North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

Features

September 27, 2011

Schools, parents should place zero tolerance on bullying

North Jefferson — As a new school year has begun, I was trying to think of the many challenges that lie ahead for parents and students. There are so many, but one pressing issue seems to stand out year after year — bullying.  

I am sickened every time I hear on the news or read an article about a child committing suicide because he or she thought dying was a better option than continuing to live with being bullied. Reviewing statistics surrounding the many school shootings that have occurred, bullying has played a role in several of them. Often the shooters were ostracized by their fellow students before deciding to take matters into their own hands.

Bullying is not going to go away if we ignore it and pretend it is not an issue. It needs to be faced head-on. Bullies need to be dealt with and not allowed to run the schools. How many more children need to die or become seriously injured before we decide to do something about it?

We adults have to take a stand that bullying will no longer be tolerated in our schools, our ballparks, our communities, etc.

Several years ago I was a school counselor at a Christian school. Even there, bullying was an issue. So I tackled the problem of bullying in my school.

Frank Peretti is a Christian author who has written some amazing Christian fiction. But he has also written several nonfiction books regarding bullying, as he experienced bullying himself, due to a physical deformity. He wrote “No More Victims, No More Bullies,” and “The Wounded Spirit.”

There is a DVD with group discussion materials available with The Wounded Spirit. My administrator allowed me to have an assembly of the high school and junior high school students in which we showed the DVD and I informed the students that bullying would no longer be tolerated in our school.

I informed the students that if they were being bullied, they needed to tell an adult. And if they were a bully, they needed to stop immediately. You see, bullies get their power through secrecy and intimidation. That power is taken away when the issue is brought out in the open.

After that assembly, I developed and implemented a Peer Mediation Program. I had a class period in which I trained interested students in basic communication and mediation skills. I alerted the staff that the program was in place and to refer students as appropriate.

Students started reporting incidents. Eventually, we would have both students sit down face-to-face with peer mediators. Ground rules were established so that productive communication could take place.

I was so amazed at how highly successful the program was in nipping bullying incidents in the bud. It wouldn’t have been so successful without the cooperation of the staff and the students, though, in identifying possible problems so they could be addressed.

What it really boils down to, as with the majority of problems between people in relationships, is a communication problem. When that communication problem is addressed and resolved, there is no longer an issue. I have to wonder how differently some of these incidents would have turned out had bullying been addressed head-on instead of with heads in the sand. Who might still be alive today with a much different outlook on life?

Elena Wright lives in north Jefferson County. She has a masters degree in counseling from UAB. She has been a high school counselor and after that, opened her own parent coaching business. She served as a site director, parent group leader and teen mentor with Safe Harbor Ministry. Her deepest passion has always been to work with teens and their parents to help them navigate through the teenage years. She can be reached at inspiredlife777@live.com.

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