One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Anti-Bullying Measures Legislated December 2, 2010

Filed under: bullying — Women's Studies Intern @ 2:04 pm
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The State of New Jersey Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly passed the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” today — a bi-partisan piece of legislation supporters say would make up for an inadequate anti-bullying law that’s existed since 2002.  New Jersey’s first anti bullying legislative measures were taken then but encouraged anti-bullying awareness, rather than mandating it as the new bill does.   The bill passed 71-1 with 5 abstentions. The new bill requires training for all public school employees to recognize bullying, form “school safety teams” to review complaints, reporting of all incidents whether inside or outside of schools, and administrators who do not investigate incidences of bullying could be disciplined, while bullies themselves may be suspended or expelled.

Legislative actions have tremendous implications for making schools and communities safer for kids.  While this is an important first step in addressing the seriousness of bullying, we must focus on a multifaceted approach to ending bullying.  We need to create a comprehensive, community driven approach to teach children about self esteem.   Here are some ways that we think this could happen:

  • Teachers and school administrators from elementary to high school can start teaching children early about positive ways to gain self esteem that don’t come at the expense of putting others down.  Schools that implement zero tolerance, anti-bullying policies demonstrate that they are taking the issue seriously.  It isn’t enough to say that putting down others is bad.
  • Outside agencies like ours can lend their expertise with primary prevention program like our Start Strong program.  SS encourages kids to stand up to bullies and to act as active bystanders and allies to kids who are being bullied.  Teaching kids non-violent tools to solve conflict will have long-lasting positive results for their development.
  • While the bill above gained momentum after the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a college student at Rutgers University, it only has one provision for upper level education which includes a bullying policy in codes of conduct.  Ideally, to see instances of bullying decrease, colleges should mandate both anti-bullying education.  Prevention education coupled with severe consequences for both those caught bullying others and administrators, faculty who ignore complaints of bullying would not only increase awareness but also decrease episodes overall.  At Carolina, we have the ONE ACT program designed to teach students how to be active bystanders when witnessing incidents of violence on campus.  The safety committees of student governments on university campus’s could also create tasks forces focused on preventing bullying and providing students with resources about what to do if they are a victim or witness to bullying.
  • As informed adults we can also take steps to make sure our own actions and language line up with what we are teaching children.  Parents can make sure that they don’t tease or put down others around their kids and that they solve conflict through respectful dialogue and open communication.  This new NJ bill functions as an excellent example of adults following through on their promises to take bullying seriously and be allies for bullying victims.

What can you do?  By an active bystander! If you see someone getting bullied or picked on step in (whether you are an adult or a kid) and say something.  Encourage others not to use racist, sexist or homophobic slurs! Sign up for our community education volunteer training here to teach kids about bullying prevention.

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“Texts and Phones”: How Parents Can Avoid the Real Consequences of “Virtual” Bullying October 19, 2010

 

"Sticks and stones indeed break bones. but texts and phones wound also."

 

In addition to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, October has also been designated “National Bullying Prevention Month.”  In remembrance of this fact, CNN.com ran this article on cyber-bullying which looks specifically at ways parents can protect their children from incidences of Internet and electronic harassment.

Most of the concern about cyber-bullying stems from the fact that it is inherently difficult to discover, and easy to conceal or deny–particularly if parents and school officials are not as “tech-savvy” as their kids. According to Michael Fertick of ReputationDefender, “seventy-five percent of the problem is in surfacing the incidents.” To combat this trend, companies like ReputationDefender market both free and paid-for tools that allow clients to monitor what is being said about them on the Internet. These programs look for references to a given individual or group.  And once a reference is found, clients are alerted to what is being said about them, essentially functioning like a personal Internet gossip monitor. But while such tools may be useful for parents wishing to track a known or existing pattern of harassment, experts insist they are not appropriate for use by parents, “just in case.”  Here’s why-

Justin Patchin is a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.  The problem, he says, is that parents who spy on their kids (whether overtly or not) may do more harm than good–especially if they do so in the absence of a clear and existing cause for concern. “We don’t think it’s a good idea for parents to spy on their kids surreptitiously,” he points out, “because eventually they’re going to find something they have to confront them about, and it’s going to destroy the other lines of communication.” To illustrate his point, Patchin uses the familiar analogy of a real-world playground.  “If parents are letting their kids play on a playground with a bunch of other kids,” he says. “They aren’t going to want their parents right in there playing with them.”

Even when parents do find a cause to intervene, their reactions are often well-intentioned, but counter-productive.  Susan Limber, a professor and bullying researcher at Clemson University, points out that many parents’ default reaction to cyber-bullying is to further limit or intrusively monitor a child’s access to the net, in an effort to insulate and protect them.  While certainly understandable, such efforts do not address the actual bullying and may make matters worse for the child by isolating them from support or emotional outlets they might have already found online, “In the children’s eyes, this can be seen as punishment, so it’s another reason they tell us they don’t report it.” This fact, coupled with the intense feelings of shame and isolation that already accompany bullying, make many children reluctant to come forward, and may motivate them to recant their claims, or minimize and deny further abuse.

By far the most effective way to prevent cyber-bullying is general awareness and education–both for parents, and children.

According to Patchin, parents need to be aware of the problem, but also to understand the realities of Internet communication.  “I talk to a lot of parents whose kids are on Facebook but they don’t know what Facebook is,” he says. “They have all these preconceived notions or opinions about Facebook, but they’ve never been on the site.”

Likewise, Limber encourages parents and school officials to educate their kids about cyberbullying; its consequences are every bit as real as face-to-face bullying, “What we’ve learned is that we really need to define cyber bullying as a form of bullying since many of the students… did not make that connection initially.” Indeed while many of her students already realize that it’s wrong to pick on a classmate in person, there is a fundamental disconnect between one’s actions in the virtual world, and the social ramifications and consequences they can have in reality.

The hope is that by teaching new users to be aware of the existence and consequences of cyber-bullying, they can prevent another tragedy like Tyler Clementi.  Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, apparently committed suicide after his roommate allegedly broadcast a Web video of him having a same-sex sexual encounter.

In an effort to promote greater awareness about cyberbullying and healthy relationships in general FVPC community educators will be in Chapel Hill Carrboro middle schools this academic year. FVPC will ask students to reflect on their own behaviors, as well as teach them to think about and be aware of how the things they say and do online might affect the person on the other end. As Patchin reminds us, while the messages we send may be virtual, “we’re messing with real lives.”