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|Paynesville Press - November 10, 2004|
Parents, others have the power to stop bullying
Parents, teachers, and other adults have the power to halt bullying, simply by not tolerating it, stressed Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall at a seminar last week at Grace United Methodist Church in Paynesville. |
On Thursday night, Kendall encouraged a crowd of 50 people, mostly parents, to "do something" about bullying. Adults who witness bullying, Kendall said, need to tell the bullies to "Stop that!"
Teachers, parents, and other adults, who are all authority figures, need to act quickly when they notice acts of bullying, she said. Children need boundaries, and the simple act of saying - "Hey, I saw that!" - will tell a bully that what he's doing is not alright.
Unless authority figures react, bullies will never stop, said Kendall. "Kids care what adults think," she added, and they need adults to guide them.
Kendall told the audience about her own son's school in the St. Cloud area. Bullies there intimidate their victims on the playground, in the hallways, and on the bus, Kendall said, but never in the lunch room, because one of the lunch ladies will not tolerate it and will not hesitate to confront a bully in front of his peers.
Pastor Joe Williquette, the youth minister at the Paynesville Evangelical Free Church, said that he learned firsthand how simply responding to a situation can stop bullying. He told the crowd about a time when he stepped in to stop a fight at a ball game. To his amazement, once he made the youngsters aware that he wouldn't tolerate the violence, the fight stopped, he said.
Besides reacting to bullies, adults need to foster an atmosphere of kindness and concern in school and at home, Kendall added. Children, she noted, learn by example.
Parents who learn that their children are victims of bullying need to notify the school, since that's where most bullying takes place. Reigning in bullies before the problem becomes serious is the the best way to stop bullying, she said.
"Bullying should not be just a part of growing up," Kendall told the crowd. "It's a serious problem that has devastating effects," she said.
Teasing can turn to more severe forms of bullying, according to research by Dr. John Hoover of St. Cloud State University, Kendall noted. If a child finds teasing to be painful, hurtful enough to tell a parent or another adult, then the parent or adult should take the matter seriously and report it to school. They should not just tell the victim to ignore it.
Victims of bullying need to know that adults care, otherwise they suffer in silence, said Kendall.
Parents also need to pay attention to their children, said Kendall. Sig Pfeifer, a member of the Paynesville Human Rights Commission asked what effect violent video games have on children. According to Kendall, video games don't have to be bad, and they teach children some skills, but parents need to monitor what type of games their children play.
Bullying becomes a crime when it turns to physical abuse (pushing around the victim, etc.) or robbery or extortion (taking lunch money, etc.), said Kendall. Serious bullying, including physical violence and robbery, should be reported to the police, said Kendall.
Sometimes, only a judge or the threat of jail can reach a bully, but Kendall urges schools and parents to take action before bullying becomes a legal problem.
Kendall began speaking to teachers and parents after the shooting at Rocori High School last year. Teachers asked her what they needed to do to stop bullying. Since then, she has spoken to teachers and parents throughout Stearns County.
Bullying takes many different forms, and girls and boys bully differently, Kendall said. Girls tend to spread rumors, exclude other girls from activities, and manipulate their victims. Boys tend to intimidate their victims, extort them, and are more likely than girls to turn to overt violence.
All bullying, though, said Kendall, is about power and control.
Victims of bullying suffer from low self-esteem, their grades falter, and they tend to miss more school than other children. Every day in this country, more than 160,000 students miss school because they fear being bullied, Kendall said.
Victims of bullying can develop lifelong feelings of inadequacy and may never meet their full potential in life, Kendall added. And bystanders who witness the bullying can suffer from the same effects, she said.
Girls and boys also retaliate to bullies differently, said Kendall. Girls are more likely to commit suicide or develop eating disorders as a result of being bullied, she said. Boys tend to react more overtly, with guns or violence, she noted.
Bullies suffer, too. As adults, bullies are more likely to commit child and spouse abuse and are more likely to end up in jail, said Kendall. Children who are bullies by age eight have a one in six chance of having a criminal record by the age of 21, she said.
Typically, young bullies who never learn differently continue being bullies into adulthood, said Kendall.
Kendall's two-hour seminar was sponsored by the Paynesville Ministerial Association and the Paynesville Human Rights Commission, with Pastor Ric Koehn of Grace United Methodist Church spearheading the effort.
Normally, Kendall's seminar is given to teachers and other school officials, but she said she was happy to address the community. In fact, when she addresses schools, she said, she requests that everyone be included - custodians, lunchroom personnel, and bus drivers, as well as teachers and administrators - because it takes everyone to deal with bullying.
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