We spent a week talking about bullying. We talked to parents and to kids. We talked about bullying in school and online. We offered suggestions for dealing with bullying. Today we finish out our week-long bullying discussion by speaking to a middle school counselor to get a professional perspective on the prevalence and prevention of this problem. Be sure to check out the resource list at the end of the post and you can keep the conversation going on our Facebook page after we’ve finished.
WHAT GRADES DO YOU WORK WITH?
I’m in a middle school, so it’s 6th-8th grades.
DO YOU SEE MANY STUDENTS IN BULLYING RELATED SITUATIONS?
I’d say I probably deal with 3 or 4 legitimate cases of bullying per school year.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘LEGITIMATE’ CASES?
A lot of the time things are brought before me, or I’m called by a teacher or a parent to deal with an issue that is, at first, described as a “bullying” situation. A lot of the time it is a misunderstanding between two parties, or it’s been explained in a confusing manner to the authority figure in the situation, and then gets relayed to me as something that it’s really not.
HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO DISCERN WHAT IS AN ISNT A LEGITIMATE CASE OF BULLYING?
Well, for starters I talk to all of the involved parties. I’ll talk to the students alone. I’ll talk to them together if possible. I’ll talk to teachers, aides, witnesses, parents, administrators, whoever needs to get involved to get to the bottom of the situation. We have a policy in school, the HIB policy. It stands for Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying. When something is brought to my attention, I have a set amount of time in which I have to acknowledge and address it. All reports have to be investigated! I have a set amount of time in which to investigate. It’s at that point that I’m usually talking to the kids and so forth. Some of the time I find out fairly early on that it doesn’t meet the criteria outlined in the policy. And then sometimes it does, and that’s a whole different ball game.
SO, WHAT IS THE CRITERIA? WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN FOR IT TO ACTUALLY BE CONSIDERED BULLYING?
It’s pretty specific but basically there has to be a reasonable belief of intent, that someone is motivated by a specific outcome to do what it is they are being accused of, and it has to be something that causes disruption or interference of regular school activities, or infringes on the rights of other students.
AND YOU ONLY SEE A FEW OF THESE IN A SCHOOL YEAR?
Typically, yes. We get kids fighting, arguing, issues on the bus, etc. but the cases of bullying have to be addressed under this policy, and we don’t see a whole lot if it, not as many as other schools that I am familiar with. Of course, even if you see 4 or 5 in a year, that’s still 4 or 5 too many. And bullying is absolutely a very serious issue at this age. This is age where kids are really finding out who they are and what they are all about. It’s so easy for them to get down on themselves to begin with. They are going through a tremendous amount of physical and emotional changes anyway, and are really unsure of a lot of things. To have someone come along and shine a light on those very things that you’re already feeling insecure about can be heartbreaking, just crippling for some kids. And that can lead down a very nasty road. So when I say that only 4 or so meet the criteria to go through the entire process of the bullying policy, that’s not to say that I don’t get a lot of kids who come in feeling bad because so and so said something about me or things of that nature, but it’s not necessarily an ongoing event nor is it done in a premeditated manner.
WE ACTUALLY DID INTERVIEWS WITH A TEEN GIRL AND A TEEN BOY’S PERSPECTIVE EARLIER THIS WEEK ABOUT BULLYING. DO YOU SEE MORE GIRLS OR BOYS FOR STUFF LIKE THIS?
I think it’s about the same. I see more boys because their teachers send them in to talk or they were fighting outside and got sent down. As for girls, they are much more inclined to come to me on their own.
DO YOU SEE IT MORE IN A CERTAIN AGE GROUP?
Actually no, not for this. I see every grade for something a little different. 6th graders with adjustment stuff. 8th graders with high school readiness stuff. 7th graders with whatever is the current “issue” of the moment. But for disciplinary issues or for victim’s counseling, that is pretty well dispersed.
DO YOU SEE A TREND OF MORE OR LESS BULLYING?
Impossible to say. I am asked this all the time actually. The thing is, when we were kids, they didn’t call it bullying. Plus, people didn’t talk so freely about this stuff so it was probably underreported. And everything is so wide open now. Information is everywhere. Very little happens nowadays that everyone doesn’t know about. Plus when we were young if you wanted to fight someone or call them names, you walked up to them after school and just did it. Or you set it up in advance. I find that so bizarre now. What did we used to say?
I THINK WE USED TO SAY “I OFFER YOU OUT” OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT- AS IN, I AM OFFERING YOU THE CHANCE TO FIGHT ME SO MEET ME OUTSIDE AT SUCH AND SUCH A TIME. IT SOUNDS SO RIDICULOUS NOW.
It does. And what I was thinking of with that was that we don’t do that anymore. Now we post it on Facebook or we tweet about someone, or we screenshot people’s stuff and send it to other people. And that is what I see a lot of, a lot of he said, she said, she put a mean picture of me on Instagram kind of stuff.
SO DO YOU THINK IT IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM THAT WE ARE FACING TODAY?
Well, I think it’s important no matter what. Whether it’s real or perceived, it’s just a fact that over the last several years, bullying has received a massive surge in attention, and has emerged as a very serious problem in and out of schools. And in those cases where there is actually bullying going on, then it is crucial that it is swiftly and seriously addressed. We have seen a multitude of studies that show all sorts of negative future ramifications for kids who are bullied.
SO WHAT DOES A KID DO IF THEY FEEL LIKE THEY ARE BEING BULLIED? HOW ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE?
They’re not. I mean, it’s not on them to have to decide if it’s a HIB case or not. If they feel uncomfortable, if they feel threatened, if they are scared or unsure, they need to bring it to our attention! It’s up to us to sort out the particulars, but either way, we’re here to help them with whatever it turns out to be!
WHAT KIND OF RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO PARENTS IF THEY FEEL LIKE THERE CHILD IS BEING BULLIED AND HOW WOULD THEY GO ABOUT GETTING THOSE?
Well, a lot of the resources that I give to parents when they call me are those for here in New Jersey. The policies and procedures vary from state to state. But, there are some that are fairly standard and universal. I can provide those for you. And of course there’s always Google. Simply searching something like ‘I think my child is being bullied’ will turn up hundreds of hits. Obviously just be careful and verify that you are getting information from a credible and knowledgeable source.
*NJ Coalition for Bullying and Awareness Prevention* (State specific)