Niagara Gazette — Every day thousands of children wake up and are afraid to go to school. Not because they haven’t completed their homework, nor are they nervous to take a test, but because they are fearful of bullying.
Bullying has become one of the leading concerns within schools in Niagara County. Bullying can lead to poor grades, school violence and teen suicide.
Bullying occurs when a person is picked on repeatedly by an individual or group perceived to have more power, either in terms of physical strength or social status. It is the ongoing harassment of one peer by another resulting in mental, physical and/or psychological pain. Bullying can be physical or verbal. Boys tend to use more physical elements when bullying and girls tend to be more verbal. Bullying can occur anywhere: on the bus, in the neighborhood, before or after school, in the cafeteria or hallway, or on a computer.
Bullying can range from hitting, shoving, name-calling and threats to mocking others. It also can involve extorting money and prized possessions. Some kids bully by shunning others and spreading rumors about them.
Bullies choose their victims for two main reasons – appearance and social status. Bullies pick on the people they think don’t fit in, maybe because of how they look, how they act, their race or religion, their size or their sexual orientation.
Kids bully for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they pick on kids because they need a victim — someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker, or just acts or appears different in some way — to feel more important, popular or in control. Although some bullies are bigger or stronger than their victims, this is not always the case.
A bully likes attention and appears confident with high self esteem, when actually he or she is most likely extremely insecure. A bully may be physically aggressive, pro-violence, easily angered and impulsive. A bully likes to dominate and have power over people. Bullies are more likely to dislike others, perform poorly academically, instigate fights and are more prone to be problematic in school.
A recent study showed that boys who are school bullies in grades six through nine had at least one criminal conviction by age 24.
Anyone can be a victim of bullying. As a parent or educator, there are warning signs to look for:
• Sudden decline in a child’s school performance;
• A sudden change in friendship groups;
• School absenteeism;
• The loss of school or personal items (more so than normal);
• Unexplained bruises or torn clothing sustained during school hours.
If you suspect a child is a victim of bullying, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication and contact school officials.
It may be tempting to tell the child to fight back. However, it’s important to advise children not to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying back. This improper form of retaliation can quickly escalate into violence, trouble and someone getting hurt.
Instead, children should know it’s best to walk away from the situation, hang out with others, and tell an adult. Encourage children to: Try to always avoid the bully and use the “buddy” system; control his/her anger, and walk away from the presence of a bully; tell an adult — a parent, teacher or school administrator; and share openly with others. Tell someone you trust, such as a counselor, teacher, parent, or friend, what’s happening.
Strong partnerships between schools, the Mental Health Association of Niagara County and parents are the key to stopping bullying.
Together we must step up so others don’t get stepped on.
Douglas Luke is a member of the Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc.’s board of directors.Douglas Luke is a member of the Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc.'s board of directors.