Tools and Resources
Bullying Prevention Month is underway in communities and classrooms across the country.
A week of programs and conversations started in 2006 by PACER, a non-profit advocate for children with disabilities, was expanded to a month last year and is observed nationally.
Until recently, bullying was an individual or family issue considered part of growing up. PACER, followed by other agencies and organizations, are working to make it an issue that should concern communities.
The public awareness campaign was the work of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center which began in in 2000, after receiving numerous phone calls from parents about their children with disabilities being bullied.
In 2005, after receiving a $100,000 grant to provide written resources on bullying, the non-profit broadened its scope to all children, not just those with disabilities.
According to Dr. Susan Limber, a developmental psychologist at Clemson University, bullying is aggressive behavior that occurs where there is an imbalance of power. It can be verbal or physical and include social exclusion, the spreading of rumors and the destruction of property.
Limber, with fellow researcher Dan Olweus, recently surveyed 524,000 students in 1,500 schools across the country and found that almost 17 percent of third through 12th graders have been bullied. About 20 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys have been exposed to bullying in some way, whether they were the one doing the bullying, the one being bullied or someone observing the incident.
"It must become uncool to bully, cool to help out kids who are bullied and the norm for [school] staff and students to notice when a child is bullied, or left out, or mistreated," Limber said.
Like other types of violence experienced by children, bullying can have a negative impact on children's development and their future.
"Bullying is doubly dangerous because if left unattended it can rapidly escalate into even more serious violence and abuse," said Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, at a bullying prevention summit held in August. "Just as you have gateway drugs, bullying is gateway behavior. Too often it is the first step down the road to one of the tragic incidents of school violence we all have watched in horror on the evening news."
According to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a child who is bullied can suffer from depression, low self-esteem and poor grades. And students who observe bullying can become scared, feel guilty for not helping or become tempted to participate.
As for the bully, he or she is more likely to get in fights and have a criminal record when they get older, according to the U.S. Department of Education's bullying website StopBullying.gov.
Since the issue has grown, law makers have attempted to deter bullying by making it illegal to do so.
According to the National Association of State School Boards, South Dakota is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't have a law on the books addressing bullying or harassment. Some other states also have laws addressing cyber bullying and hazing.
But just because a law has been enacted, doesn't mean it's effective, said Alison Gill, public policy manager for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Anti-bullying bills have appeared, and passed, in many states since the 1990s, but "earlier laws were generic, they just said, 'don't bully," Gill said.
Effective legislation should specifically address issues like training for educators, reporting requirements and a detailed listing of traits that are protected like race, religion and sexual orientation, she said.
While lawmakers focus on legal solutions, community groups big and small are pushing the message this month that bullying is harmful and highlighting resources for children, parents and practitioners.
"We have all been told that bullying has been going on in schools forever," Duncan said. "But the truth is that it doesn't have to keep going on forever."
Throughout the month, Safe Start Center will provide discussion on how bullying impacts children and highlight resources and efforts to reduce incidents of bullying. Please check out our blog, Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for more.