2012 Bullying Prevention Symposium
By Madelynn Coldiron
The first statewide Bullying Prevention Symposium featured 18 breakout sessions on topics ranging from individual anti-bullying programs to in-depth looks at the problem itself.
Dr. Dan Florell of Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Psychology, looked at the psychology of bullying, and also how it can be linked to specific growth and development periods in a child’s life.
Bullying doesn’t occur just because a child is “mean,” he said. “There is a social value to aggression ... It is social capital: It’s to become more popular, it’s to have the influence.”
Our society and culture send subtle messages “that make kids think (bullying) is OK or it could be very useful,” Florell added.
Elementary school-age children are more direct in their bullying, in part because they don’t have a very advanced understanding of social relationships, said Florell, a former school psychologist. It’s easier to deal with bullying at that level “because you can see it … you can catch those moments.”
By middle school – the age at which bullying peaks – children gravitate to others like themselves, he said. And they have developed enough social skills and abstract thinking abilities to zero in on their victim’s vulnerabilities.
“Middle school is where the targeting starts,” Florell said. In middle and high school, the indirect approach comes into play, with verbal and social bullying and cyberbullying in addition to physical aggression.
A desire for independence also hits during adolescence, he noted, making it less likely that a teen, especially a boy, will tell anyone about being bullied. Other life changes that impact bullying during this time are dating, family relationships, identity issues and development of empathy.
Sexual orientation bullying
In another breakout session, the focus was on bullying on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation.
Attendees were told that one-third of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered children have tried to take their own lives because of the rejection they face. A 2009 school climate survey also showed a majority of these students feel unsafe at school and nearly all have been harassed because of their orientation.
With other types of harassment and discrimination, students can count on parental support, but these students often “go home to a harassing environment … where their parents and siblings also reject them,” said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign.
Hartman said schools need to create “an environment where students know they’re supported and protected and feel safe.”
The Fairness Coalition – an umbrella group of five organizations that are like-minded on this issue – will look at ways to better enforce the current general law when it comes to LGBT students after a more specific amended version did not win committee approval during the current legislative session, he said, including assisting any local school board that wants to enact a more detailed policy beyond what the state law provides.
KSBA Policy Service Director Dara Bass said the association urges districts to heighten emphasis on current bullying, disruption and criminal reporting policies already adopted by the board via enhanced staff and student training on recognizing and addressing bullying behavior, regardless of the perpetrator’s motivation. At district request, the KSBA Policy Service also can provide samples of student harassment/ discrimination policies that add other protected classes beyond those currently required by state or federal law.