Bullying is an issue of concern nationally; in a 2011 study, 44 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds reported being bullied. Awareness of this problem is on the rise in response to recent violent incidents, including school shootings and highly publicized cyberbullying. To address parents’ concerns, two local Jewish organizations, Tucson Hebrew Academy and Temple Emanu-El, offered presentations on bullying last month.
Some 3.2 million children in grades 6-10 are victims of bullying each year in the United States, Dr. Sheri Bauman of the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding Anti-Bullying Task Force told a group of parents and faculty at Tucson Hebrew Academy on Jan. 24. Bauman, director of the counseling and mental health graduate program at the University of Arizona, said that the long-term effects of bullying can be profound for both the victim and the bully. Targets of bullying show decreased enjoyment of school, lower grades, increased absenteeism, loneliness, anxiety and depression, with problems continuing into adulthood. Bauman cited a study stating that two-thirds of boys who bullied others in elementary school were convicted of three or more crimes by the age of 24.
Bullying is defined as an act of aggression that is intentional, persistent and involves an imbalance of power, according to Dr. John Leipsic, director of pediatric psychiatric consultation and liaison services at the UA Medical Center. Leipsic was one of three panelists at a presentation on keeping kids safe sponsored by Temple Emanu-El’s Women of Reform Judaism on Jan. 13. He said that among boys, bullying is usually manifest as physical aggression or intimidation, while girls tend to use emotional violence like excluding, teasing, humiliating, spreading rumors and sending text or e-mail messages from fake accounts.
How do you know if your child is being bullied? Leipsic encouraged parents to watch for signs such as withdrawal from activities and friends, loss of interest in school, anger, stress, volatile emotions, torn clothes or backpacks, missing personal items, interest in bringing protection (such as a knife) to school, loss of appetite and unexplained bruises, scrapes and cuts.
Since bullying usually occurs under the radar of adults, parents are often shocked when their children are accused as bullies. Bauman noted some signs that a child might be bullying others, such as getting into trouble for fighting (physically or verbally), having friends who bully others, being quick to blame others for their own problems or mistakes, not accepting responsibility for his or her actions, frequently calling others “stupid” or other negative names, talking about certain kids “deserving” bad things, showing little concern or empathy for others in bad situations, believing aggression is an acceptable way to get what they want, being impulsive or domineering, and having a very strong desire to be popular, to win or to be the best at everything.
The key to creating an anti-bullying culture at school is enforcing a no-
tolerance policy, together with in-service training for staff and an anti-bullying curriculum. Part of the problem is that teachers are not taught to handle bullying as part of their education. “There is no required content in pre-service teacher training that addresses bullying prevention and intervention,” Bauman said. “I would love to see a mandate from the state’s department of education that such content be required for all pre-service (and in-service) teachers.”
To avoid being bullied, Bauman suggested following the “STAMP” strategy: Stay away from bullies; Tell someone you trust if you are being bullied; Avoid unsupervised areas of the school grounds; Make friends at school and stick together in a group; Project confidence (if you walk away, do so confidently and go to the nearest adult).
Bullying involves — and affects — not only the bully and the target, but bystanders as well. Bystanders can help stop bullying in progress by befriending the target, distracting the bully (“Here comes the teacher”), speaking out or standing up, leaving the scene alone or with others, reasoning (“You’ll get in trouble”) and calling or texting for help.
Leipsic referred parents to www.stompoutbullying.org for more suggestions about prevention.
Bullying is not limited to the school grounds. Alexei Guren, assistant director of information technology and systems operation at the American Board of Radiology and one of the panelists at the Temple Emanu-El event, said that 62 percent of teens have witnessed cruel behavior online. In his presentation on Internet safety, he noted that 70 percent of teens hide some aspect of their online behavior from their parents. It’s hard to track their Internet usage because they are tech savvy and know how to circumvent parental controls and implement privacy settings to cover their tracks.
Parents need to talk with their children about what they do online, discuss what constitutes personal information that shouldn’t be shared and set limits about how and how much they use the Internet. Guren suggested monitoring all devices used to access the Internet, such as phones, tablets, computers, laptops and even gaming consoles like the Xbox and PS3. Computer usage should be in high traffic areas where parents can see what’s happening. He suggested surfing the Internet with children to help them find useful websites and to bookmark the ones they can use. Children should have a trusted adult they can speak with if they are in a scary or uncomfortable situation. There are software solutions that block inappropriate content, although none of them are foolproof. Guren recommended NetNanny, Bsecure/AVG Family Safety, SafeEyes and CyberPatrol for computers; NetNanny and KidZone for
Android mobile devices; and Bsecure/AVG Family Safety for iPhone and iPad.
As the third panelist at Temple Emanu-El, Bauman tied together Internet safety and bullying in a presentation about cyberbullying – harmful behavior online. Bauman said that cyberbullying differs slightly from conventional bullying in terms of intention (sometimes harm is unintended but still real, such as accidentally answering “reply all” to an e-mail), persistence (some incidents are perpetrated once but seen by many) and power (technological skill and anonymity). Bullies may be more vicious online because of the sense of anonymity — they avoid the consequences of face-to-face confrontation and think they won’t be caught. Psychological harm can be just as great, or greater, than traditional bullying. According to a 2010 study, victims of cyberbullying report more depressive symptoms than victims of conventional bullying.
To prevent cyberbullying, Bauman also tells parents to talk to their children about the risks and their own concerns. But since technology is their social lifeline, threatening to take it away could backfire and discourage them from sharing information with parents. She advises parents to keep passwords private and change them often so that children can’t use parents’ e-mail accounts to gain access to inappropriate websites or social media. A good book for kids, she said, is “lol … OMG! What every student needs to know about online reputation management, digital citizenship, and cyberbullying” by Matt Ivester.
If your child is a target of cyberbullying, save the evidence — the “cyber-footprints” — by printing out e-mails (including the full header), screen shots and browser history. Once you identify an offending sender, report them to the website owner or Internet service provider. Use maximum privacy settings and block offending senders.
“Cyberbully” starring Emily Osment (ABC Family Original Movie, 2011)
“Bad Apple” by Laura Ruby (HarperTeen, 2009)
“Cyberbullying: What counselors need to know” by Sheri Bauman (American Counseling Association, 2010).
“Cyberslammed: Understand, prevent, combat, and transform the most common cyberbullying tactics,” by Kay Stephens and Vinitha Nair (sMashup Press, 2012).
“lol … OMG! What every student needs to know about online reputation management, digital citizenship, and cyberbullying,” by Matt Ivester (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011)
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a local writer and editor. She can be reached at [email protected].