Sunday, August 4, 2013

Prosecutor Curry's Bullying Forum Shines Light on Bullying Prevention

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry held the End Bullying Now Indy Forum on Saturday at Butler University.  The forum brought together about 100 parents, community members, school officials, politicians, and experts to try to get a handle on preventing bullying by young folks in our schools and communities.

With my day job, I deal with teenagers on a daily basis, and I know that many of you out there that are reading this blog post have children of all ages.  The bottom line is that bullying does have real impacts, and it's not something anyone should have to experience as a rite of passage or learn to cope with.  It's destructive, and it can drive people to awful ends just to get the bullying to stop.

Dr. Dennis Kinder, a mental health expert who counsels bullied young people, talked about a number of things.  His talk was compelling to me because of the statistics he cited.  Kinder said that 20 percent of those in high school and 28 percent of those in grades six to 12 report being bullied.  He also said that the Indiana Youth Institute reports that 90 percent of LGBT youths report being bullied and 50 percent of those young people report being physically bullied.

These are staggering statistics especially when you consider the lasting effects.

Dr. Brandie Oliver, a professor who trains future school counselors, said that she remembers being called an elephant as she was growing up.  She carries that with her still today.  Dr. Kinder said that bullying depresses a student's academic performance in school.  It increases stress and causes more youth health problems.

I was bullied in high school.  My last name got a lot of attention from bullies as well as my tall stature.  Dr. Kinder said that anything that makes someone different makes that individual a potential target of bullying.

The forum did not just concentrate on the victims of bullying.  It concentrated on why bullies bully and provided some resources to those that attended.  Dr. Kinder and Dr. Oliver both said that bullies often become bullies because of things that are going on in their own personal lives.  A bully may act out for a number of reasons and they are hard to pinpoint.

The important thing for teachers and school personnel is to be on the lookout for bullying.  David Woodward from the Indiana Department of Education is in charge of training school safety personnel.  He said that Indiana is pretty much a home rule state and that the local school boards are charged with ensuring that their school safety plans comply with Indiana Code.  He suggested a number of things schools can do to make bullying less likely.

Woodward said that schools need to directly survey their students about bullying.  Find out where in the building that it is more likely to occur.  He said that bullying is not something that can be dealt with in a "zero tolerance" manner.  According to Woodward, zero tolerance consequences create chilling effects and stop victims and witnesses of bullying from reporting the activity.  Instead, he suggest consequences that escalate, consistent and immediate intervention when bullying occurs, clear and consistent rules on bullying, and to define the problem clearly to establish policies and procedures.  He said that a website will go online on Monday with resources for schools because all schools must provide personnel that come into contact with students and young people with bullying prevention training by October 15.

Rep. Greg Porter, the author of House Bill 1423 that established that training requirement also spoke saying that while this training was essentially an unfunded mandate that it was critically important for the students in our schools that staff be trained to recognize bullying and stop it.  He cited the three recent suicides of young bullied Hoosiers as reasons why we must get a handle on preventing the scourge of bullying.

Another part of the forum focused on cyberbullying.  Deputy Prosecutors Kevonna Tyler and Austin Shadle presented Prosecutor Curry's Cyberbullying for Parents session.  Both Tyler and Shadle gave some stunning statistics about how young our children are when they are becoming exposed to social media and how important it is for parents and school officials to teach youngsters to be good digital citizens.  Cyberbullying isn't cute or funny.  Cyberbullying is a crime, and it can devastate the lives and families of not only a victim but the bully, too.  This IS going on right now.  An unbelievable 95 percent of young teenagers in one survey said they have witnessed an online incident of cyberbullying.

Themes that were common all throughout the forum included that it's important for parents and loved ones to keep reporting bullying to school officials.  Also, adults need to ASK students and young people questions about bullying if they believe something bad is going on.  Many times, young people won't offer up that information on their own.  It's also imperative that teachers LISTEN to their students and immediately intervene and report bullying incidents.  Don't assume one intervention will stop the problem.  Constant follow-up is necessary.

All-in-all, I learned a lot from this amazing forum.  I highly recommend you attend the next forum because it will take a team effort and community to prevent bullying!

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