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Re-teaching the Golden Rule of respect

Facebook and text-messaging can also be forms of bullying, experts say, and parents should become vigilant in what their teens are communicating

December 8, 2010
By Jenny Kirk

Bullying affects everyone because students are either a victim, the bully or a bystander said Byron Utter and Terry Stulken, who represent the Midwest Center for School Safety.

"If your parents love you, they will take away your cell phones at night," Stulken said to Murray County Central junior high students at a presentation Monday. "That's for your protection."

The duo target every aspect of bullying, educating students, school staff and parents when they are invited into a school district. While most schools have anti-bullying policies in place, it can be difficult to detect because today's teenager has a technological playground at their disposal. Parental awareness and support is needed to discourage bullying and harassment, they said.

Parents can be proactive by frequently monitoring their child's phone usage. The Midwest Center reports that the average high school student sends and receives 4,000 texts per month. Eighth-grade girls reportedly have closer to 7,000 texts a month.

Sexting - which is sending inappropriate sexual words or pictures - is also on the rise. Utter said that boys typically forward them.

"In about 30 minutes, the whole town is going to know about it," Utter said.

Stulken said that kids need to take those inappropriate messages to their parents or a trusted adult.

"But a lot of times, kids won't show their parents because they think that their phones will get taken away," Stulken said. "If kids don't share them, they're encouraging the bullying."

The Midwest Center hopes to make everyone think twice about the way they treat everyone. Parents are asked to do their part by trusting their children and being open for discussions, which could help break the code of silence. Kids that are getting bullied often don't report the abuse for fear that it will get worse or because of feelings of shame or embarrassment.

"At Marshall High School, we talk to the kids at the beginning of the year (about bullying)," MHS principal Brian Jones said. "Parents need to talk with their kids, too, and just be their parent. They'll disclose things to you. It's all about respect and how you want to be treated. It's the golden rule, essentially."

Bullying behavior is usually seen in four forms: physical, verbal, non-verbal and technology. While some people minimize or condone them, taunting, teasing, rumors, racial slurs, labeling and name calling is verbal bullying, which often escalates.

There are also non-verbal attacks, like threatening, obscene gestures, exclusion, notes or pictures. Female bullies tend to use exclusion, attempting to repeatedly alienate others for their own satisfaction in social settings.

In a 2009 Midwest Center survey of 4,000 students from South Dakota, 52 percent said they were bullied in the last year. Approximately 36 percent of 9th-grade girls and 17 percent of freshman boys reported being sexually harassed.

Because of the increase in cyberbullying, parents are also asked to patrol computer usage in the home. Nearly every seventh- and eighth-grade student at MCC admitted to having a Facebook account. A few had two.

"Bullying is starting much earlier now," Stulken said. "When you add technology to the picture, it's like allowing a kid to fly a jet engine without them knowing how high or how fast to do it. Kids' brains were not designed for this much stimulation."

Jones suggests that parents place home computers in a high-traffic area and set an off-limit time for phones and computers at night because nothing good typically happens after midnight.

"Bullying should not be tolerated," Utter said. "And, you're either helping or hurting."

It is important to identify and stop bullies as young as possible because 70 percent of them reportedly end up in jail. They also tend to become domestic abusers, including acts against children.

"Parent have a role in their children's behavior," Jones said. "It doesn't just stop at a certain age. Parents need to know what their child is doing and who their child is communicating with."



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