This headline on CNN "Taunting post leads to arrests in Rebecca Sedwick bullying death" brings back into focus the issue of bullying and its devastating impact on young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control some 4,400 youngsters commit suicide each year and for every suicide that ends in death there are an estimated 100 attempts which do not. This means over 400,000 suicide attempts per year and as many as 60 percent of these may be the result of bullying. In fact ABC reports that 160,000 children stay home from school because of bullying.
No matter how many deaths, no matter how many lives destroyed, no matter all the tears...the problem lingers and may even be growing in the United States, and the problem begins at home. Parents often consider their children to be engaging in a "rite of passage" if they are a bully...there is an "everyone does it" defense. Others defend their children as bullies by their belief that "only the strong survive." This makes it particularly difficult for the child and for the school to intervene.
However, we have seen some signs of change. World of Children® Award Honoree from 2011 Luke Lancaster has developed a unique approach which, rather than castigate the bully seeks to integrate the bully into program where she/he can come face to face with the objects of their bullying in a controlled and managed environment. Invariably these bullies ultimately become spokespeople in their peer group against bullying.
2013 Honoree Sarah Cronk has also developed a similar approach. Her program "Sparkle Effect" seeks to integrate children who are "different" and thus high potential targets for bullies into programs with "regular" children in the cheerleader teams, dance teams, etc. She now has over 100 programs running around the USA and the impact on both the classes of children is dramatic and successful.
In the end, however, in order to make a dent in this problem we have to do the following:
We must develop a advertising/PR campaign to re-educate parents about bullying and to alter the paradigm of it being OK for them to encourage and support their children in bullying;
We must require that all teachers and coaches in schools be educated through continuing education to be able to identify bullying in their environments. This is a place where it can be most easily interdicted.
We must develop protocols that help to re-direct and re-educate bullies once they are identified so that they can become productive members of their peer group rather than disruptive.