By Colleen Brady Lippens
The tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy offers a stark reminder to re-examine the issue of bullying in our schools. No school is immune from the impact of bullying.
It’s all too easy to dismiss bullying as a rite of passage or “normal” kid behavior. However, the statistics are hard to ignore. The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center reports that almost 30% of youth in the United States admit either to having been a victim of a bully or to having engaged in bullying behavior. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or relational (attempting to damage a child’s relationships with others by gossip, rumors, teasing and/or exclusion). Many negative consequences can result from bullying, including poor concentration, high anxiety and low self-esteem. The role of victim and its effects often follow the target into adulthood.
Some schools have instituted anti-bullying campaigns and programs – but do they really work? Many of the strategies revolve around the bullied child’s standing up for himself. Why is so much emphasis placed on the victim? While it is important for the bullied child to act before being a victim becomes a part of his personality, I’d like to look at another person in the bullying dynamic: the bystander.
The Jewish commandment, “You shall not stand idly by and watch the blood of your neighbor being spilled,” applies to this issue. Why do kids stand by and watch while their peers are bullied? Some bystanders seem to enjoy watching bullying from a distance (not unlike reality television), while some don’t get involved for fear of becoming the next victim.
As a parent, if you know that your child is a bystander witnessing bullying, you have an excellent teaching opportunity. By encouraging and empowering your children to stand up and do what is right, you are teaching them important values. What can kids do when they see someone being bullied? They can speak out against the bully! They can show compassion for the target by making it known that he or she doesn’t deserve to be bullied. They can include this classmate in their plans or activities. They can simply walk over and stand with the victim, because in numbers there is safety. They can encourage the victim to walk away, because a bully can’t bully someone if no one is there.
Just because bullying has been around since schools were formed doesn’t mean that it’s a normal part of growing up. If we have any chance of stopping this behavior, it’s going to have to be as a community, by standing up and saying “Enough!”
By Colleen Brady, Health Educator, Jewish Community Services Prevention Services