Stomping out bullying

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --  How many of us can remember not wanting to get off the school bus, in fear of a group of kids waiting to settle some unknown score?
Perhaps a lingering memory still haunts us of that first day in a new school scurrying down unfamiliar hallways, only to overhear an unkind remark about how we looked or dressed.

When these or similar occurrences are recalled, we may still ask ourselves, "Why me?" Are they our own personal moments of bullying, or just incidents of "children misbehaving?" With a little help, let's start to sort out which are a normal part of growing up from serious and dangerous examples of bullying.

Research has shown that prolonged bullying causes targeted children to become withdrawn or aggressive and in extreme cases violently retaliatory or suicidal. Are we doing enough to recognize and prevent bullying from happening? It has been shown that schools having a unified program of violence prevention have decreased incidents by 50 percent while increasing academic standing by the same amount.

Some helpful tips taken from an article by Dr. Dana Boyd, a member of Born This Way Foundation, Microsoft researcher and assistant professor at New York University, titled "Five Misunderstandings about Bullying," may provide a better understanding of this issue.

1. Bullies are a symptom not the problem. They may need just as much help themselves with difficulties at home or school. Often they lash out, having been victims of other situations.

2. The definition of bullying does not include all meanness or cruelty. To be considered bullying it has to be done repeatedly by another who is physically stronger or socially more powerful. While different approaches need to be implemented involving pranks and teasing, it is important not to overreact. Some forms of these behaviors are normal.

3. While reports still indicate that school bullying is largely invisible to adults and more prevalent with greater negative impact, cyberbullying by its nature is particularly visible.

4. Teen suicides are often connected to mental-health issues: fitting in with a group, conflict with parents, or attitudes of intolerance. They are rarely explained by the actions of one person. This points to the importance of finding the root causes of bullying and tackle those, not blaming individuals.

5. Bullying is not only a problem with the young. As adults we should model more helpful behaviors by taking responsibility in stopping cruelty, especially when it is the result of complex values and intolerance. Unscrupulous politicians, gossiping parents, and those whose fame is based on treating others badly make poor role models.

These are just a few of the common misunderstandings surrounding bullying. With increased attention to this matter we can help our young people become the good neighbors and better citizens that our country so desperately needs. If you would like to learn more, a free one-day conference on bullying will be offered May 19 from 8:30a.m. - 4:00p.m., presented by Kerry Steiner, PEN Project Regional Coordinator. The seminar will be held at Region XV Education Service Center, 612 S. Irene just off Rio Concho Drive and Bell St. Limited registration is available by calling (317) 370-6781 or email: ksteinerpen@sbcglobal.net.