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Preventing Bullying: Where Should We Start?

By Stacey Ross

Gone are the days when bullies would only gang up on other kids in the schoolyard. Now, “cyberbullies” are turning to e-mail, chat rooms, Facebook and other social media sites with devastating effect, often causing greater harm than traditional forms of harassment. It seems as if media headlines and stories about cyberbullying are everywhere, with a growing percentage of our youth exposed to online aggression and abuse.

Most articles on cyberbullying typically focus on the impact of abuse or how to respond if you are a victim. However, the real emphasis should be on prevention and addressing the root of the problem early on. This process involves examining underlying symptoms, as well as intervening with those at risk before the damage is done. But who, exactly, is going to deal with the rising tide of cyberbullying before it escalates? And who is in charge of this task?

Writing in media outlets such as NBCNews.com and the Huffington Post, Julie Gurner, Doctor of Clinical Psychology, suggests that cyberbullies themselves “hold the insecurities, lack of empathy, desire for social approval and need to control that fuels their own behavior.” She also emphasizes that while bullies'  cruel and tormenting acts might seem very personal, their victims are not the focus; it’s more about the bullies exuding power over others.

Cyberbullying pumps up the volume

“Law enforcement is behind the times on this,” says Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland Frances King Carey School of Law and the author of the upcoming book Hate 3.0: The Rise of Discriminatory Online Harassment and How to Stop It.

In an interview with Crimesider, a blog associated with the true-crime TV series 48 Hours, Citron said that as it becomes easier to post, or text, or comment on a photo, sexual cyberbullying and cyber-stalking is becoming “more pervasive, more common, and more acceptable.”

The underlying problem of bullies

Commonly,  bullies come from a background of abuse and neglect themselves and are driven to craft their methods of demeaning others as a means towards social control. Sadly, the escalation of this over time can lead to pathological behavior. Bullies are often revered  by their peers for their leadership abilities, as on the surface they might have a tendency to appear strong, have a good sense of self- esteem, and seem like born leaders. Yet underlying their status, they are often insecure and damaged, victims of bullying themselves.

The upbringing of bullies is often linked to a lack of parental warmth and age-appropriate involvement, exposure to violent or physically inappropriate communication methods, and questionable parental boundaries. One of the most troubling aspects of bullies is the lack of empathy that they possess or demonstrate in relationships.

Addressing bullying early on

While children and teens can be notorious for being out of line and inappropriate in how they express themselves, those who methodically engage in toxic and destructive behavior need to be identified early on and have their problems addressed. This is not a “kids will be kids” area here, rather a cry out to build a community with a strong emphasis on tackling a serious problem before it escalates. Glossing over the warning signs is, quite frankly, irresponsible.

While the first reaction to bullying and cyberbullying is usually to identify the various scenarios and address them, teachers, parents and community members must prioritize prevention as well as intervention.

Prevention programs

Key areas to address when inquiring about bullying and cyberbullying prevention are:

  1. Find out what anti-bullying laws have been instituted in the state you live in.

  2. Inquire if schools have an anti-bullying policy that addresses consequences for bullying, and educational/awareness programs that proactively help protect and empower potential victims of bullying.

  3. Discover which researched-based programs are promoting properly modeled and realistically simulated scenarios to serve as guidance tools that shed light on bullying and cyberbullying concerns, and just what protocol the community has for addressing these issues.

This problem of bullying affects all demographics and socio-economic communities, and only tends to gain major attention when someone has been victimized or dies. We would be smart to ask who in our school districts are trained to deal with bullying, and how they plan to reduce incidences of bullying and improve the overall school environment. Also helpful would be to know how programs are evaluated and how we can be privy to those results.

Crucial in tackling the problems that stem from bullying is to empower our youth with the skills they need to avoid and address them, for professionals to intervene before issues escalate, and properly-trained personnel to address known bullies and cyberbullies with vigor.

Another element is to ensure that we have strong community role models and peer mentors in place to model  ideal character traits and methods to deal with adversity. Clearly, we cannot solely rely on parents to provide the guidance and attention needed to ensure the community that we will be insulated from bullying; the more advocates, the better!

Martin Luther King, Jr. contended, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  We can't afford to be silent about bullying!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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