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Bullying Expert: Schools Must Initiate, Maintain Anti-Bullying Programs


Bullying is not something parents and kids need to tolerate, Barry McNamara, Ed. D, told Island Trees SEPTA recently. McNamara is a professor of special education at Dowling College and author of several books on bullying and Attention Deficit Disorder. He provided information to parents and teachers at a program with Island Trees Special Education Parent Teacher Association entitled, “Bullying at Home and School: Intervention, Prevention and School Policy.”

“A lot of parents still don’t take it seriously,” McNamara said at the March 4 program. “They think it’s a natural rite of passage for childhood.” But bullying is an issue that some kids struggle with and can, and has, led to suicide and depression, he said.

Sometimes, “by the time we get to kids, it’s too late,” he said. “Clearly it’s an issue, no doubt about it.” But there’s hope for parents and children who find their lives disrupted by and uncomfortable because of bullying.

“There’s a lot that can be done in a relatively simple way,” McNamara said.

 What is the key to prevent bullying and successfully punish those who do bully so they don’t continue?

“The only thing that works is a school-wide program.” McNamara said. Parents’ actions are ineffective without school action, he said.

A recent US Department of Justice survey found that anti-bullying programs are having an impact on schools. The survey found that about 22 percent of kids were reportedly victims of bullying in 2003. That number went down to 15 percent in 2008, the result of anti-bullying programs, according to the survey.

McNamara says to never deal with the parent of a child who is bullying your child but instead contact the school. A parent might take their aggression and frustration out on the other parents or child.

McNamara told a story of a meeting of parents where one child’s mother punched the other child’s father.

“Bullies tend to have parents that are bullies,” McNamara said. “It’s all about power. If you can’t get exactly what you want, you verbally abuse.” Or physically abuse. “Some parents are proud of their kids when they fight,” he said. Getting those parents in a meeting won’t help the situation. Instead, schools need to be more proactive in fighting off bullying before it starts and have a way to stop it quickly if it does, he said.

At the middle school and high school level, students get suspended for fighting. Elementary schools should install a system where the child has something they like taken away from them, like recess, if they are a bully.

In Scandinavian countries, he said, there are many mechanisms in place to prevent bullying and report it when it does happen and they are successful.

One thing schools can do is make it clear to children early on that they can tell on a bully, McNamara said.

“Tattling is telling just to get someone in trouble,” he said. That’s different from telling on a bully that has or will hurt you, physically or emotionally.

It’s a myth, he says, that telling on a bully will only make the situation worse for the victim. Many times when bullies are confronted and punished, the bullying stops.

“There’s got to be some mechanism” for kids to feel comfortable reporting bullies, he said.

 To prevent negative attention in general he suggests to kids (and parents) to walk with your back straight, make eye contact and walk assertively. You’re less likely to become a victim when you project an air of self-confidence in where you’re going and are aware of your surroundings.

Assigning seats on school buses is one way to help prevent bullying. Then kids have less room to roam around the bus and less of a chance to cause trouble.

Some of McNamara’s books include Keys to Dealing with Bullies, Learning Disabilities: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Classroom Practice, and AD/HD and Bullies. He presented a list of common misconceptions people have about bullies, as understanding them is the first step to preventing bullying.

A few common myths he expelled are that bullies are boys, bullies are insecure and have low self-esteem, are usually failing in school, don’t really mean to hurt their victims and need therapy to stop bullying.

Bullying is not just physical, he said. It can be verbal and emotional. “Bullies know how to use their power,” he said and he’s not talking about physical size. It’s a myth, McNamara says, that bullies are physically larger than their victims.

Another myth is that children are mostly targeted for their appearance. While this is sometimes true, McNamara said this is not on the top of the list.

Children with learning disabilities are more likely to be victims of bullying; McNamara said he found in his research.

According to McNamara, “bullies have no remorse.” He told a story of a case in Atlanta where a child was stepping off a bus, another child punched him in the back. The child getting off fell, hit his head, was in a coma for a few days and later died. Years later in an interview, the other child was not remorseful about what he had done. Instead he said he wished someone had told him he could kill someone by punching him or her.

According to research McNamara said bullies at high school level are five times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.

In the end, it all comes down to schools developing specific consequences for bullying, a clear definition of bullying, school-wide rules and reinforce acts of kindness and caring, he said.

He defined bullying as targeting a child for repetitive, negative actions and an imbalance of power so victim has no effective self-defense.

Most bullying happens outside the classroom so everyone needs to be proactive in stopping bullying when they see it, McNamara said. Involve secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, paraprofessionals, security guards and teachers.