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Apodaca: Worth the time and effort to keep anti-bullying programs alive

Producing strong citizens is more than just about test scores.

December 06, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

I've written a few columns about bullying, and the topic never fails to elicit an impassioned response.

For the most part, the feedback from parents, educators and others in the community reveals wide agreement that we all have a part to play in understanding the nature of bullying and in trying to reduce it.

There are the occasional respondents who argue that the recent focus on bullying shows only that we've turned into a nation of wimps, and that encounters with bullies can be solved simply by a swift sock on the jaw.

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But those attitudes, hopefully, are increasingly in the minority as awareness grows about the complexity and lasting damage of bullying.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to have some illuminating conversations with current and former Orange County Department of Education employees who have overseen anti-bullying campaigns.

They raise important points.

First, it's clear that there are effective, research-based, results-oriented ways to reduce bullying. But there are also significant obstacles to the widespread use of these programs, chief among them financial considerations and the intense competition for educators' time and resources.

We've come a long way in understanding bullying, and now know that it is rarely a simple, one-sided affair in which a big, mean kid picks on a vulnerable target. Bullies are often victims themselves — experts actually prefer the term "target" to "victim" — and have a range of complex motivations for picking on others.

Much has also been learned about the potentially devastating effects of bullying, including depression, truancy, falling grades and possibly self-harming behavior. We're also beginning to glean a better understanding of the changes in the landscape due to the potential for 24-hour-a-day harassment through electronic media.

Another point that has been emphasized to me is that anyone could be a bully, or at least contribute to a bullying culture. That means that education and training programs at schools, to be effective, must include everyone — students, teachers, parents, coaches, support staff, even bus drivers.

"If you want to change the culture at a school, you have to work with everyone at the school. You really have to train the adults too," said Linda Kearns, who retired two years ago as prevention coordinator at the Orange County Department of Education.

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