By Harry Kane
Research shows that most students have been bullied or witnessed bullying at some time during their school years. This form of youth violence is more than simple intimidation; attacks often occur repeatedly between the same students with the intent to cause harm. While physical abuse and name-calling are common forms of bullying, electronic aggression is on the rise.
Somerville authorities continue to address bullying with various approaches in the hopes of preventing incidents that cause kids to become depressed, feel unsafe, drop out of school, or commit suicide. In a two-part series, a non-profit organization called Middlesex Partnerships for Youth came to Somerville to discuss the statewide law designed to prevent bullying in schools. The first public meeting focused on cyber-bullying, while the second gave a general overview of the epidemic.
Bullying itself is not a crime, but it is serious and should be taken seriously, said Ariana Coniglio, the Middlesex Partnerships for Youth prevention and education coordinator. Rather, bullying becomes a crime in Massachusetts when it leads to incidents such as threats, stalking, or assault.
To give some history, in 2010 Governor Deval Patrick signed into law comprehensive legislation that attempts to protect children from bullying and cyber-bulling. It made investigations into incidents mandatory, and required that appropriate measures to decrease victimization for all students were implemented. Yet, no system is perfect, and cyber-bullying poses an increasing threat to the anti-bullying policy.
The popularity of social networking fuels additional problems. Traditional bullying compounded with cyber-bullying exponentially raises the risks for children. Text messaging, instant messaging and Facebook are just a few electronic mediums causing increased concerns among education advocates. In some cases, kids have developed entire web pages or blogs using the identity of their victim.
“There’s no boundaries to it,” said David Willey, the interim director of public services in the Somerville public school system. “It doesn’t go from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It’s all day, all night.” Willey admits that it’s a little overwhelming at times, and that ways to respond to cyber bullying are “really limited.” He said students and parents are responsible for alerting educators. “It’s a tricky problem to handle.”
While the Massachusetts anti-bullying law is not funded at this time, parents, educators, law enforcement, and advocates remain vigilant in their efforts to prohibit forms of youth violence from increasing. For these efforts to succeed, staff must be trained in anti-bullying measures, parents need to increase their involvement and students must also take more responsibility for their actions.
Students may find themselves in a temporary paralysis during bullying situations. Often, when one child doesn’t report a bullying incident, none of them do. This is referred to as the “bystander effect.” “Even if they don’t react in the moment to stop it,” said Margaret Pricejones, vice president of the PTA at the East Somerville Community School, “if afterwards they go up to the victim, and they show some sort of support, that really starts breaking the cycle.” Pricejones said that more attention should to be placed on the bystanders to consider their behavior and collectively be responsible for the victims of bullying.
“I’m a strong proponent of any kind of social or emotional curriculum that we can provide to the kids,” said Laura Pitone, a concerned parent, who was at the latest Middlesex Partnerships for Youth seminar on April 4. “Children can be frightened in a bully situation, and not really know how to support their friend,” she said.
Kids are emotional and complex. Low self-esteem, depression, loneliness, anxiety, and poor academic achievement are just a few of the potential effects of bullying. To combat its increasing prevalence, it’s important to let children know that they are not alone, that it’s not their fault, and that everyone deserves respect. Having an open heart, and a zest for life are important messages to mobilize change.