HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

School Bullies

Posted on | April 9, 2008 | No Comments

The damage they do is serious and long-lastingRecently the problem of school bullying reared its ugly head. The airwaves featured a youngster in Arkansas, progressively and deliberately isolated, abused, tormented and damaged. The problem is large, complex and pervasive, according to the American Medical Association.

How large a problem? A 2001 study of nearly 16,000 sixth to 10th graders in U.S. public and private schools revealed that nearly 9 percent of the children were involved in frequent bullying. Males were more common offenders than females, with approximately 13 percent of boys involved, compared to 5 percent of girls. There was very little difference between whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

Bullying is a unique form of aggression because it causes long-term damage to both source and target. Both bullies and the bullied often suffer from poor psycho-social functioning. Both show poor academic performance, poor relationship-building, and loneliness. And research shows that they are likely to continue to have problems much later in life – including adult depression and criminal behavior.

Though bullying is at its worst around 6th grade, with rates slowly declining by 10th grade, it’s a mistake to view it as a problem that is left behind when kids grow up. The creation of peaceful, civil societies requires early investment and reinforcement of non-violent behavior – and bullying presents a serious obstacle to that process. It happens at a time of critical emotional and intellectual development for future adults.

The creation of peaceful citizens is no accident. Citizens choose not to be violent when they possess seven gemstones of peace – mental and physical health, education, opportunity, tolerance, positive conflict resolution, cooperation, and self-esteem. These echo the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed upon in 2000. When they are obliterated by bullying, our society faces trouble.

So what can we do? In this week’s video, embedded with this blog post, I explore some answers. One route is public education – which the AMA has attempted with its SAVE program (Stop America’s Violence Everywhere.) School principals can enforce zero tolerance policies, devise guidelines on how violence should be handled, and encourage parental involvement. Students can report violence, serve as peer mentors, and participate in violence-prevention programs. Parents can be role models for non-violence and be accessible to their children, and work closely with teachers to identify and confront bullying behavior early. Watch the video or read the full transcript of this program to learn more.

Peace is not simply the absence of war. We have to work together for a peaceful society and to create an environment where tolerance and mutual support are realistic alternatives to hatred and violence. Addressing bullying is a good place to start.

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