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Grissom column: Bullies do lasting harm to their victims

Bullying ó whether in school or outside of school ó has become a topic for concern and another problem that schools must address. Bullying is defined as the act of intentionally causing harm to others, through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation (Wikipedia Encyclopedia). Statistics on the future behavior of bullies is alarming. Norwegian researcher and expert Dan Olweus finds that 60 percent of students who are identified as bullies in kindergarten had at least one criminal offense by the age of 24; some 40 percent of this group committed three crimes by that age.
What happens to students who are bullied? Research shows that bullied boys are four times more likely to be suicidal than their non-bullied peers. Bullied girls are seven times more likely to be suicidal. Seven percent of American eighth graders report staying home from school at least one day because of their fear of being bullied. More bullying occurs in the middle school years than any other time. Some of the latest information on bullying indicates that among a high number of dropouts, being bullied is listed as a major reason for dropping out of school.
One of the largest growing types of bullying is cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin share examples of cyber-bullying that include using an Internet-connected computer to send harassing e-mails or instant messages and posting insulting and slanderous messages to online bulletin boards, social networking sites, and blogs. Malicious text messages can be sent via cell phones, sometimes with pictures and videos.
One of the reasons that cyber-bullying has increased and has the potential to cause even more harm to children (and adults) is that electronic bullies can remain “virtually” anonymous. Hinduja and Patchin report that the Internet and blogs “can make it very difficult for adolescents to determine the identity of aggressors. Individuals can hide behind some measure of anonymity when using their personal computer or cell phone to bully another individual, which perhaps frees them from normative and social constraints on their behavior. Furthermore, it seems that bullies might be emboldened when using electronic means to harm others because it takes less energy and fortitude to express hurtful comments using a keyboard or keypad than with one’s voice.
“Another feature that makes cyber-bullying so problematic is the fact that hurtful or humiliating content can be sent to a large number of people in a short period of time.”
The Rowan-Salisbury School System is diligent about monitoring what information and opportunities are available to students when using school computers or other electronic devices. However, there is an urgent need for parents to continue to monitor on-line correspondence that their children may have through the use of their personal computers and phones.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System takes bullying ó physical, verbal, and cyber ó very seriously. A portion of the funds from the new federal grant that the school system received will be used for training and initiatives to address this problem in our schools. Some of the training has already taken place and more is being planned.
With the support of the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Rowan-Salisbury middle schools are taking a whole-school approach to dealing with this problem. This team approach means that bullying becomes everyone’s problem to help solve.
School rules and policies clearly state that bullying is inappropriate. Administrators address violators, using appropriate discipline. Data will be collected through surveys and counselors will intervene. High expectations will be set and students will know these expectations and consequences for not meeting them.
Bullying is one more of the behaviors that must be addressed by a partnership between school and home.
– – –
Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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