Bullying in Our Schools

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As the saying goes, “kids will be kids.” The implication of this being that behaviors of all types—tantrums at age 2, fighting over toys at age 5, talking back to parents at age 9, fights among friends at age 12, etc.—are really just part of growing and developing and can and should be expected.  In reality, this is true. There are social markers for development at all ages that come with the challenges of children navigating relationships of all types while growing up. However, there are limits to the “kids will be kids” statement and we must be careful that it doesn’t become an excuse for lack of parenting and/or lack of school involvement when the behaviors turn into bullying.

What is a “Bully”?

By definition, a “bully” is someone who is overbearing and who habitually badgers, intimidates, and/or excludes others. “Bullying” is the act of intentionally intimidating and berating another person. Professionals have come to understand that in actuality bullies are mostly children and teens who themselves are very insecure, often times experiencing some type of abuse in the home, experiencing some element of trauma (parents divorcing or a death in the family), and have no healthy outlet or source of support to process and manage their feelings and experiences. This does not excuse a bully’s behavior; however it does put it into context and allows us to see the bully as another human being who is troubled and lacking. Thankfully, anti-bullying programs are prevalent and in most schools today there is at least some element of education and awareness on what a bully is, how to deal with one, and how not to become one. These programs are greatly needed, but even more important is both parents’ and schools’ commitments to following through on addressing bullying issues in the school and community. This includes paying attention to any and all student complaints of bullying, providing intervention and remediation when a child is identified as a bully, and creating a joint team effort between home and school to support new, more positive behaviors of the bully.

An important element to examine is that when most people think of bullying they immediately think of schools. However bullying can and does take place in any setting where social interaction takes place:  school, synagogue, after-school activity, in the home between siblings, parents bully children, neighborhood activity, and so on.  What can also be a challenge is that bullies can be sophisticated in their approach to avoid getting caught. For example, instead of straight-out bullying in the classroom, the incidences take place in the hallway between classes, on the playground, at lunch time, and other times of day when there is not a direct supervisor who can catch and/or hear what is going on. The following are some statistics I pulled from an amazing website called “Make Beats Not Beat Downs” (MBNBD) (www.makebeatsnotbeatdowns.org) which is an organization working against bullying through the use of music and art:

  • It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Source: National Education Association.
  • American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims. Dan Olweus, National School Safety Center.
  • 1 in 7 Students in Grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying.
  • 56% of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.
  • 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.
  • 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
  • 1 out of 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school.
  • 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month.
  • Those in the lower grades reported being in twice as many fights as those in the higher grades. However, there is a lower rate of serious violent crimes in the elementary level than in the middle or high schools.
  • 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying
  • Among students, homicide perpetrators were more than twice as likely as homicide victims to have been bullied by peers.
  • Bullying statistics say revenge is the strongest motivation for school shootings.
  • 87% of students said shootings are motivated by a desire to “get back at those who have hurt them.”
  • 86% of students said, “other kids picking on them, making fun of them or bullying them” causes teenagers to turn to lethal violence in the schools.
  • 61% of students said students shoot others because they have been victims of physical abuse at home.
  • 54% of students said witnessing physical abuse at home can lead to violence in school.
  • According to bullying statistics, 1 out of every 10 students who drops out of school does so because of repeated bullying.
  •  Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75% of school-shooting incidents.

As you can see from these statistics, bullying is no laughing matter and the effects of bullying in its most severe form can be life threatening.

I know what you’re thinking:  “My child is a good Jewish boy/girl and/or attends a nice Jewish day school.  I don’t need to worry about this.” I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you, but bullying in Jewish schools and/or by Jewish kids is just as common as in secular schools and/or by secular kids.  The one advantage we have in the Jewish community is that our value system clearly outlines and supports what derech eretz (“the way of the land”) is and the importance of raising children who respect and uphold our societal values of treating others the way we wish to be treated. We, as a Jewish community, have a built-in platform from which to address bullying in the Torah context. As an educator and therapist, I feel this is simply amazing and something that every Jewish school must strive to highlight.

What Bullying Looks Like

Once again borrowing from the MKNBD website:
“Bullying can take many forms but it usually includes the following types of behavior:

Physical – hitting, kicking, pinching, punching, scratching, spitting or any other form of physical attack. Damage to or taking someone else’s belongings may also constitute as physical bullying.

Verbal – name calling, insulting, making racist, sexist or homophobic jokes, remarks or teasing, using sexually suggestive or abusive language, offensive remarks

Indirect – spreading nasty stories about someone, exclusion from social groups, being made the subject of malicious rumors, sending abusive mail, and email and text messages (cyber bullying).

Cyber Bullying – any type of bullying that is carried out by electronic medium. There are 7 types including:

1. Text message bullying

2. Picture/video clip bullying via mobile phone cameras

3. Phone call bullying via mobile phones

4. E-mail bullying

5. Chat-room bullying

6. Bullying through instant messaging (IM)

7. Bullying via websites”

As parents, educators, and community members, it is our obligation and responsibility to educate ourselves about the types of bullying abuse so that we can identify it and intervene immediately upon witnessing it.  Our Jewish lifestyle forbids the use of lashon hara (speaking negatively about another person), being verbally or physically abusive, and generally treating others with disrespect. In addition, it is considered a mitzvah to defend those who need help and protect those who may be weaker. In other words, the very essence and core of our belief system is entirely against actions of bullying and gives us the right to act fully and ensure all children can attend school, synagogue, and other activities feeling safe, secure, and happy. It is clearly the parents’ responsibility to ensure this is also happening in the home.

How to Deal With a Bully

Although “how to deal with a bully” is an extremely important topic, I am going to leave this for you to learn through your child’s school. Take the time to investigate what your school is doing to address bullying and educate yourself about ways to assist your child if he or she is being a bully or being bullied.  However one final and important element is how to recognize if your child may be the victim of bullying.  Taken from Jay McGraw’s Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies, here are the key signs your child could be suffering:

1. Makes up excuses not to go to school;
2. Is often angry, sad or depressed, withdrawn, self-loathing and emotionally erratic;
3. Frequently hurt by a particular person or group of people;
4. Frequently picked on in the presence of other people;
5. Mistakes are turned into a big deal by someone;
6. Belongings are often stolen or taken;
7. Always being confronted with lies/rumors;

Bullying is unfortunately an existing part of childhood and adolescence—and even sometimes adulthood—however it is not something that must be accepted as “the way it is” and is certainly something that with education and intervention can be minimized.  It is our duty in each of our respective communities to ensure our schools are doing all they can to create a healthy, safe, and bully-free environment for our children.

Follow up to ADHD article: My article about ADHD found in Community Links issue #223 discussed the holistic treatment method of Reiki.  I would like to clarify that there are two distinct opinions about whether the use of Reiki energy work is “kosher” and allowed according to Jewish law.  I encourage you to speak with your Rabbi and to do your own research prior to engaging in Reiki practice as some Rabbis say it is okay while others condemn it.  My apologies for not including that information in the original article.

 By:Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC

 Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and educator with a private practice in Beverly Hills, California.  Mia is licensed in both California and Illinois and she can be reached through her website at www.bhcounselingcenter.com, e-mail at mia@bhcounselingcenter.com, office 310-464-5226, or followed on Twitter @MiaAdlerOzair

 

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