October is National Bullying Prevention Month. The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.
Most of us have a bully story from our school days. Why else would there be such universal appeal in watching Ralphie, in the movie “A Christmas Story,” finally crack and beat up Farkus, the neighborhood bully? But bullying is no laughing matter. In my son’s first year of high school, he had his locker broken into and his backpack thrown down the aisle of the school bus. He also witnessed a fellow student’s altercation with a bully on the bus. Though unsettling, these are small incidents compared with some of the horrific headlines in recent years about young people being killed or driven to suicide at the hands of bullies.
Bullying can be verbal, physical or via the Internet. It can severely affect the victim's self-image, social interactions, and school performance―often leading to insecurity, lack of self-esteem, and depression in adulthood. School absences and dropout rates among victims of bullying are much higher than among other students.
Studies have shown that children who have been identified as a bully by age eight are six times more likely to have a criminal conviction by the time they reach adulthood. So too, children who are bullies may continue to be bullies as adults, and are more prone to becoming child and spouse abusers.
Everyone has the power to do something about bullying. On my son’s school bus, it was other students, not the driver, who came to the assistance of the student being bullied. Students, parents, teachers and school administration all play a role in sending a swift and decisive message that bullying will not be tolerated.
Communities In Schools site coordinators are especially equipped to help students deal with bullying and the negative self-image that can result from it. One of the first stories I wrote after joining the Communities In Schools staff was about a shy sixth-grader named Brandi Martin who had missed a lot of school. The root cause of Brandi’s truancy was conflict with a group of girls at her school. The Communities In Schools site coordinator matched Brandi with a mentor who provided her with the positive reinforcement she needed to move forward. By the seventh grade, Brandi was attending class regularly and had become a completely different person―bubbly, outgoing and happy, with dreams of becoming a teacher or attorney.
Our site coordinators often find themselves reaching out to students who are themselves the bullies. When students are angry and frustrated, with little hope for their future, they act out. Communities In Schools makes sure that these young people, often beaten up by life, are made to feel valued and shown they have positive options. They need our compassion and assistance as well. Site coordinators provide mentoring, mental health counseling, after-school programs, service-learning opportunities, and college and career planning to help students find their path to a productive, violence-free life.
There are many resources available online and in your community to help address bullying—not just during Bullying Prevention Month, but all year long. Here are just a few examples: