A tragic story out of Florida where two girls, ages 12 and 14, were arrested for cyber-bullying another girl, who took her own life. The case sheds light on the current severity of the bullying culture.
The 12-year-old bullying victim killed herself after being picked on for months by as many as 15 others. The girl who allegedly pushed her to the brink now faces criminal charges. Police say the perpetrator bragged about the bullying online and that had them worried about who she might target next.
It all started with one girl, but she reportedly scared the others into joining her in the bullying. A metro child psychologist says bullying is part of human nature, but that does not mean we should let it happen.
“Bullying is not just a rite of passage, it's not something people should just expect as part of their childhood, that's a misconception that I think the increased awareness that we've seen across the country can address,” says Omaha Public Schools supervisor of counseling Nancy Bond.
One of the biggest problems with bullying is that most of the time the perpetrators don't see themselves as being at fault.
October is Bullying Prevention Month. If we want to really cut down on the problem, there are three distinct groups to address. When we talk about bullying, focus almost immediately turns to the victim. There is of course also the perpetrator, but completing that triangle is the bystanders. It's more important than ever before to pay attention to this group as some of the worst bullying today happens online.
"When a bullying incident does occur, then larger numbers of students are made aware of that incident so it becomes more public and that is more damaging, more harmful for the student involved,” says Bond.
Parents of girls will want to pay closest attention to the current culture. Girls tend to use rumors and taunts to bully while boys are more likely to bully physically. As for schools, studies show there's little to no difference between bullying in suburban, rural or inner city schools.
At the root of the bullying issue is our natural need for control. Child psychologist Dr. Patricia Newman recommends we start to give our kids control in small ways, like picking out a sweater or sweatshirt in the morning or letting them decide whether to have a banana or apple with breakfast. Very minor, but it starts to give them a sense of healthy control. These are lessons Dr. Newman's group Respect teaches in schools and even businesses. They turn examples of bullying into interactive performances, teaching kids different ways to respond to anger, hurt and power struggles.
“I wanted that toy so I went in and smashed that guy to get it when power might be, I went over and said that's my toy. I want it back please. So to be assertive and to use your language and your posture and to explain what you want, that is being assertive."
This all goes back to social competencies, an issue Omaha Public Schools' counselors say is a priority in their bullying conversation.
As bullying issues increase online, we're also finding more teaching moments through technology. Kids easily connect with computers and they're probably pretty good at video games. So between Grand Theft Auto marathons, why not try out Awesome Upstander? The point of the game is to move through school collecting friends along the way to help you stand up between a bully and a would-be victim.
The page also gives fun definitions of what it means to be an "upstander.” Those include "you see the best in people and teach your kids to do the same" or "you believe that being cool is never an excuse for being cruel."
"What we do want is kindness and respect,” says Bond. “I think carrying that message forward in terms of the positive behaviors that we want in school and in the workplace for the future and kindness and respect go a long way to preventing many risk behaviors from occurring."
The game is free online. It's also an app available in the Android market.