Back-to-school education includes lessons on bullying for Cleveland first graders

Early message key to preventing bullying behavior

CLEVELAND - The first grade class at Marion Sterling Elementary School in Cleveland's Municipal School District laughed and mimicked the storyteller as she took them on an imaginary trip to Costa Rica.

"Hola Costa Rica," said Young Audiences' artist Robin Pease, as she presented her workshop to teach children the importance of friendship and how to treat each other. Her story about a nasty turtle conveyed some clear messages about the effects of bullying behavior: hurt, tears, loneliness and isolation.

While the common perception is that adolescents are most commonly involved in bullying, studies have shown that bullying behavior begins in pre-school. The National Institutes of Health published one of the most comprehensive studies about bullying in 2009 with more than 7,000 sixth through tenth graders. The research is revealing:

- Verbal bullying (teasing, name calling) is most common

- Relational bullying is a close second (social isolation, spreading rumors)

- Physical bullying is least likely

- Cyberbullying is on the rise, especially among girls

- Boys are more likely to engage in physical bullying

- Girls are more likely to engage in relational bullying, which is harder to detect

According to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, 17 percent of students report being the victim of bullying "sometimes" or more often, almost one in five. Those who are victims show more absenteeism, experience depression, a drop in grades and worse. Sometimes the bullied are driven to violence or suicide.

Because the effects of this behavior are so profound, schools across the country are taking a hard line on bullying, incorporating educational programs into their curriculums and implementing zero-tolerance policies in school, where most bullying occurs.

But the NIH study also showed that strong, supportive parental involvement is a key factor, decreasing the likelihood of a student becoming a bully or becoming the victim of one.

Cleveland author and educator Terrance Menefee, Ph.D. wrote a book for pre-teens about bullying, "The Adventures of DJ Spoon and Missy." He said in an overly busy family, the importance of daily conversations with your child can be overlooked.

"Ask questions: How was your day? Is everything OK? Is anything bothering you?" Menefee also noted that children often don't want to report bullying, whether directed at them or someone else, because they don't want to be viewed as snitches.

Gerard Leslie, principal at Marion Sterling School, said we need to change that, to turn the "snitches get stitches" belief into "snitches solve problems, grant wishes. And that has to start early before bad habits become embedded."

Parents need to be vigilant for signs of bullying, which can include:

- Having torn, missing, damaged pieces of clothing, books or other belongings

- Unexplained cuts and bruises

- Seeming afraid to go to school, get on the bus or taking an out-of-the-way route to school

There are excellent resources on-line with more information, including how to spot the signs that your child is the bully. This is one of the best: http://www.violencepreventionworks.org

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