Sunday, October 19, 2003

School is a battlefield,
and casualties are increasing

Police are looking for a 14-year-old thug on Short Vine. "She just walks up to people in the middle of the street and socks them in the eye," an officer said. Then she and her friends have a good laugh. Bullies.

And how about the 12-year-old boy in Connecticut who hanged himself with a necktie after being picked on for months at school. Bad breath and body odor was the verdict of the pack. So they swarmed.

Most of us can remember somebody from our school. Somebody who was regularly pantsed by bullies. The bus ride home was a living hell, the locker room a place for routine humiliation.

"Power is one of the core elements," says SuEllen Fried, in Cincinnati last week to lead a workshop. "If power can corrupt an adult, imagine what it can become in the hands of a 10-year-old." Founder of the pilot chapter for the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, she wrote Bullies & Victims: Helping Your Child Through the School Battlefield.

The battlefield?

A U.S. Secret Service/Department of Education study of the surviving shooters in the school attacks found that none of those boys had been bullies. They had been targets. The American Medical Association claims 160,000 students miss school every day because they're afraid to show up. Another study reports that students who are bullies in elementary school have a one-in-four chance of having a criminal record by the age of 30. A 2001 study of 15,686 public and private schools found that nearly one-third of children in grades 6-10 were bullies or victims of bullies.

A battlefield.

Principal Phil Hackett of Sycamore's Edwin H. Greene Intermediate School hosted area educators for a "Train the Trainers" workshop, sponsored by the Academy of Medicine Alliance of Cincinnati.

Beth Carpenter of Dater Montessori in Western Hills went to last year's workshop, returning with "some really practical tools." If 30 percent of students are either bullies or targets, "that leaves 70 percent in the role of witness. With support, kids themselves are a big part of the solution."

I believe her. For every kid who goes around socking people in the eye, there are hundreds of good ones, some out there working in soup kitchens and volunteering in hospitals. And plenty of others just trying to get along.

They deserve help from the adults in their lives. You and me, as well as their teachers. Who need to make it clear that bullying is not permitted. No exceptions. Hackett calls it Project NBA - no bullies allowed. "We try to give them strategies, but in the end they have to know that they can go to any adult at our school and get help."

Today's bullying, Fried says, is "more malevolent, more sexual. Young people have the example of Jerry Springer as entertainment. Uncivil. Violent. Kids have always fought on the playground, but now they have greater access to guns. It begins with pain, then progresses to rage. Then revenge."

And some turn it inward. Maybe they begin to believe the vile things said to them. The Center for Disease Control reports a 109 percent increase in suicides over two years among 10- to 15-year-olds, leaving notes like "I just can't take it anymore."

But there have always been bullies. Right? And we survived, didn't we?

Well, not everybody.

E-mail or phone 7568-8393.

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