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A Primer on Bullying

Plus lessons for parents from a community educator from the Mass. Aggression Reduction Center, and recollections from Channel 5 news anchor Ed Harding.

Words can hurt.

If they’re used repeatedly against a target, that’s bullying. Bullying can lead to depression, even suicide.

So how to deal with bullying?

TV Channel 5 news anchor Ed Harding, his wife, Andrea, and Nicole Wilson, a licensed social worker from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State College, addressed that question at the auditorium Wednesday night.

Harding was bullied, he told the audience, in junior high school. Eventually, he said, his gym teacher paired him and the boy who was bullying him in a wrestling match. In a few short seconds, Harding said he pinned the other boy. Off the mat, Harding said he told the boy the bullying had to stop. The other boy had trouble with his English, Harding recounted; Harding offered to help him with his English skills. They became friends, Harding said.

Harding and his wife, Andrea, organized an anti-bullying campaign through a line of clothing that carries the words, “anti-bull-e gear.” They became involved with anti-bullying efforts because their son was bullied 10 years ago, Andrea told the audience of about 75 people. The organization donates 5 percent of net proceeds from its clothing sales to the Olweus anti-bulling program from Clemson University.

Andrea Harding showed a three-minute video about an eighth-grader named Alye. Alye was bullied every day since sixth grade. She said she was considering cutting herself in response to the bullying.

“Words do hurt,” Alye said.

Help children develop stronger self-esteem, Andrea urged, and empathy, as well as social skills. The down side of technology, and social networking, she said, is a loss of social skills. Also encourage your children to talk to you.

The logo on the anti-bull-e gear is an English Bull Terrier, Homer, the pet of one of the founders of the clothing line. His breed is commonly known as a “Bully,” according to a handout.

The Hardings took part in the program through a connection with a Woburn parent, school Supt. Mark Donovan told the audience.

Bullying in schools

Every school has only a few bullies, according to Wilson. There are many more “eggers”—students who “egg” a bully on, she said, than there are bullies. In the world of bullying, there are also bystanders, she said, and “floaters,” kids who float between “eggers” and bystanders. We need to target “eggers” and “floaters,” she said.

Bullying is increasing, according to Wilson, because of students’ poor social skills. Students’ social coping skills have decreased dramatically over the last 10 years, according to a study of teachers, Wilson said. Why? When do students have time to develop those skills? she asked.

Wilson spent a lot of her 70-minute presentation on cyberbullying. Students bully online because they don’t see their victim, she said. The bully hides behind a computer screen.

She offered the audience several lessons. Among them:  Children don’t understand that the Internet is not private. Private information is valuable. Guard it. Cell phones are not appropriate everywhere. Ban messaging for children under age 15.  Don’t get on the computer and message when you’re angry. Cool down first.

Most importantly, talk to your children, no matter what their age.

How to tell if your child might be bullying or cyberbullying?

Watch his or her behavior with siblings, Wilson said, beyond what’s usual. Listen to reports about your child from different sources—even if your first reaction is, “My child would never” do that. Also check his or her behavior on line.

Three mothers who came to the presentation said their children had been teased and bullied at elementary schools here. Another said she had seen bullying at a local school. One said she told the school principal and he took it seriously. They declined to give their names.

Several others have children who are facing a transition from elementary to middle school or middle to high school and wanted to know what to expect in the new school and what to watch for in their children’s behavior.

Bullying in Woburn

From a school administrator’s point of view, “For the most part, (bullying is) under control” at the Joyce Middle School, said Principal Thomas Qualey. “I’m not naive” to say there is no bullying here.

Qualey said he was disappointed in the audience size. The turnout should have been 300, he said.

The taped the program.

The Joyce and Kennedy Middle School PTO’s and Police School Resource Officer program  arranged the program. Most people are aware of the eighth-grade boy and ninth-grade girl who took their own lives because of repeated bullying and harassment, SRO officer Anthony Imperioso said in a brief introduction.

“Sometimes (bullying) happens in Woburn,” he said.

“We (in Woburn) have gone far above and beyond” with anti-bullying efforts, he said.

The school department has its anti-bullying policy on its website, along with a bullying reporting form, school Supt. Donovan told the audience.

The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center also has a website, Wilson noted.

Two mothers in the audience, Kerri Walsh and neighbor Erin Lynch, praised the quality of the presentation. Walsh said she wanted more information about how to teach empathy. Both women praised the programs on drugs, drugs and alcohol and how to talk to teens, as well as this one, all offered for Woburn parents

Parents have to “stay one step ahead of the kids,” Lynch quipped.

Maureen Foley Cioni April 30, 2011 at 02:32 AM
I'm sorry I couldn't make it to this one. I would love to attend one for the kids and one on cyber safety that is geared toward middle schoolers.
Sara May 01, 2011 at 02:29 PM
The only reason the Anti-Bullying policy is on the school district website is because a parent of an elementary school child who was bullied by a child four years her senior insisted it be published there after the principal failed to acknowledge or take charge of the issue. While most administrators are on top of the bullying problem in our schools there are still a few who minimize the issues, leaving room for potentially grave harms to our children. The attendance at this event was very, very disappointing. Either parents don't care, or they are naive to think this problem is not widespread in Woburn
Valerie May 02, 2011 at 12:03 AM
Bullying isn't only with children. I'd like to also see a discussion regarding adults that bully it is mean and viscous! The one being bullied doesn't know where to turn or who to talk to and there are no books that describe this but it does happen, trust me.
Rhonda M. Mackey May 16, 2011 at 12:15 AM
I have a daughter in the Woburn Middle school and is bullied constantly, I have on many occasions brought it to the attention of Mr. Neble, the Assistant Principal, and he has taken action, the unfortunate part of this action is that my daughter gets picked on even more when it is addressed, by even more children, ( friends of the the person bullying and the so called bystanders), when she does make a friend, kids tell the person that if they are friends with my daughter, then they won't talk to her anymore, putting this other person in an awkward position. I feel like I am between a rock and hard place, it kills me to see my daughter treated like this, and other than telling her she is a wonderful person and building her self esteem, I don't know what to do. Please help. I agree with the lacke of social skills in society today, my daught does not have the best social skills, if you know of any programs out there could you please let me know. I think it would make a world of difference for her. I wish I could have made it to the seminar, unfortunately I had to work, a response would be greatly appreciated. Thank You Rhonda
Maureen Foley Cioni May 16, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Rhonda, I'm sorry you and your daughter are going through this. The media center did tape the program, maybe you can borrow a DVD of it and watch it with your daughter? My other thought, which is harder, is to sit down with Mr. Qualey and all of the kids involved and maybe a third party mediator? This might help get all the issues out in the open and solve them. I will be part of the new PTO for next year at the Joyce so let me know if I can help in any way.

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