September 2011 Health Beat

Karen’s Kolumn is written by Karen Dolley, R.N. and Grange Friend… we appreciate her knowledge and her willingness to share! This month’s topic is especially timely and important… all adults (including school volunteers and Bookworms) have an opportunity and responsibility to be sensitive regarding this issue!

September has arrived and Maine children are returning to school. It is an exciting time! Some children will be riding on a school bus for the very first time. There are new teachers and new friends to meet. There are old friends to see again after summer vacation.

However, many children are not looking forward to going back to school. According to the 2009 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, over forty-seven percent of middle school children report being bullied on school property and over twenty-three percent of high school students report being bullied on school property. Children are also bullied away from school property and on computers and other electronic devices. Twelve percent of high school students report receiving comments that are offensive regarding race or ethnicity and over nineteen percent report receiving offensive sexual comments related to sexual orientation, masculinity, and femininity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, bullying is a form of youth violence. Bullying includes attack and/or intimidation with the intention to cause fear or to cause harm that is physical, verbal, or psychological. There is a real or perceived imbalance of power between the bully and the victim. The bullying involves repeated attacks or intimidation between the same children over a period of time. The most common form of bullying is verbal bullying.

Bullying does affect health. Bullying can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, and even death. Children who are bullied are at increased risk for mental health problems and substance use. They have higher school absenteeism rates. Children who are bullied do not feel safe in their schools. Victims are more likely to experience headaches, sleep problems and stomach ailments. They also have higher rates of suicidal thoughts.

Children who are bullied often do not tell a teacher or another adult because they fear retaliation by the children who are doing the bullying. Children who are bullied are victims of abuse and often do not have the confidence or the skills needed to stop the bullying behaviors on their own.

Bullying is not about “kids being kids.” Bullying only occurs when there is a power imbalance where one child has a hard time defending herself/himself and is not simply a disagreement. A child who is bullied should be told that bullying is wrong, no one deserves to be bullied, and everything that can be done will be done to stop the bullying.

Research suggests that the best ways to deal with bullying are through school wide programs that discourage bullying, developing consistent rules against bullying, identifying and utilizing a consistent disciplinary program related to bullying behavior, developing and implementing classroom activities related to bullying and bullying prevention, individual and group work with children who are bullied and for children involved in bullying others, staff training to learn to recognize and respond to bullying, improving the supervision of students, and involving parents in bullying prevention and intervention activities.

For more information, visit www.maine.gov/education/bullyingprevention , www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention, and http://www.education.com.

The goal is to STOP bullying before it starts!

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