Julie Dempster: Recognizing bullying

To the editor:

I sat in on the Moffat County School District’s Accountability Committee meeting Thursday night with the intention of listening in on proposed changes to the school calendar and budget.

But it was a completely different topic that grabbed my attention.

Bullying.

Don’t let the word or the setting fool you. In the adult world, we call it harassment.

How do schoolteachers and administrators recognize bullying? Our school district has more than one program in place designed to help prevent, teach recognition of and try to discipline students who are aggressive toward their fellow classmates. 

Physical pushing is easy to spot. But what about less obvious, but often more damaging abuse, such as verbal or social bullying?

I believe most bullying starts out in small, barely perceivable words or actions.

As the victim gets used to a series of putdowns, their pain tolerance grows, as does the boldness of the bully. Over time, both parties cross a line and don’t realize it. The victim habitually shrinks inward and the bully gains more hurtful leverage.

Do we tend to think of bullying as bold, easily recognizable occurrences? Or should we be looking for intricate, long-term relationship issues? I think it’s the latter that is more serious.

The “cause and effect” becomes gratifying for the bully. The more the victim is “pushed,” the more desperate measures they will take to escape the situation. 

I think even if kids could understand this complicated situation for what it is, I’m not sure that they could fully articulate it to an adult. 

It is an abusive relationship.

There is a component of bullying that occurs outside of school, as well. Classmates at the bus stop, walking home from school — this is a kind of no-man’s land.

There are no adults around, they aren’t on school grounds, the repercussions are non-existent for bullies, and there are no “safe zones” for victims.

That abuse carries over into the school setting.

At the meeting, it became very apparent that our schools have to deal with this on a constant daily basis. As parents, we need to know what school policies are: What exactly is bullying? And what program does the school have in place for bullies and victims alike?

Our schools have become charged, now more than ever, with taking care of our children’s safety. Somehow, we parents need to fill in the gap that exists between recognizing our child as a victim and alerting the school to intervene.

Julie Dempster

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