Wednesday, March 29, 2023

As Bullying Prevention Awareness Month Ends, Prevention Efforts Continue

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RICHMOND — As National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month comes to a close, experts are reminding Virginians to be aware of the patterns within bullying.

One in five students reports being bullied, and one in six has been cyberbullied, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Virginia has anti-bullying laws at schools, but they don’t apply to incidents off-campus, which often is where cyberbullying takes place.

Jan Helson, co-founder of Global Game Changers Children’s Education Initiative Inc., a nonprofit children’s education initiative focused on social-emotional learning, said building confidence and empathy are keys in helping to prevent bullying.

“If you build a child’s core, where they feel confident about themselves and who they are, and have empathy for others,” she said, “then it helps to avoid bullying in the first place.”

In the 2019 Virginia Youth Survey, almost 23% of high-school students reported having been bullied, often for their race or sexual orientation. Research has found these students are at higher risk for depression, anxiety and sleep problems, lower academic achievement and higher dropout rates.

According to the CDC, almost 14% of public schools report that bullying occurs daily or at least once a week. Studies show anti-bullying programs decrease bullying by 20%. But no matter the approach, Helson said, she finds it’s important that kids remain in dialogue with parents and teachers.

“Whether it’s a teacher communicating with students, or whether it’s a parent communicating, it’s to really stress the importance of opening up that dialogue, and providing your child a safe space and looking for those signs,” she said, “whether they are the victim or the bully, and parents have to be open minded to both sides of that.”

Last year, the STOP Bullying Act was introduced in the U.S. House. It would require all states to establish a task force to study, address and reduce bullying in elementary and secondary schools. The bill has been stuck in committee. It has no sponsors among the Virginia delegation.

Helson said a bully’s own insecurities are often the root cause of their actions. She said she thinks considering the inner life of a bully can be insightful.

“Also, the bully. What is it about their background? I think having children understand and have empathy that maybe that bully has something going on in their life that they have no control over,” she said. “It’s a way of them feeling like they have control of something, making them feel bigger than others.”

Accepting a bully’s behavior isn’t the same as empathizing with them, Helson said. It can provide a means for potentially breaking down barriers with a bully.

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