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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Bullying May Never End

By Peter DeWitt — December 06, 2011 5 min read
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“It’s like hearing the same song too many times on the radio. After a while people turn the station.”

The word “bullying” is used on a daily basis. We usually hear it for the first time when we’re watching the news in the morning as we get ready for work or school. There are sad stories from around the nation about children who are being bullied by their peers. The media often focuses on the worst stories of bullying because those are the ones that make the headlines. However, there are millions of more stories happening every day that hopefully will not have the same tragic endings but they are just as serious.

Bullying is targeted behavior on the part of one or more people toward one person. Bullying does not just happen in schools, it happens in neighborhoods where children live, the workplace, on television and even at home from a parent, sibling or another family member. As viewers, we are actually exposed to bullying by the turn of a channel. It involves one victim and one or more bullies. It can be from student to student, or adult to student and adult to adult.

Bullying has always been around but there is an increase in coverage because of 24/7 media outlets. It has shifted to include 21st century tools (i.e. social networks, e-mail, blogs, etc.). In these days of economic crisis and high unemployment we seem to be seeing a new level of anger in our country. People create anonymous blogs and spew hatred on a daily basis only to hide behind the screen because they lack the character to say anything in person.

It sometimes seems disingenuous that the media portrays schools in such a negative light where bullying is concerned considering that many students who bully get their ideas from the media. The very networks that focus on bullying are the same networks that exploit the subject through reality television where bullying is commonplace and accepted.

News outlets cover stories where people are guilty until proven innocent. It doesn’t matter when the trial is or what the real information may be, with good editing and some great photos of people with guilty body posture (i.e. facial expressions, etc.), we send a message to kids that what we see on television is really the whole truth. They never get a chance to hear all of the information, just the news that will sell the story.

If we really want to see the end of bullying, we should probably focus on getting rid of that kind of television or at least air it on when most children are in bed. Unfortunately, we have to really look within ourselves to ask why those types of shows are so popular. If all adults really don’t like bullying, why are those shows popular? The reality is that not all adults take bullying seriously.

All Around Us
As we continue our days we continue to hear the word bullying used throughout the day. However, most times it is used incorrectly. As children mature, they tend to have issues with one another. Many times these are one time issues where they have an argument or say something mean to one another. This is not bullying. This is an issue that needs adult intervention so the students can learn how to get along with one another. Kids say mean things from time to time and that needs to be addressed. It becomes bullying when it doesn’t stop and the kids start to involve other friends.

The misuse of the word bullying will be harmful to when bullying actually does happen. When parents, students, teachers or administrators misuse the word bullying there is a risk that they will miss when the issue of bullying actually does happen. Many times a victim never speaks up because they feel nothing will be done about it. They worry that the bullying will only get worse. That is the true meaning of victimization when a child or adult cannot escape the bullying and are constantly in fear that it will get worse.

Many schools are working hard to end bullying. They have brought in bullying programs, trained teachers and administrators on how to spot bullying, and they have worked hard to change the school climate to be more inclusive. The reality is that schools will never be able to do enough about bullying until every student feels safe in school.

However, there are also schools where parents and students do not feel comfortable going to a teacher or administrator to report cases of bullying. That is clearly a communication problem that needs to be addressed. Parents and the children who are actually being bullied should feel comfortable going to the school to report the problem.

In the End
Bullying is a serious issue that needs the attention of the educators within a school as well as parents at home. There are serious consequences to bullying, and this does not mean the discipline the bully may face when they get caught. The real consequences are the ones where the victims take their own lives or spend the next forty years remembering what it was like to be a victim and that the school did nothing to stop it.

Children and adults should be allowed to be who they are without the fear that they will be harassed or abused. There is absolutely no reason why a child has to fit into one mold and not be able to share their unique characteristics. We have enough “one size fits all” legislation in the school system that we should not have to worry about that when it comes to the personality of a child.

The following questions come to mind where bullying is concerned:
• How can we teach children to be an upstander (bystander who intervenes) when the adults around them won’t stand up?
• How often have you seen an adult talk about another adult or child on Facebook? If you have, how many “friends” comment negatively about the situation that they really know nothing about?
• How often, as an adult, have you not intervened in a situation because you didn’t want the bully to make you or your child the next victim?
• How often as a teacher or administrator, have you asked the victim to change their behavior so they will not be bullied?

Bullying is quite a popular word. 24/7 media focus on the worst cases, which is important because it provides viewers a glimpse into how, even the smallest of bullying issues, can end. However, this constant focus on the part of the media, although important, can lead many adults and children to take the issue less seriously. It’s like hearing the same song too many times on the radio. After a while people turn the station.

If we’re going to talk about bullying, then we need to make sure that we are focusing on real bullying issues and it will take more than just the school system to tackle this problem. Bullying is an issue that takes parents, schools and the media, and given the amount of mixed messages all of those groups send students, we may never see an end to the problem.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.