Give a ‘one-two punch’ to bullying

By Carol Walker

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An email came into the Prevailer last week quoting some statistics about bullying, the top 10 states where bullying is a problem, and conversely, the 10 states with the lowest rates of bullying. South Dakota didn’t make either list.

I was grateful we were not noted for being the biggest bullies, but in looking further, I saw we were rated number 21 out of 48, kind of in the middle. (Wonder about the number of states? Minnesota, Washington and Oregon were not included in the stats due to “data limitations,” whatever that means). The researchers compared the states using 20 different metrics including “bullying-incident rate,” “truancy costs for schools” and “share of high school students bullied online.”

I suppose definitions for bullying would vary, depending our background and personality. Dan Olweus, a Norwegian Psychology professor defines bullying as “being exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”

Every seven minutes a child in the United States is bullied, and sadly only four out of 100 adults will intervene. Only 11 percent of a child’s peers will help. According to one parent’s story of her child being bullied, about 77 percent of the children and youth growing up have been bullied at one time or another. Perhaps it doesn’t reach the definition of “repeatedly, and over time” that Olweus describes, but in some way they have been muscled around verbally or physically.

The sad part is, about 20 percent of the ones who are bullied by others also bully people. Both the bully and the one bullied often share the same deep issues such as insecurity, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. It appears that continued research shows that problems with bullying stem from a lack of social-emotional skills and it is believed this is something that should get some attention during the school day. Add that to the list of things teachers must cram into their already busy day.

In an article from U.S. News and World Report, Ulrich Boser outlined what a team from the University of Virginia developed that connected with a widely used program called “Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.” This program is used to improve the climate at the school as well as student behavior with not only discipline but academics and other areas.

The entire school staff is involved with the program in order to develop a shared sense of norms. There is a clear set of expectations for students and all through the day staff watch interactions and help students who have trouble following the norms. Often this can catch bullying before it starts.

In addition, if an incident occurs, there is targeted support for both the bully and the victim, such as individual or small group counseling to develop better social-emotional skills. They are taught empathy and ways of coping with challenges with other students.

This approach has worked in schools using the program. They note fewer student discipline issues, kinder interactions, a better school climate and fewer incidents of bullying. This program seems to offer a “one-two punch” when it comes to bullying.

Of course, this approach cannot solve every bullying problem. As Jeff mentioned in his column last week, cyber-bullying is a problem on the rise due to our technological world. But for bullying that happens in the flesh, in the school or on the playground, there are strategies that can bring improvement.

According to the Association for Psychological Science, there are long-term socio-economic repercussions. Bullies and victims alike are both more likely to go through academic failure, commit crimes, abuse alcohol and drugs and experience poverty and job loss as adults. School can lose as much as $2.3 million in funding and expenses due to attendance and disciplinary issues.

There is loss all the way around, but according the strategy developed by University of Virginia staff, there is hope. We in South Dakota aren’t doing too badly, but there is always room for improvement.

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