At James H. Bean elementary school in Sidney, Maine, bullying
has dropped significantly over the past five years, said
counselor Stan Davis, a specialist in bullying prevention.
Among many other steps, the school created friendship teams, in
which three students invite another one into activities to
prevent the exclusion many kids dread. When students join the
regularly volunteer to help them. Bullies face increasing
consequences for repeat offenses but also get individual help in
finding other ways to express themselves.
More parents must help, too, said Cara Mocarski of Shelton,
Conn., whose son, Derek, was taunted, slapped and punched on a
bus ride. Derek, trained in karate, did not retaliate. The bully
on the behest of his appalled parents.
"A lot of parents won't get involved, or they'll say, 'Not my
child,' " Mocarski said. "But you can't do that. There will just
be continued violence."
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