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Monday, October 3, 2011

Bullying: The Makings of an Epidemic

Submitted by Stephanie Andre

Nerd. Fat. Weird. Loser. Dork. Ugly. Freak. … The list goes on and on. These are derogatory labels teens regularly use to belittle and intimidate others. This is bullying. Bullying is nothing new. However, in recent years, it’s taken on heightened levels of attention. And the stats confirm this trend: reported incidents of bullying have risen.
“Bullying has caught more attention since the rash of suicides in recent years,” explains Ross Ellis, founder and CEO of LoveOurChildrenUSA.com and STOMP Out Bullying. “There’s a lot of drama. Bullies are creating it and victims are accepting it.”
Ellis cites the 24/7 newscycle as a chief culprit: “When you see this type of behavior getting attention, it becomes contagious behavior,” she says. “When you have one kid who commits suicide, it almost becomes a copycat thing. These teens believe it’s an easy way to get rid of the pain they suffer from bullying everyday.”
Starting Young … and At Home
Many experts agree that bullying starts when children are as young as 2 or 3 years old.
“Watch a 3-year-old. How many of these toddlers push each other down?” says Ellis. “If we, as parents, do not teach our children — even at this age — that this is wrong, then it becomes bullying.”
Nicholas Carlisle, a child therapist and executive director of San Francisco-based No Bully, agrees. He believes this behavior is already established by the time children start school.
“We need to develop the attitudes of kids, teachers and the administrators,” he says. “When kids arrive in school, they need to know how to relate to other children and people, overall.”
Adds Ellis: “The first three years mean everything. These parents think, ‘eventually he’ll learn.’ That’s not necessarily the case. I’ve seen parents at the playground. They let their children act aggressively; that sets the tone for the future.”
While no parent can protect their children forever, it is their responsibility to educate their kids and arm them with the right tools and knowledge should a bullying situation arise.
“It’s so important to educate your kids, even role play with them,” says Ellis. “This is a really good option especially if they are timid or shy because if they get bullied, they’re not going to know how to deal with it … and that’s exactly what a bully wants.”
Conversely, it’s also vital to explain why being a bullying is not the answer, either. “As parents, we have to teach our kids that friendships can go wrong, that revenge is not the answer and that there are other ways to deal with problems,” says Carlisle.
They also have to learn how to deal with problems within a group setting, he says. “If a child is feeling pressured to pick on someone, it’s so important to help them understand why they need to stand up for others instead of breaking them down.”
Communication is so important, says Ellis. “Talking about school, bullying, friends is vital,” she says. “Having that ongoing communication will keep parents in tune with what’s going on in their children’s lives.”
A New Foe — Cyberbullying
In addition to dealing with face-to-face bullies, there is now a potentially bigger problem: cyberbullies. In an age of Facebook, Twitter, texting and more, any child who has access to a computer or cellphone can be subjected to this new version of intimidation and harassment.
The term “cyberbullying” refers to the use of cellphones, text messages, emails, instant messaging, chats, blogs and social networking sites to bully another student, according to No Bully. Examples of cyberbullying include:
  • Sending threatening or insulting texts
  • Posting untrue information or personal pictures about another student on social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter
  • Using another student’s email or IM name to send messages that make the student look bad
  • Creating a webpage devoted to putting down another student
  • Forwarding a text or email that was meant for your eyes only
According to a 2007 survey, released by the Pew Research Foundation’s Internet Project, one in three teenagers who use the Internet say they have been targets of a range of annoying and potentially menacing online activities.
Parents just don’t get how prevalent cyberbullying has become, says Ellis. “Parents think it’s OK for kids to have cellphones, be on Facebook, browse the Web — all without any monitoring or boundaries,” she says. “What they don’t realize is that their kids are way more tech and Internet savvy than they are … and that’s a huge problem.”
In fact, many parents of preteens have even set up Facebook accounts for their children — either because they don’t know that the social networking giant has an age requirement of 13 or they just don’t think the requirement is a big deal.
Most often, these children are posting actual photos of themselves, their contact information and offering way too many details about their personal lives. This often-seen situation, in turn, lures cyber-predators and bullies — all looking to take advantage and cause harm, Ellis explains.
And, it’s getting worse. “We are now seeing cyberbullying situations escalate,” says Ellis.
In fact, a teenage girl recently committed suicide after she “sexted” her boyfriend and it went viral, she says.
The Parent-School Relationship
Understandably, the parents of children who are bullied are angry — especially if the incidents are happening at school. However, there is a right way to talk with the school, says Ellis.
“Everybody wants to react,” she says. “They want to go into that school and demand that the bully be expelled, but that’s just not the reality. If you go into a school angry, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
Get your information together, says Ellis. “Document everything. Have your information ready — then call the principal and schedule a face-to-face meeting,” she says. “Get a copy of the school’s anti-bullying policy before you meet. Tell your story and ask how you can work together to help your child. You will get much further this way.”
But What About the School’s Role?Both Ellis and Carlisle agree — schools need to get involved in all forms of bullying.
“Every child should feel safe at school and that’s just not the case,” says Carl-isle, whose organization works directly with school administrators, counselors and teachers on following best practices to combat and respond to bullying.
“Schools just don’t know how to handle bullying,” says Ellis. For starters, one of the biggest misconceptions, she says, is that holding a school assembly will help educate students on bullying. In actuality, it’s simply a waste of time, she says.
“Students will not take anything away from a speaker who comes in to talk about bullying,” says Ellis. “They’re more focused on the fact that they’ve been able to get out of the classroom for an hour.”
It starts with the adults in any school, says Carlisle. “We have found that the most effective way to rid a school of bullying is to educate the educators.”
But it takes time and dedication, he says. “With the schools that are more enthusiastic, it still takes one or two years to become bully-free environments,” says Carlisle. “These schools are investing in long-term cultural changes … and it’s working.”
In fact, according to Carlisle, the rewards that schools typically experience from social and emotional learning are significant reductions in student bullying, increased student inclusiveness and respect, and 11-17 percent improvement in student academic performance.
There are also some simple solutions that may help students who think they are helpless. “I have seen schools implement anonymous bullying books,” says Ellis, “or have a bullying box in which a child can write on a piece of paper, ‘I’m being bullied’. These things can work.”
When Your Child Is the Bully
Bullying doesn’t start and end with the victim. The student doing the bullying needs help as well, and that’s not something most people want to address, says Carlisle.
“These bullies need to understand why what they’re doing is wrong; they need help,” explains Ellis. “No one wants them to grow up to be criminals, but that’s certainly the direction in which they’re headed.”
It’s important for parents to hear and understand what his/her child is doing instead of jumping to their initial instinct — denial.
Parents have to look to themselves and question what is happening in the home.
“Children listen to what their parents say and how they act,” explains Ellis. “If a parent gets loud and angry in a conversation, kids see that and bring that behavior to their own environments.”
Future Progress 
Without education and dedication, bullying will not only continue to plague our children but it will get worse. It simply should not be considered acceptable behavior.
Parents must take a more active role in their children’s lives — both on- and offline — and schools must stand up to bullying and implement programs to combat the problem. If they do not, we could reach epidemic levels before we know it.

For more information about this topic please contact the Law Offices of Peter J. Lamont. 

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