Social Combat Officials aim to heighten awareness of 'bullying'

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Bullying has become a serious public health crisis in Michigan.

“Bullying leads to poor self-esteem, absences from school, health problems, use of drugs and alcohol, and suicide,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade.

Kimber Bishop-Yanke added: “A new study commissioned by CNN’s ‘Anderson Cooper 360°’ found that the stereotype of the schoolyard bully preying on the weak doesn’t reflect reality in schools. Instead, the research shows that many students are involved in ‘social combat’ – a constant verbal, physical, and cyber fight to the top of the school social hierarchy.”

Bishop-Yanke is the founder of Girls and Boys Empowered in Birmingham, which teaches children conflict resolution and how to handle bullying, as well as build social skills, self-esteem, and character. The most important skill-set she teaches kids is assertiveness.

“We teach a common language and understanding of what bullying, relational aggression, cyber-bullying, and what we call ‘meanie kid’ behavior is. We teach the different roles kids can play in a situation,” said Bishop-Yanke. “We teach different strategies to handle these situations. We want kids to try and get the meanness to stop three different times and if it does not stop the fourth time, then they go to an adult for help. We want them to try on their own so they build the confidence and skills. Then, if they need help, they have an adult to help them.” 

She continued: “We are teaching (schools) so that parents and teachers know when they should step in and that they need to create an environment where kids feel supported in standing up for themselves and motivated to stand up for others. Right now most kids are in fear of being a tattletale and getting in trouble.”

The amount of bullying does not decrease as children get older, but the reporting of bullying does, according to David Mustonnen, spokesman for the Dearborn Public Schools.

However, more and more attention is being paid to bullying as people are realizing how pervasive it has become and the impact it has on youth. What has exacerbated bullying in the last decade is the rise of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as kids with cell phones that have photo and video capabilities.

“Sometimes young people who would never say harmful words to another in person are empowered to do so by the seeming anonymity of the Internet. Threatening, humiliating, and harassing communications can reach large audiences quickly over social networking sites, and others can quickly pile on,” said McQuade.

Added Bishop-Yanke:  “From the target’s standpoint, they don’t get a break anymore by going home where there would be no continuation of the bullying – it is now 24/7. Additionally, now hundreds of other kids see that person taunting you instead of just a few. So the humiliation factor is at an all-time high.”

According to Ousamma Baydoun, assistant principal at Dearborn High School, there are approximately 4,400 students who commit suicide annually because they are bullied. Upward of 165,000 students skip school to avoid being bullied, according to officials. Across the country, in places as big as New York City and as small as Marlette, Mich., almost 35 percent of girls and more than 30 percent of boys ages 12-18 report being they’re either bullied at school or cyber-bullied.

“I suspended a kid who had a record of bullying for 10 days because he bullied a girl on a bus,” said Baydoun. “We are hoping that we have enough parental and community involvement to get the message out there that bullying is a global issue. It exists everywhere and happens at all levels: elementary, middle school, high school. We are doing our part locally here at (DHS) to stop it.”

On November 2 from 5:30-7:15 p.m., Baydoun is held an anti-bullying assembly called “Protect Your Children: Stop the Bulling NOW” at DHS. This is the fifth anti-bullying assembly held this year at DHS, which has a student body of approximately 1,800. It is open to the public.

“We want to teach parents to help their children become upstanders instead of bystanders because 77 percent of our kids are just bystanders when bullying occurs,” said Baydoun.

So far, this tactic of being an upstander has worked – something Baydoun saw with his own eyes the other week in the cafeteria. He witnessed a boy tell another student he couldn’t sit at that particular table because nobody liked him. Baydoun – whom the students didn’t see – waited a moment before he intervened. However, a girl at the table beat Baydoun to the punch: she told the instigator that he should quit being so mean and he should be the one to leave the table.

Andrea Awada, principal of Geer Park Elementary School in Dearborn, stated that her school is a “bucket-filling” school. This concept explains to students that everyone carries an invisible bucket where people store their feeling representing their mental and emotional health. When the buckets are full, people are happy; when they are not, people are sad, particularly when being bullied. Students can fill their own buckets as well as others’ by being upstanders who will not tolerate bullying, according to Awada.

Her students are proactive about bullying by focusing on self-awareness and self-management skills (managing anger, stress reduction); social awareness (development of sympathy); relationship skills (confidence-building, effective interactions); resisting social pressure (the biggest difference between being a bystander and an upstander); when and where to get help; and responsibility and problem-solving strategies.

“Bullying comes in various forms. Today, we recognize and address four main forms of bullying: physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. We realize that subtle bullying can be as harmful as blatantly verbal or physical assault,” said Awada.
In addition to the Internet and social media, television also is another factor that Bishop-Yanke believes encourages aggressive behavior.

“Today, the shows our kids are watching have real characters like ‘Hannah Montana’ where the kids are nasty to each other. Our kids are watching reality TV shows were people are nasty to each other. They watched Simon (Cowell) on ‘American Idol’ get famous for being cruel to people. They watch the reality shows like ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘Survivor’ where you have to gang up on people and try and get people to be kicked out. This is exactly what is happening in our schools!” she said.
Bishop-Yanke stated the worst way to handle bullying is for the victim to ignore their tormentors.

“Not only does this bad advice tell kids that it is okay for someone to mistreat them or abuse them, it keeps the bullies and meanness in power. Anyone wonder why we’ve got such a crisis going on? Because no one is telling the child who is being mean or a bully that they can’t treat someone that way. Isn’t it obvious that the ignore message is not working?” said Bishop-Yanke.

Sen. Glenn Anderson (D-Westland) has introduced anti-bullying bills for each legislative session for nearly 10 years.

“There really isn’t any excuse for Michigan to not have an anti-bullying measure,” Anderson said.  “I think that we are a society that is less tolerant of bullying and there is a feeling that we need to do what we can to stop it. We’re not asking the government to step in with any of the proposed anti-bullying bills that have been introduced. All that we are asking for in this legislation is requiring that the local school districts draft and enact their own anti-bullying policies for themselves and then enforce them. We are already seeing some school districts stepping up and enacting policies, but we want to see a policy in place in every district.”
U.S. Attorney McQuade said the problem is slowly gaining the public attention it deserves.

 “We are becoming more aware of the serious harm bullying can cause, from loss of self-esteem to suicide,” said McQuade. “The explosion in cyber-bullying has also brought attention to bullying. In some ways, bullying seems similar to drunk driving. Each is a problem with a long history, but until activists and leaders raised awareness, they were viewed as an inevitable part of society. Because of the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others, society now views drunk driving as a serious problem. Bullying seems to be following a similar path.”

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