Despite a lot of effort in recent years to CURB bullying, the numbers aren’t moving much. But hopes are high that new approaches will help take a bite out of bullying! And by the looks of things, some schools are doing more than others to counter this painful problem.
Switching Schools to Avoid the Tears
Most bullying occurs during middle school years, according to StopBullying.gov, which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Anna (not her real name) is an eighth-grader who attended a public middle school for gifted kids and is also a Young Reporter for Bear Essential News.
“Sixth grade was fine—it felt like people liked me. I was friends with a lot of people, and I got along with everybody. But in seventh grade it just totally changed,” Anna shares.
The summer after sixth grade, partly through social media, “people found out that I had some views that they disagreed with,” she continues. “Rumors spread and everything, and everybody totally turned against me because of my religious and political beliefs.”
Not everyone in your class shares the same background as you. Some might look different, talk differently, wear different clothes, have a handicap or practice a religion you’ve never heard of.
Anna explains, “in seventh grade, it just totally changed—it basically felt like I had no friends there.”
“Eventually, there was this rumor going around because I’m a Christian and they found out that I personally didn’t agree with gay marriage. And so everybody always was like, ‘Oh, Anna hates gay people and stuff!’ It wasn’t true either—I don’t hate anybody for their beliefs, so why should they hate me for mine? That was just hypocritical of them as well because they were like, ‘Well, Anna hates these people because of what they are.’ Well, you’re hating me because I don’t believe in something that you do!” she points out.
She’d be confronted by what her mom calls “mean girls” in the restroom. Lunches became rough for her. They would even steal her lunch sometimes. And boys also would pick on her.
“She didn’t get beaten up or anything like that, but she hated the environment—mean girls in the bathroom, mean girls at lunch. Just a mean atmosphere,” her mom recalls. “She was just crying every day when she came home from school—she was miserable!”
It wasn’t just a problem at that particular school, according to her mom, who blames the school district as well. For a fresh start for eighth grade, Anna dropped out of the gifted school and now attends a charter school. Several other families from her school chose different schools or are at least thinking about changing.
Bullying & Its costs
According to government statistics, the rate of bullying has dipped a bit nationally, but largely remains the same with about 1 out of every 3 or 4 U.S. students saying that they’ve been bullied.
Eleven years ago, the governor of Arizona signed House Bill 2368 into law to help protect students from bullying. Amazingly, a group of concerned students helped to get this law written and passed!
The law, in part, requires school districts “to adopt and enforce procedures that prohibit pupils from harassing, INTIMIDATING and bullying other pupils.”
So every district has its own set of rules and policies to control bullying. Students and parents should learn what they are in case they’re bullied or have bullying tendencies!
According to the federal government, bullying involves school-age kids, where the bully (or bullies) has some sort of power advantage over the other person and uses that power to act aggressively toward that person repeatedly (it’s not just an isolated encounter).
Bullying can be making threats, spreading rumors or embarrassing photos, attacking someone physically or verbally, and/or excluding someone from a group on purpose.
The costs can be high—for both the person being bullied and the bully. Stress levels are high for those being bullied, and they often feel too embarrassed to report bullying incidents to their teacher, school counselor or other authority. They also tend to have more depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, poor grades and drop out of school more than students who aren’t bullied.
But the bullies statistically fare even worse! Most of the kids who bully end up with a felony conviction by age 24.
Cyberbullying Can Hurt Even More
The apps that kids and teens use are amazing! They’re a fast and fun way to stay connected with friends, family and just about everyone. But cyberbullying can turn these into a very real nightmare. And while getting physically or verbally attacked hurts, the scars and worry that cyberbullying can cause can be even worse.
Like many kids, Anna has had run-ins with hurtful people on social media. “I’ve been made fun of quite a bit. In sixth grade there was a girl who commented on people’s posts all the time and would tag my name on purpose,” she shares. “If I was in somebody’s posts or if somebody posted a picture that had me in it, she would tag me and say, ‘Anna is so stupid’ or ‘Anna EWWW!’ or something—why would you post something like that?”
The person knew Anna is into acting and loves to sing. “So she would always attack me on Instagram and other social media sites. ‘You suck at acting. You can’t sing—I’m much better than you!’ and things like that.”
Anna thought that she was in the clear when that person transferred to a different school. But in a group chat that summer, someone added her cyberbully to it, and the attacks started again. So Anna left the group. For many young people, being cyberbullied can be harder to handle than other types of bullying. “When you read something online, you can keep going back to it again and again…and looking at it. That’s not a good thing to do, but it’s (always) there!” Anna points out.
Could Kindness Be the KEY?
Schools trying to reduce bullying on campus have a variety of options like the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, offered worldwide with almost 40 years of research behind it. Maricopa Elementary is taking on bullying with a variety of programs, one of which is adopting Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Happy Kids to encourage students to become leaders.
These programs work on changing attitudes and the culture of a school. Unique is the Kind Campus program by Ben’s Bells, which isn’t really an anti-bullying program, but seeks to have the whole school—students, faculty and staff—practicing kindness.
The program started right here in Arizona in 2007. “What we’re all about is kindness—the benefits of that—that students and adults can do to build and maintain pro-social or emotional skills,” says Laura Gronewold, director of education.
“The great thing is you can start at any age and you will start to reap the benefits,” she explains. Through Kind Campus “you get access to nine months of programming. We have one edition for elementary schools and one edition for middle schools and high schools.” Usually a school DESIGNATES at least one Kindness Coordinator to distribute monthly materials to the teachers, coaches and club leaders—those adults who lead kids on their kindness skill building.
“They learn that kindness is social and helps connect us,” Dr. Gronewold says. “And they can put kindness in action and really do kindness with their peers, with themselves, their teachers, their family, their neighborhoods and their community at large. That’s the big picture—we interact with the world differently!”
That kindness skill building is based around the four tenets—your kind mind (metacognition), self-kindness, social kindness and kindness in action.
Kind Campus has everyone learning kindness together. “We don’t always get it right. It’s not always easy to be kind to ourselves. It’s not always easy to be kind to others,” she says.
“We find that schools that are really doing a lot of kindness programming generally have a lower incidence of behavior problems,” Dr. Gronewold points out. “It’s good for all involved!”
Visit BensBells.org to learn more about its Kind Campus program.