Expert offers tips to stop bullying
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Increasing awareness of and reporting bullying are among ways to make it stop, according to an expert.
Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Renner spoke on Sept. 27 to children, teens and adults about how to identify, prevent and stop bullying at all age levels. Her presentation was at the Rancho Bernardo Community Council meeting.
“It’s important to learn how to work out these issues,” Renner said, who prosecutes juvenile cases.
Renner said bullying by girls tends to take an emotional or psychological bent, while boys tend to favor physical intimation. Females tend to outnumber males when it comes to cyber bullying as well.
Depending on the actions, Renner said some bullying behavior is deemed criminal. This is especially true with harmful or offensive touching. Verbal abuse could be criminal, but is more difficult to prosecute and must meet specific threat criteria.
She said bullying is aggressive behavior intended to cause harm or distress to another. It is usually repeated over time and occurs in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power or strength. This imbalance can take many forms, including perceptions of popularity.
Though similar in deed, Renner said domestic violence, hazing and gang violence are not the same as bullying. She said injuries caused by rough-housing is not bullying because the actions leading to injury were not committed with the intent to cause harm or distress.
Some manifestations of bullying could include pinching, hurting feelings on purpose, touching in ways that make the recipient uncomfortable, hitting, slapping, throwing items at another, exclusion and insults.
“The cumulative effect can cause problems,” Renner said.
Direct bullying usually occurs by hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting, taunting or saying racial slurs, while indirect bullying occurs when the bully gets another to perform the bullying acts on the victim or takes to the Internet or text message to anonymously cyber bully a victim.
To help law enforcement investigate bullying, Renner said it is crucial to document all incidents. This includes keeping a log of what, where and when incidents happened; witnesses, if any; and printing Web pages, emails and other written messages. With print outs, investigators do not have to get a court order to access password protected pages.
She said the problem with cyber bullying versus in-person bullying is that with the former it is typically done anonymously and there is no escape short of turning off a computer and not checking text messages. With the latter, victims can get a reprieve by going home.
When a mother at the meeting asked for advice in handling a bullying situation after not receiving resolution from school administration at a Poway Unified school she did not name, Poway Unified School District board member Andy Patapow spoke up to give advice on the procedure parents should follow.
Patapow, who is seeking re-election in November, said parents should first bring up the issue with their child’s teacher. If the bullying does not stop, he said go to the school counselor, vice principal, principal, district administrator assigned to the school, superintendent and finally school board. The latter could be contacted privately or by bringing the concern up at a school board meeting.
“I guarantee there will be results,” Patapow said, adding a similar hierarchy can be followed at private schools, which have more latitude in dealing with situations, including dismissing the offending student.
Renner said police should be called if there is vandalism or problem escalates. She advised against a victim’s parents talking to the bully’s parents, since the adults typically get defensive and “there ends up being a fight between the parents. Use discretion. If (the parents) have a good, close relationship, then maybe. Otherwise, get a third party (to mediate).”
As for signs parents should look out for to see if their child is being bullied, Renner said sudden use of alcohol or drugs, skipping school, low self-esteem, slipping grades and changes in behavior after going online or receiving a text message.
“Be aware of their online activities,” she said, adding parents must have their child or teen’s passwords and monitor their accounts. “You trust, but must verify when under age 18.”
She also advised the youths present to never take or pose for photos they would be embarrassed of if seen by a parent or relative, no matter who asks for the photos and promises to keep them private.
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