The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Bullying: See It, Stop It

January 29, 2011

The problem with bullies

Involvement essential at all levels to put a stop to bullying

ENID — “A bully is aware of the emotional impact they are having on a person and they derive an emotional satisfaction.” — Dr. Stephen Close, Ph.D, clinical psychologist

When asked to define bullying, one is hard put to offer a singular definition. Most purse their lips and wrinkle foreheads at first, making evident the thought processes under way to determine the best answer.

There are lists of bullying techniques, there are buzz words in which to refer, but the essence of the word — as everyone who ever has been on the receiving end of a bully knows — is extremely personal.

No one has to tell young Kaylin what it means to bully.

The Enid middle school student “got mad” and “stormed off” after she learned her seemingly nice friends offered her candy one day.

“It was either stepped on or spit on,” she said, with anger as evident as a thundercloud crossing a porcelain face, strikingly framed by her dark hair.

She spit the next words between teeth that were clenched: “Only they didn’t tell me until after I ate it.”

Kaylin said she left in a huff, but what she really wanted to do was “throw the gum in their faces.”

“I think,” she said, calmer now, thoughtful, “I dealt with it the best way I could.”

The way in which a victim deals with a bully can be the key to making it stop and empowering his or her lives, said Close, who has operated a private practice in Enid for nearly 30 years.

In the schools

It starts with Great Expectations in Enid Public Schools, but education on bullying and its prevention doesn’t stop there.

Great Expectations promotes improved student self-esteem, attendance and discipline and parent participation. The age-appropriate program focuses on using “respect” as a teaching tool, said David McCune, director of special services.

“A great deal of emphasis is placed on prevention,” said Amber Graham Fitzgerald, school and community relations director.

It pretty much boils down, school officials said, to using the golden rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you.

“It’s a lot about cheering each other on,” said Lori Leap, school counselor at Adams Elementary School. From there, students develop empathy, which is a key component, professionals agree, to avoid becoming a bully or accepting one in a clique.

Fitzgerald said Great Expectations is only one of the tools used throughout the schools to combat or prevent bullying and harassment.

Workshops, classes and policy all are effective in outlining what will and will not be tolerated at the district.

“Harassment, intimidation and bullying means any gesture, written or verbal expression, electronic communication or physical act that a reasonable person should know will harm another student ...” according to the district’s School Bullying Prevention Act.

Some of what constitutes an act of bullying, according to district policy, may include:

• Verbal, physical or written harassment or abuse.

• Repeated remarks of a demeaning nature.

• Implied or explicit threats concerning one’s grades, achievements, etc.

• Demeaning jokes, stories or activities directed at the student.

• Unwelcome physical contact.

The district also has a policy on cyberbullying that prohibits:

• Threatening e-mails.

• Nasty instant messages.

• Creation of a website to mock others.

• Forwarding private messages, pictures or video to others.

• Stealing another’s identity online.

• Sending messages that contain false, malicious or misleading information that may cause injury to another person or person’s property.

The district may investigate any occurrence reported to involve a student whether or not it originated on school property, said Ruth Ann Erdner, assistant superintendent.

“We do take bullying very seriously,” she said. “It’s why we’ve created policy ... but if it’s not reported to us ... unless we observe it we cannot do anything about it.”

Parental involvement is essential, and Leap says on the elementary level she believes the district is seeing more families involved.

“Safety comes first and foremost,” Erdner said. “We want parents to come to us.”

Oklahoma Department of Education also has a helpline that is free and confidential and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers to (877) 723-3225, ext. 651, can remain anonymous. Internet reporting also is available at www.oksafe call.com. Erdner said the state then contacts the district with enough information to begin an investigation into any threats of violence or instances of bullying.

The district is prepared, officials said, not only to deal with the perceived threat but to help those students involved.

“We put a lot of resources in the hands of counselors,” said Lisa Ellington, school district psychologist.

“What we often find,” she said, “in working with bullies and victims is a lack of social skills.”

That, said Anita Trojan, Enid High School counselor, becomes more evident on the secondary level, where they do a lot of work with victims.

Nationwide, 44 percent of middle schools report bullying problems, according to 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

“Sometimes middle school’s really hard to negotiate,” Ellington said, and it is where many of the problems may begin, as children are faced with becoming young adults, and all the physical and emotional changes that come along with that process. “Some of the victims may be entering cliques, and it doesn’t take a lot of difference before students start to notice.”

When it comes to victims, Leap said, a lot of them “seem to lack assertiveness.”

Which is why, district officials agree, it is not only important to deal with the antics of the bully but the reactions of the victim.

“I think most successful programs focus on both people,” Ellington said.

“It goes back to self-esteem,” Trojan said, which sheds light on why programs such as Great Expectations are vital weapons in the fight against bullying.

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Bullying: See It, Stop It