Are There Chronically Bullied Children in Your School?
- By Michael Dorn
- April 1st, 2005
Stephen was a typical school child, he was bright, fun loving, loved school, was learning to read and developing a great fondness for books. In the third grade, he was sexually molested by two older youths. Like many victims of sexual exploitation, Stephen did not report the incident to anyone. Not being closely connected to his parents, he did not tell them, nor did he tell his siblings. Stephen therefore, did not get assistance from mental health professionals to help him cope with this painful experience that he could not understand. He became apprehensive of other children at school. When he began attending a new school in Alabama the next year, Stephen was quickly singled out and bullied because of his Northern accent. The teasing and taunting grew into physical assaults and Stephen began to withdraw from other children. He began to experience many problems in school and his grades began to fluctuate while he simultaneously began to exhibit disruptive behavior on a regular basis. Like a weakfish relentlessly pursued by a barracuda selecting it as easy prey, Stephen felt genuine fear.
Through the years, he was criminally victimized on more than 100 occasions at school and, after a time, the boy dreaded each school day. Like many chronic bullying victims, Stephen did not report these incidents to teachers or other staff members. Stephen began to carry weapons to school each day and like many weapons violators, he would never be detected.
Stephen’s very real experiences highlight the need for those who work with children, particularly those who are responsible for discipline, to be alert to signs of bullying. Children respond to bullying in a variety of ways, sometimes by becoming disruptive, truant or tardy. One means to help address this situation is to uncover the bullying and address it by providing an environment that protects the child and provides support for them. While other measures are often called for, this aspect of intervention may be among the most effective for some bullying situations. A pattern of disciplinary infractions can be one of the first visible signs of a bullying situation that could be so severe as to result in violence, suicide and severe depression.
Experience has shown that terrible incidents have occurred in otherwise exemplary schools when bullying was not properly addressed. And while a severely bullied student carrying out a shooting rampage is a very rare event, the consequences of such tragedies mandate appropriate prevention strategies. Less newsworthy but more common tragedies such as a student suicide or case of a student dropping out of school due to bullying also make it imperative that the disciplinary environment of the school be designed to reduce the occurrence and severity of bullying.
Bullying Prevention Basics
While schools should use a research-based bullying program, there are key supporting principles and components that are crucial to successful intervention:
Reduce negligent privacy through careful and attentive supervision of students by all staff members at all times.
Develop excellent listening skills and provide students an opportunity to open up to you concerning bullying.
Provide clear expectations for students and staff relating to bullying and interpersonal violence.
Practice consistent enforcement of reasonable and thoughtfully developed disciplinary policies.
Refer all criminal bullying cases to school resources officers.
Provide emotional security measures, including appropriate mental health support for students who are bullied.
Use a properly trained and formally structured multidisciplinary threat management team to conduct assessments in cases where students make threats to commit acts of violence.
Research shows that Stephen’s story is representative of the experiences of hundreds of thousands of chronically bullied children. Vigilance is required to detect children who are severely bullied but do not report it. You may only have one chance to make a difference in a chronically bullied child’s life. You can make a difference in the lives of children.
This column draws upon the bookBullying Through the Eyes of a Child, a powerful case study of a chronically bullied student by Michael Dorn .
Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.