USADOD Takes Steps to Stop Bullying

WASHINGTON — It can begin with a sin­gle, seem­ing­ly harm­less act: a taunt at recess, a snub in the lunch room or a juicy piece of gos­sip post­ed to Face­book or Twit­ter.

But each act, mul­ti­plied over time, can equate to some dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences, includ­ing shat­tered self-esteem, depres­sion, fear and, in the worst cas­es, sui­cide.

Bul­ly­ing has dom­i­nat­ed the head­lines in recent months with the high­est-pro­file cas­es splashed across front pages, bring­ing nation­al atten­tion to an issue once rel­e­gat­ed to school halls and lock­er rooms. Sev­er­al teens report­ed­ly took their own lives rather than face ongo­ing tor­ment from their per­se­cu­tors.

What once was an issue that most chalked up to an inevitable rite of pas­sage is now being re-exam­ined for its true impact, from Defense Depart­ment schools all the way up to the high­est ech­e­lons of the nation’s lead­er­ship.

Last year, the depart­ments of Edu­ca­tion and Health and Human Ser­vices joined with four oth­er depart­ments, includ­ing the Defense Depart­ment, to cre­ate a fed­er­al task force on bul­ly­ing. And in August, the task force held its first Nation­al Bul­ly­ing Sum­mit to bring light to the issue and to find a path to stop it for good.

“It’s got­ten the atten­tion of the coun­try just how inva­sive any type of bul­ly­ing is to the well-being of a vic­tim,” said Bar­bara Thomp­son, direc­tor of the Pentagon’s office of fam­i­ly pol­i­cy, chil­dren and youth.

Although they’re extreme­ly adapt­able, mil­i­tary chil­dren may be par­tic­u­lar­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to bul­ly­ing in pub­lic schools, where they tend to be the “new kid on the block,” Thomp­son said, espe­cial­ly when mov­ing to an area where their class­mates have been liv­ing since kinder­garten.

Accord­ing to nation­al sta­tis­tics, about 32 per­cent of stu­dents ages 12 to 18 report being bul­lied in school. They most com­mon­ly said they were made fun of, were the sub­ject of rumors or were pushed shoved, tripped or spit on. How­ev­er, only about a third of the vic­tims noti­fied a teacher or anoth­er adult about it.

“It’s impor­tant for all par­ents to be vig­i­lant and to ask their chil­dren how things are going in school,” Thomp­son said. “Cre­ate an open forum where a child feels com­fort­able to say, ‘I’m scared’ or ‘I don’t like the way I’m being treat­ed.’ ”

Bul­ly­ing hap­pens to some extent in all schools, but that doesn’t make it accept­able, said Patri­cia Cas­si­day, direc­tor of pupil per­son­nel ser­vices for the Depart­ment of Defense Edu­ca­tion Activ­i­ty. DoDEA over­sees all of the department’s schools, both over­seas and state­side.

“For those of us who work with kids in schools, we don’t want chil­dren to be humil­i­at­ed and embar­rassed and have to ‘put up with it,’ ” she said. “It’s against the law, and it’s not OK.”

The edu­ca­tion activ­i­ty has built bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion lessons into the cur­ricu­lum for stu­dents in kinder­garten up to 12th grade. Instead of focus­ing on pun­ish­ment and reper­cus­sions from the top down, the cur­ricu­lum under­scores the impor­tance of pre­vent­ing the prob­lem from the ground up.

“We stress the impor­tance of stu­dents sup­port­ing each oth­er and say­ing, ‘Not in our school,’ ” Cas­si­day said.

Schools also push the bystander role to the fore­front rather than putting the onus sole­ly on the vic­tim to get help. Stu­dents are encour­aged to inter­vene, whether it’s to come to the defense of a vic­tim in a non­vi­o­lent way or to dis­tract a bul­ly, who may also be a friend, from pick­ing on oth­ers.

A stu­dent at Wies­baden High School in Ger­many recent­ly pro­duced a short video that echoes this mes­sage. He urges stu­dents to stand “shoul­der to shoul­der,” and to take action if they see a stu­dent who is being iso­lat­ed or seems dis­heart­ened. The video is now post­ed on DoDEA’s web­site.

Despite the best-intend­ed pre­ven­tion efforts, bul­ly­ing will still occur, Cas­si­day not­ed. If it does, DoDEA’s school offi­cials encour­age a step-by-step process, start­ing with urg­ing the vic­tim to speak up, but in a way that won’t exac­er­bate the sit­u­a­tion.

“Be assertive,” Cas­si­day advised. “Right away, be clear you want them to stop. Say, ‘I don’t like it when you …’ then get out of the sit­u­a­tion.”

If it con­tin­ues, vic­tims should let the bul­ly know they are going to ask for help. Stu­dents are taught this isn’t a case of “tat­tling,” but of self-preser­va­tion, she said.

The next step is to encour­age the vic­tim to sit down with the bul­ly and a coun­selor to dis­cuss the issue, Cas­si­day said. Or, if the vic­tim isn’t com­fort­able being there, the coun­selor will meet with the bul­ly alone to call for an end to the destruc­tive behav­ior. By doing so, “we’re keep­ing the bul­ly from hav­ing all of the pow­er,” she said.

If the bul­ly­ing hap­pens a third time, dis­ci­pli­nary action will be tak­en by the school, Cas­si­day said.

“Now there’s a whole his­to­ry of behav­ior,” she said. “We try to make this a learn­ing expe­ri­ence for both par­ties. Not just, ‘The bul­ly is a bad kid,’ but ‘The bul­ly made a bad choice.’ ”

All bets are off, how­ev­er, when phys­i­cal vio­lence is involved, Cas­si­day said. In those cas­es, imme­di­ate dis­ci­pli­nary action will be tak­en.

Along the way, stu­dents are encour­aged to talk about the inci­dents to a par­ent or trust­ed adult. In turn, the par­ent should imme­di­ate­ly let the teacher or school admin­is­tra­tion know what’s going on if they’re not already aware. What par­ents shouldn’t do, Cas­si­day said, is tell their chil­dren what they might have been told in their own youth: to hit back.

“If you hit back, then both par­ties are going to be dis­ci­plined,” Cas­si­day explained. “It’s tough for schools to know who is to blame if both are involved.”

Par­ents also can choose to go to the par­ents of the bul­ly, but not on the attack. Cas­si­day advis­es they make it a learn­ing sit­u­a­tion, and use the approach of, “I’m not sure you’re aware of this, but .…” Above all, she added, it’s just as impor­tant for par­ents to speak up as it is for their chil­dren.

“To remain silent, you’re con­don­ing the behav­ior,” she said. “Your child doesn’t have to ever put up with bul­ly­ing.”

Com­pli­cat­ing the mat­ter, bul­ly­ing no longer is rel­e­gat­ed to cafe­te­rias and lock­er rooms. Bul­lies now can take their taunts world­wide via the Inter­net. The sto­ries are ram­pant:

bul­lies post­ing slan­der to Face­book and Twit­ter or cir­cu­lat­ing a com­pro­mis­ing pho­to through text mes­sages. In a sur­vey on, near­ly half of the par­tic­i­pants report­ed they’d been “cyber­bul­lied” before, and more than 50 per­cent had a friend who had been bul­lied online.

Cyber­bul­ly­ing can have an impact that extends far beyond the school’s walls, Cas­si­day not­ed. To pre­vent online bul­ly­ing, Defense Depart­ment schools are using a vari­ety of com­put­er train­ing tools to empha­size the impor­tance of online safe­ty and respon­si­bil­i­ty to stu­dents, she added.

Out­side of school, par­ents should mon­i­tor com­put­er use and let chil­dren know they’re doing so, she advised. How­ev­er, there’s a fine line between pro­tect­ing children’s online pri­va­cy and a parental respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­tect them against a pos­si­bly unsafe envi­ron­ment, Thomp­son not­ed.

“Chil­dren real­ly do need to have parental and adult involve­ment regard­ing how they receive infor­ma­tion and post it,” she said.

The Defense Depart­ment is work­ing with chil­dren and youth ser­vices man­agers to high­light online dan­gers and to teach them how to respond if a child approach­es them with a con­cern, she added.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the Defense Department’s Mil­i­tary One­Source site at offers free online resources and print­ed mate­ri­als that are aimed at help­ing par­ents and chil­dren deal with bul­ly­ing, whether the tra­di­tion­al or dig­i­tal kind. The infor­ma­tion also is direct­ed at help­ing bul­lies change their behav­ior. Bul­lies, stud­ies indi­cate, often were bul­lied them­selves.

Thomp­son said she recent­ly learned about a mil­i­tary child who went to a bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion work­shop. He real­ized there that he’d become mean to oth­ers because he was angry about his father’s deploy­ments. “We need to work to break the bul­ly­ing cycle,” she said.

The Defense Depart­ment will con­tin­ue its efforts to shed light on the per­va­sive prob­lem, not just for mil­i­tary chil­dren, but for all chil­dren, Thomp­son said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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