A too silent majority
Off the Beat
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and NBC Nightly News recently broadcast a series of reports on bullying. An interesting factoid is that 85 percent of all school kids are neither bullies nor victims, they are bystanders.
Research supports the fact that if just one student in a group where a bully is at work steps up to challenge the bully, sticks up for the victim or takes that all important first step of leadership, then there is a huge drop in the bullying behavior.
Schools across the nation have embraced training students in diffusing situations, in developing communication skills and, I guess you could say, in teaching empathy.
According to www.no bulling.com, it's reported that each day an estimated 160,000 children refuse to go to school because they dread the physical and verbal assaults of their peers and the loneliness that comes from being excluded and made the target of rumors and cyber-bullying.
Bullying tends to peak in middle school but starts as early as preschool, according to the antibullyingprograms.org website. Bullying no longer is just the strong picking on the weak in the schoolyard. Physical assault has been replaced by 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week online bashing. Savvy students are using instant messaging, e-mails, chat rooms and websites they create to humiliate fellow students.
Bullying just the beginning
According to research, bullying behavior has been linked to other forms of antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, shoplifting, skipping and dropping out of school, fighting and the use of drugs and alcohol.
In fact, 60 percent of males who were bullies in grades 6-9 were convicted of at least one crime as an adult - rates that were far above the general population. Thirty-five percent to 40 percent of these former bullies had three or more convictions by age 24 - about a 150-percent higher rate of arrest than nonbullies.
Other research makes a connection between bullying and more serious assaults and future incidents of domestic assault.
Locally, juvenile arrests in Sequim dropped last year to 140 versus 150 the year before. The seven-year high for juvenile arrests in
Sequim peaked in 2006 with 176 arrests. Countywide, these numbers grow substantially into the four-figure range. These were total arrests or juveniles being referred into the juvenile system and cover all arrest types. How many of these incidents involved bullying or assaultive bullies, we don't know.
Sit back and think about those bullies that you encountered during your school years. How many times did you as a student stand up to confront a bully or protect a bullying victim?
Remember, that NBC News report, I first mentioned ... 85 percent of students are neither a bully nor a victim, they were just bystanders.
Now a bully doesn't usually just "grow out of it." That's a pattern of behavior that continues to grow and is part of that individual's personality as he or she grows up into adulthood unless there is some type of intervention.
If we collectively didn't do anything to intervene when we were all in school dealing with a bully, did we as a society give that potential future criminal a free pass into adulthood? Have we been enabling bullies right through most of our lives?
I was lucky growing up in the 1960s. While I was born in Washington, I spent most of my school years growing up in the Bay Area of California. Most of the time that was a rich and diverse experience. And fortunately I grew quicker than most of my classmates, giving me an advantage - the schoolyard bullies just never seemed to bother the tall kid.
Take a stand
I recall a defining incident for me in sixth grade; it probably lead me toward policing as a career years later. The schoolyard bully tossed a couple of fourth- and fifth-graders off of the jungle gym and claimed it as his own domain one spring afternoon during lunch recess. I hung from the nearby monkey bars and I was struck by the event. Whether it was empathy, the look in the younger kids' eyes, the arrogance of the bully, I'm not sure.
I did throw the bully off the jungle gym and reclaimed it for the rest of the kids to play on and enjoy. The bully and I had a new understanding for the rest of that school year.
I ended up in law enforcement, which was fun, exciting and led me through nearly three decades of a diverse and rewarding career. But, that day in sixth grade confirmed to me that in life there still need to be referees, that in life folks still need to step up and take a stand, and that in adult life it still can be costly when you stand up to a bully.
Are we as a community teaching our children to intervene, be good communicators and be something much better than just bystanders?
In our lives as workers, supervisors and community leaders, are we acting as bystanders or real leaders? Are you sitting on the sideline or are you confronting those same insecure, uninspiring bullies who have failed to grow beyond their schoolyard bullying days?
Robert Spinks is former Sequim chief of police. Reach him at robertby
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