By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Children are often told that ignoring a bully is the best way to make the behavior stop. An expert on bullying investigation told diocesan teachers and principals that this is not the case — it can actually make it worse.
At in-services throughout the diocese the week of Aug. 17, Amanda Easton, primary investigator for Des Moines Public Schools, explained that it is vital for teachers and staff to be pro-active and informed on spotting bullying behavior and responding to students who come forward with a complaint. “Children cannot be expected to know how to handle bullies,” she said.
Overwhelmingly, students believe teachers aren’t doing enough to spot and reprimand bullying behavior; an Iowa Youth Survey stated that 70 percent of students believe bullying occurs while teachers are around. Easton explained that teachers are often afraid to do anything about it because they are afraid that intervention would make it worse and cause retaliation, but “research shows that if adults intervene, the bullying stops.” Initially, reacting could be as simple as saying, “We don’t treat people like that here.” If the behavior doesn’t stop, close monitoring is seen by bullies as a much harsher reprimand than being suspended. They often see suspension as a reward, Easton explained.
If a child is constantly bullied with no reprieve, long-term consequences can result. Easton observes that chronically bullied children often have life-long struggles with trusting people. Teachers can avoid adding to that pain by having a compassionate response when a child comes forward to ask for help.
Easton said 20 percent of youths have been in a bullying situation, either as the bully or as the victim. She said the top reasons for bullying are jealousy or desire to dominate. “Girls bully girls they view as competition. Boys get bullied on if they are weaker or of lower social status.”
While bullying is not a new occurrence, it is getting more attention now because of social media, Easton postulated. A bully can do his or her work in front of a very large audience this way, thus having a bigger impact on the bullied individual.
Even if such bullying only occurs away from school, if a student feels threatened at school because of it, they have grounds to report such behavior, Easton said.
She explained how to identify bullying and not confuse it with joking; often, if accused of bullying, a student will simply say they are joking, so it is important to know the difference. One of the biggest indicators of true bullying is a difference in power. The bullied person is often in a position of being powerless to stop the interaction. In a reciprocal friendly teasing relationship, each person will contribute equally. In a bullying relationship, the bully will tease regardless of the reaction.
Throughout the presentation, Easton asked teachers and staff what they’d do if bullying situations occurred in their adult lives. Laura Marsot, principal of St. Vincent School in Keokuk, appreciated this aspect of the in-service. “It helped us to understand what the kids are going through,” she said.
Lee Morrison, diocesan superintendent of schools, said bullying has the potential to occur in all schools, but he believes it can be “stomped out in our Catholic schools.”