Bullies are Back to School: Kindness classes aim to prevent bullying in Indiana schools

Posted by Tonja Eagan on

For most kids, the start of school is exciting—new books, backpacks, classes, and seeing friends again. For others, back to school also means the return of in-school bullying.

In 2013-14, more than 9,000 bullying incidents were reported by schools in Indiana to the Department of Education. The Centers for Disease Control lists Indiana as the third worst state for bullying.

Professional educators from Social Health Association of Indiana work in schools to prevent bullying. And it begins with kindness.

The two-part Step Up For Kindness!program teaches kindergarten through 8th-grade students about kindness, empathy, and compassion and equips pupils with appropriate ways to respond to a bully.

What is Bullying?

It can be challenging for parents, educators and children to distinguish teasing from bullying and violence and know what to do about it.

Most prevalent in 3rd – 6th grades, bullying is defined as aggression between two or more people. It is harmful behavior that is both intentional and repetitive. It can take many forms, including physical violence, verbal abuse, cyber bullying and social isolation.

In fact, one in 20 Indiana students skips school because of bullying. Nationwide, one in 10 students dropout of school as a result of bullying. Bystanders are also affected from witnessing bullying in school and can suffer from stress-related disorders such as anxiety, depression or use of drugs and alcohol.

What to do? 

Parents and educators should be alert and take action. Don’t ignore or dismiss what a child says. Many schools have a bullying policy, a point person for reporting bullying and an anonymous ‘bully box’ where students can submit concerns without the fear of retaliation. Administrators will work with teachers, parents, and students to assess and address the situation.

At least in theory. Insight gathered from a research project conducted by Dr. James Brown, Indiana University School of Social Work, in partnership with SHA and Indianapolis Public Schools to evaluate the impact of Step Up for Kindness!, has shed light on some challenges dealing with bullies.

In focus groups, bus drivers and attendants suggest school officials don’t often have the support of parents of bullies, making it difficult for schools to implement anti-bullying policies.

Overwhelmingly, bus drivers would like to get everyone – kids, parents and school staff, including administrators — on the same page and have consistency in handling bullying incidents.

My Personal Experience

I was bullied to the point of being suicidal at age 13. What began as teasing in the 4th grade evolved into an unbearable situation. Teachers overheard comments but never intervened. Not wanting to be a tattletale, I hid the abuse from my parents, as do more than 60% of children who are bullied.

Over time, I became a different person. By age 12, I was a bully to my younger sister. All of the powerlessness I felt at school was regained at home. By the next year, I told my parents that if I didn’t change schools, I would kill myself or run away. Thankfully, they took me seriously. In my new school, I was accepted and had many friends. It literally saved my life! It’s amazing how the same person could be treated so differently. 

I see research that says many kids who bully at school are bullied at home, or those who are bullied at school become bullies at home. It makes sense and sadly shows the ripple effect of peer abuse and violence.

A Social Issue

Bullying is a significant social problem and a predictor of juvenile delinquency and future criminal behavior. Bullies at age eight are six times more likely than non-bullies to be convicted of any crime by age 24 and are five times more likely to have a serious criminal record by age 30. Sixty percent of children identified as bullies in middle school go on to have arrest records.

The National Institute of Health reports that both bullies and their victims tend to fare poorly academically and socially. Conversely, positive peer behavior and relations are shown to lead to gains in school quality and reduce crime (Damn & Dustman, 2012). In high-risk urban environments, bullying is often encouraged. For underserved students, aggressive behaviors are associated with popularity and leadership status (Waasdorp et al., 2013).

We must combat this kind of culture.

Upon completing Step Up for Kindness!™, 85 percent of 14,000 students believe they will have the courage to be an upstander when a fellow student is being bullied and can identify at least one adult who they can talk to about bullying, respectively.

We will continue to empower Indiana youth through proven, effective bullying and violence prevention education because teaching skills like kindness and compassion make Indiana schools and communities safer.

What will you do?

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tonja eagan.jpg Tonja Eagan is the CEO for Social Health Association of Indiana, a nonprofit that empowers kids to lead happy, healthy and safe lives through health education. She is delighted to lead the oldest and largest youth health and peer violence prevention education provider in Indiana serving more than 41,000 youth and 5,000 adults annually. Quality evidence-based programs are provided for K-12 grade students by SHA's professional staff in urban, suburban, and rural communities throughout Indiana.

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