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December 21, 2005
Posted online January 7, 2005

Bully Buster Has Advice for Schools and Families

By Jeffrey Franklin

Once bullied himself, University of Illinois Extension youth development educator Jeff Franklin has made bullying prevention an area of expertise.

Franklin and Angie Bailey of the Jackson County Health Department were recently given the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention's 2005 Peaceleader Award for their collaborative work in bullying prevention in Jackson County, Illinois, schools.

"Many parents don't see bullying as an issue unless their child has been a victim," Franklin said. "They think kids are just being kids, and it's true that conflict is a normal part of growing up. But bullying is not a normal part of child development, and we need to be able to distinguish between a typical childhood conflict and a bullying situation."

If children attend small, rural schools, parents may have a false sense of security, he said. "They probably think the small-town school is safer; they may have chosen it for that very reason. But bullying goes on in rural and urban settings. It may be worse in rural schools because teachers have less access to resources for dealing with the problem."

It's important for schools to take a schoolwide approach to dealing with the problem, he said. "One teacher's efforts, while commendable, just won't do it. All staff, including janitors, bus drivers, playground aides, and classroom volunteers, should be taught how to respond to bullying when they see it."

"When a school has a really active anti-bullying program, you can walk in and feel the difference," Franklin said. "There's so much that goes into a good school plan to combat bullying. When staff are working with kids on building positive friendships and learning to accept differences, you don't see bullying as much." Successful schools typically kick off their anti-bullying efforts with splashy assemblies and poster contests, and they work to get parents and the community involved. "Everyone has to speak the same language," Franklin said. "That way, when you approach a student who's behaving inappropriately, you can say 'We don't allow that here,' and the kid knows where you're coming from."

All Illinois schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy, and parents have the right to see it, Franklin said.

How can you tell if your child is being bullied? If you really look, you'll see the signs, Franklin said. Is your child withdrawn? Is she reluctant to go to school or school functions? Have his personal items been destroyed or gone missing altogether? Are her friends changing?

Be aware that girls bully differently than boys do. "Boys are primarily physical in the way they bully and an incident is usually over quickly--although the bully may pick on the same victim again the next day. Girls say, 'If you want to sit with us at lunch and continue to be part of our group, you'll have to do this to show that you're our friend.' Also, so much of what is going on at this age is hormonal, and cross-gender bullying can cross the line into sexual harassment," he said.

If you believe your child is a victim of bullying, you can coach him in some acceptable responses, such as avoiding danger spots, staying with a group of friends, or seeking adult help, said Franklin.

"It probably won't help to go to the child's parent," he said. "Bullying is a learned behavior, and a child bully may have a parent who exhibits similar behaviors and would be unlikely to listen to pleas for assistance from you.

"Instead work with your child to help him adopt a posture or a demeanor that sends a confident message. Or teach him to use humor to defuse a situation." You can also work to address skill deficits in your child, Franklin said. Does your child need help with social skills, forming friendships, or being assertive? Consider seeking help from a professional counselor or find other groups for your child to be involved in so she can build some successes.

"But realize, as a parent, when you just don't have the answer. I would never advise a child to fight back because things are so different today than when their parents were in school. The situation can rapidly escalate, kids can get hurt--badly, or they can be expelled from school," Franklin said.

Bullies, victims, and bystanders all suffer consequences from these behaviors, so everyone has an interest in changing a school climate, he said. "Bullies too are at risk for adult relationship problems, including spousal or child abuse and problems in the workplace."

"And some of the most important work we do in schools is with bystanders, who are the caring majority of the school," Franklin said. "Those kids can feed a bullying situation or they can defuse it. They can walk away from the situation and get an adult. A bully wants an audience, and if the audience doesn't cooperate, he or she is thwarted."

Some facts Franklin says you may not know:

• Two to three students spend their day afraid of bullies in the average elementary school classroom.

• 10 to 15 percent of children say they are regularly bullied.

• Bullying behavior peaks in middle school between grades four and seven.

• Effects can be long-lasting. Bullied children may have trouble forming and keeping relationships in adulthood. They can also have continuing problems with depression, substance abuse, and low self-esteem.

Source: Jeffrey Franklin, Extension Unit Educator, Youth Prevention Education,

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