Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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I hated middle school. Not a big fan of high school, either. I think it’s because kids are generally really mean at that age. People seem to get nicer in college. I think it’s because everyone is old enough to realize that the world just doesn’t revolve around them.

Here’s what I don’t understand. In the last 6 weeks, I’ve dealt with more cases of bullying than in 15 years of working with kids. But, here’s my question: is it really bullying, or is it the fact that kids are really mean and now they just complain more?

What I don’t get, is why kids are so much more brazen this year. Why they seem to think that all of this is acceptable behavior. I’m wondering if we’re starting to see the repercussions of the self-esteem movement. My mom asked if they are taking out frustrations from home on their peers. Maybe because of the economy, they are acting out on the financial pressure. Personally, I think it’s because there’s absolutely NO discipline or consequences any more. Seriously, I break up a fight and the outcome is a stern talking to? That’s ludicrous. I sound like my grandmother. Thing is, I think she was right!

As the safety of U.S. schools has become an important public policy issue, interest in the problem of school bullying has intensified. New research indicates that this type of adolescent victimization occurs frequently, particularly in middle school grades, and can result in serious consequences for both bully and victim. In 2002, a report released by the U.S. Secret Service concluded that bullying played a significant role in many school shootings and that efforts should be made to eliminate bullying behavior. As awareness of harassment, intimidation and hate in the school setting has grown, state legislatures have begun to address this problem as well. At least 19 states have passed anti-bullying laws. At least three states enacted legislation relating to bullying and harassment during the 2005 legislative sessions: Arizona, Tennessee and Virginia.

What Is Bullying?

Before legislatures were required to define bullying in more precise terms, characterizing “bullying” had largely been a question of individual judgment–“we know what it is when we see it.” Bullying includes harassment, intimidation to varying degrees, taunting and ridicule. Sometimes, bullies are motivated by hate and bias, sometimes by cultural norms, peer pressure or the desire to retaliate. Bullying may occur within the context of initiation rituals and be labeled “hazing,” or it can be overtly or implicitly about gender, constituting sexual harassment. Sometimes, there is no readily identifiable reason for bullying; when kids are asked who school bullies target, their answers can be disturbing precisely because they are not extraordinary: bullies pick on kids who are “weaker,” “smaller,” “funny looking,” or “dumb.”

Although no standard or universally understood definition of bullying exists, certain elements usually are present. The first is a pattern of behavior over time–repeated exposure to intentional injury or discomfort inflicted by one or more students against another. This behavior may include physical contact, verbal assault, social ostracism, obscene gestures or other aggressive acts that cause the victim to feel fearful or distraught. More serious instances of bullying can result in physical injury or emotional trauma. A second common element is a perceived imbalance of power, which allows one student–or group of students–to victimize others. (source: National Conference of State Legislatures)

So here’s how my week has gone. On Monday, I asked a 12 year old to leave class because he told a new student she was “stupid” for not knowing how to do something. On Wednesday, I broke up a wrestling match between two 11 year olds who were fighting over a Jolly Rancher (yes, I thought it was sort of funny, too). On Thursday, I spent 20 minutes discussing said brawl during recess – mostly because the attitude I got when I stopped them on Wednesday really ticked me off. Yesterday, Friday, one of my darling advisees started a fight in the lunch-room because of back-cutting. (Don’t ask me about what back-cutting means, that alone took 10 minutes to understand.)

Author: brholland

EdD Student, Writer, Speaker, Consultant

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