August 28, 2012

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Bullying is never okay.

It is not just kids being kids. It is not simply part of growing up. It is harmful and destructive and a major challenge to mental health.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education are sponsoring a special website offering resources to support initiatives to end bullying in schools and other communities.

Between now and Oct. 14, the federal partners are inviting youth ages 13 to 18 to create 30- and 60-second public service announcements. Video submissions need to showcase ways that young people are taking action against bullying and promoting kindness and respect. Three winning videos will be featured on the website. The grand prize winner will receive $2,000 and two other honorable mention videos will each receive $500.

What exactly is bullying?

Bullying is unwanted and aggressive behavior that happens repeatedly and involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. The power imbalance usually involves someone using physical strength, greater popularity or embarrassing or humiliating information to control or harm another person.

Bullying can take many forms. It can be done with words, including repeated teasing, name-calling, threats and inappropriate sexual comments. It can be done through social interactions—repeatedly and intentionally excluding someone from a group, telling other kids not to be friends with someone or spreading rumors and embarrassing a targeted person in public. It can also be done by hurting another person physically or vandalizing possessions.

Bullying can take place in school, on the bus, in neighborhoods and, increasingly on electronic devices. Cyber bullying on the Internet gives some youth a sense of security because they are able to hide behind a computer screen. Because most kids now communicate with peers primarily through cell phones and computers, bullying messages, photos and other information can quickly “go viral” throughout the Internet.

Bullies target peers whom they often see as different, alone or in some way weak. In the long run, bullying not only hurts those who are bullied, but also those who witness it and the bullies themselves. It can destroy self-esteem and damage their ability to function in adulthood.

What can be done about it? Parents and caregivers can talk with their kids about bullying so that they understand it and recognize that it is not okay. They can give their kids advice about what to do if they are bullied or if they see someone else being bullied. Here are some things to share with kids:

  • Ask if your child is or has ever been bullied
  • If so, reassure your child that it is not her/his fault and you can work together to stop it
  • If your child confides that another child is being bullied, ask your child to be a friend to that person by spending time with him/her
  • Encourage your child to let the child being bullied know that bullying is not okay and that it is okay to tell a trusted adult
  • Let your child know it is okay to suggest to the person being bullied that they go together to talk with a trusted adult
  • Your child can also confide in a trusted adult about witnessing bullying and ask for help to stop it
  • Advise your child to only intervene directly when bullying is happening to another person if it is safe to do so—otherwise your child should find a trusted adult immediately

In safe circumstances, standing up or speaking out against bullying behavior when it occurs can rob the bully of much of his/her power.

Bullying should never be ignored. More than 20 percent of high school students report being bullied in any given year. It leads to higher rates of depression and anxiety and contributes to many suicides

Let’s all take the stop bullying challenge (make a video if you can!) and put an end to bullying.

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