Bullying in Schools: A Live Chat - Nov. 29th 2003 on www.abcnews.com
Moderated by ABCNEWS.com's Saira Stewart
School Violence Expert Glenn Stutzky

MODERATOR at 2:03pm ET (November 29, 2001)
Glenn, welcome! We have a lot of parents writing in saying their kids are being teased and tormented at school while teachers look the other way. What should they do?

The very first thing for a parent to do is to listen carefully to their children's reports of being bullied, be sympathetic, and take the problem seriously. Try not to overreact; try not to under react as well. It's important to know the difference between normal peer conflict and bullying. Normal peer conflict is when 2 students of equal status and power get into an argument or a fight, but it's more accidental, and not serious. In the bullying incident, you have an imbalance of power and the students are not friends. The bullying is repeated, negative, and the bully is seeking to gain power and control over their victim.

So it's important first to establish if it is a bullying situation. Second: Don't blame the child who is being bullied. That's not the time to quiz your child about why he/she didn't do this or that. Third: Get the important information. Who did the bullying, what exactly did they do, when did it happen, where did it happen, and especially important, how often has this been happening. Also ask the child if there were any witnesses. All of this information is important to document for your own records and to be able to share with the school. Fourth, brainstorm with your child strategies that they might employ that might help the situation and practice them through role-playing and discussion.

Number five: Set a meeting with the appropriate person at the school to be able to share your concern and what is going on. And with the school, develop a plan to address the situation. Also get this in writing.

MODERATOR at 2:11pm ET
You say to "brainstorm" strategies with your child. If there an effective way for kids to stand up to bullies?

It's important to teach children several different strategies. There isn't just one set response that is appropriate or will work every time. Some strategies that can be used are (1) to assert themselves. If someone teases them, they can say directly to the bully, "Please stop that; I don't like it." Another strategy is to get help. If a student is being bullied, he or she can ask a teacher or other adult to intervene. Humor is sometimes a strategy that can be helpful. If a student can find a humorous or funny way to deal with a bullying incident, he or she could try to diffuse the situation. Another strategy is to avoid the bully and basically stay away from they bully. This isn't an ideal situation, but on an individual basis, avoidance is one of the main effective strategies students employ.

Sandy at 2:15pm ET
Can you give a definition of a bully and some proactive suggestions for preventing bullying?

A bully is an individual who seeks to control, dominate and terrorize the life of another. The essence of bullying is all about power -- an imbalance of power and an abuse of power. Bullying is a relationship. It goes beyond individual incidents which by themselves can seem petty and insignificant but bring great pain and torment to the victim.

The dynamics of domestic violence and school yard bullying are very similar. It is an issue of power.  The essence of bullying is not in the actions of the bully but in their intentions. Do they intend to bring harm? Is their intention to control?

MODERATOR at 2:20pm ET
What do you believe is the reason for the need to bully?

The majority of bullying is a learned behavior much of which of the learning occurs in the child's home. The child sees that bullying tactics work to get their own way. A lot of children, when asked about bullying, have said that it's also fun -- almost a form of entertainment where other people who are bystanders are like the audience. Bullying has benefits and one of the things we need to do is to diminish the benefits that bullies receive from bullying. But as a society, this is going to be difficult to deal with, because bullying is deeply embedded in the American culture.

There are bullies not only on the school yard, but bullies in the boardrooms of America, bullies who are university presidents, politicians, pastors, priests, rabbis and clerics. Bullying has achieved results in the sense of increasing profit, domination of markets and maintaining positions of power. The use of bullying tactics to achieve these things are routinely used in both the public and private sector. So on the one hand, we cannot tolerate what's happening to our children in terms of the attacks on schools and the suicides as a result of bullying, yet at the same time we emulate many people in the adult society who are the so-called powerful movers and shakers who get things done their way.

T. P. at 2:27pm ET
On Sept. 11th, a group of Muslim extremists tried to bully the people of the U.S. into leaving Saudi Arabia and stop supporting Israel. The U.S. reacted by pounding those "bullies" with powerful and advanced weapons of destruction -- killing hundred or even thousands. Yet, when children, who feel physically incapable of fighting back, retaliate against the "bullies" by using powerful and more advanced weaponry than fists, we are appalled. How does a parent and/or educator get children to understand the difference?

After Sept. 11, some children in schools have been asking, "Let me get this straight. You're telling us that we're NOT to respond to violence done toward us with violence, that there are other ways to deal with these situations. So explain to us, what is it that the adults are doing?" This is a challenging question, one that's important to allow children to ask and to take the time to discuss. If I only had an answer! But it is important that we allow open and honest discussion and debate as we find our way to relevant answers.

I think at this point the answer is that we need to talk, we need to allow this type of discussion.

M. H. from proxy.aol.com at 2:31pm ET
When, if ever, is it appropriate for a victim's parent to approach the bully or the bully's parent, rather than talking to teachers or administrators? Or should the police be contacted?

I think it's important to deal with the situation at the closest level that it's occurring. So if the bullying is happening on school grounds during school time, we should start there -- first, by working with our own child as was previously discussed, then meeting with the teacher, and if the situation can be dealt with there, that's great. If, however, it is not resolved, then we need to pursue meeting with the principal, superintendent, school board -- as high as we need to go to get the bullying to cease. Children view bullying as a form of injustice. The younger children may not use that word -- they may just say "it's not fair this is happening to me; not fair I'm being made afraid at school; it's not fair my possessions are being taken or damaged." So if we as adults don't bring justice to bear in which the result is the bullying has actually stopped, then some of these children, a very small percentage, will seek to resolve matters by taking up arms.

If, at the school board level, the situation is still not being successfully addressed, then we should consider informing the local police or local law enforcement. Actions that are routinely dealt with by law enforcement out on the street and in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, assault and battery, extortion, are often not recognized as the same thing happening in schools that produced the same painful consequences for those who are victimized. Law enforcement deals with these things in adult society; we've made exception, in a sense, that in schools it's different. But isn't the pain just as devastating?

So if the matter, for any reason, cannot be resolved within the school system, then as a concerned parent, the next step may be to contact law enforcement.

J. B. at 2:42pm ET
I don't think that serious bullying occurs at my child's grade school (gr. 1-5) but I do know there is a significant degree of cliquishness, exclusion, etc. Is this a real precursor to bullying? What are some model policies/best practices that can be used to address cliques and exclusion as well as bullying? I am on the site council at my daughter's school and could help implement policy and procedure changes. Thank you.

Cliques and groups can be a source of bullying even as young as the elementary grades. I've had students tell me of what they call "clubs" -- for instance the "No One Talks to Karla Club." Social isolation is in fact a form of bullying. It can be one of the most devastating and hurtful forms of bullying. It is important to have policies that clearly address the issue of bullying in all of its forms and that makes clear what are the consequences and what are the procedures that students and adults should follow when there's been a bullying incident.

One of the most successful approaches to dealing with bullying is referred to as "bully-proofing your school." This is a comprehensive approach that involves students, teachers, administrators and parents. Bully proofing your school is about changing the very social fabric and climate of the school. It deals with supporting the victims, helping the bullies to change, and changing the silent majority of children who are the bystanders into a caring majority. It involves rewarding positive behaviors, kindness, inclusion. In schools that it has been implemented, rates of bullying incidences have dropped dramatically. Adults are the key to dealing with bullying in school. Students understand clearly what's going on: who the bullies are, who the victims are how the adults respond to bulling incidences.

Students will take their cues from the adults and will respond accordingly. If we as adults take the time to listen to the students and really find out what is going on and work with the students in bully-proofing a school, we'll find the students cooperating and even helping to lead the program.

Anthony A. at 2:52pm ET
I was verbally bullied in school. It never became physical but the bullying was vicious and unrelenting involving ethnic and sexual innuendo. Question: What LONG-TERM solution can a school do to bullies who do NOT physically touch a "victim"? Remember: parents of bullies SUE school districts just as readily as parents of victims.

Verbal bullying is a very vicious form of bullying. The scars it leaves run deep and don't leave bruises of the body but leave bruises on the soul and spirit. It's often this type of bullying that has the greatest negative and long-lasting impact on an individual. Which makes it extremely important that within a school's policy, all forms of bullying are clearly described (including giving examples) so that it is well established what the rules are and the consequences.

Then it is of great importance that the school actually implement the policy in day-to-day life and not just have it be words on paper. In dealing with the parents of a bully, it is crucial that a school thoroughly investigate accusations of bullying, document the investigation, along with statements from witnesses, and that the consequences for bullies be graduated -- by that I mean not starting off with an overly severe form of discipline. Bullies are a difficult population of students to discipline. The usual discipline policies of punishment and isolation are probably not the way to go. Schools need to deal with bullies with a "pro social discipline approach" -- using consequences that teach, including the use of positive acts that need to be accomplished by the bully in their discipline.

Have H. at 3:00pm ET
What are the long-term affects bullying can have on people? In other words, what types of problems do adults who were bullied as children suffer as adults - social anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc.

Right now, we're in the beginning stages of studying the impact of bullying on school-age children. One of the things that needs to be looked at closely is this very question: How does being the victim of a bully impact a person of their lifetime. We also need to initiate research on how being a bully impacts a person throughout their lifetime. At this point, there's been little long-term research on this issue. Personal accounts of victims have indicated long-term problems with self-esteem and self-confidence.

Sometimes the impact of being bullied doesn't fully come out in school but in the workplace, where people who have been bullied throughout their school years graduate and enter the workplace expecting things in the "adult" world to be different. However many of them come to find out that bullying is just as severe and real in the workplace. While studies haven't yet been done on workplace violence, looking at the role that bullying might play, it is likely that bullying plays a part as a motivational factor in some of the workplace violence that we see in this country as it has played a role in motivating violence in schools.

MODERATOR at 3:07pm ET
What are some of the reasons adults may not be responding to bullying in the schools?

Many members of the present generation of adults working in schools consider bullying to be a normal part of growing up, a rite of passage, a developmental state, "boys being boys" -- they simply don't see it as a serious issue. Secondly, their plates are more than full already. As a society, we expect and demand so much from schools. Third: Very few schools have a clear policy on the issue of bullying for teachers to follow. Bullying hasn't been identified as a "real" problem -- so no problem, no policy. Fourthly: Some staff may not be responding because it hasn't necessarily been defined as part of their job to do so.

Also: There are real issues of liability. For example, in situations where there is actual physical violence or fights, female staff are more likely to break up the fight between girls than male staff out of concern for allegations or charges of sexual harassment or inappropriate touching.

MODERATOR at 3:17pm ET
Donna writes: "My son was also bullied. He was pushed down a flight of stairs, had garbage emptied over his head, beat up, even stabbed with a knife getting off a school bus. He's suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder now and is on several medications. I took him out of public school and put him in a small private Christian school but unfortunately so much damage has been done. Do you think it's possible to have any recourse against the school?"

I'm not a lawyer, but if the nature and severity of bullying has produced significant physical and emotional or psychological harm, and if negligence on the part of the school system has been involved, a parent could seek legal counsel to determine if there is a legitimate case for damages. It is important that negligence be clearly established. Did the school actually know about the bullying? Were they aware of it? Did they see it? And were they deliberately indifferent to it? If so, did that indifference lead to your child being harmed? This would have to be clearly established in a court of law.

MODERATOR at 3:21pm ET
Peggy Ramos asks: "Are there any support groups for children that are bullied?"

There are some sites on the Web where children can share their stories and read other kids' stories. ...There are no national support groups that I know of at this time.

MODERATOR at 3:31pm ET
Many thanks to Glenn Stutzky and to all those who joined the chat. Please continue this conversation with other ABCNEWS.com readers on our message board.

HEAR JARED'S VOICE - PLAY - From an interview with Pasco School District investigators concerning the assault.  This is a recording of a recording and it isn't real clear, but worth the download effort.  Jared had a real mellow voice.     Note: If you have a slow load wav, wait for it to load entirely and then play again from the start.   5 minutes long.
A Congressman speaks out about bullying, and in support of an anti bullying law in Arizona       "The school ground bully has been around for too long.  His entire success at bullying is predicated upon arrogant disregard to simple decency, and a willingness to brutalize an innocent victim simply because the bully is bigger and stronger and others are afraid to intervene.  It is insidious and calls for society and government to intervene decisively.  This bullying bill is a start.  As you deliberate this bill please reflect on the fact that Government's primary purpose for existence is for the protection of its innocent citizens.   ...Then remember your bully as a child."      Congressman Trent Franks (R) Arizona


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