Anti-Bullying Laws For Oregon Schools May Be Improved

As reported by Betsy Hammond in "The Oregonian," the Oregon House Education Committee is calling for improvements in its school. They're responding to the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey which stated that more than 40 percent of Oregon eighth-graders reported being subjected to name-calling, bullying or other harassment at school, with the highest rates among students of color, girls and gays.

The effort to strengthen the school anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws is necessary, good and overdue. However, they're still missing key elements that will be necessary to stop school bullying and abuse.

The Committee recommends requiring all schools to have anti-bullying policies, making the policies public and designating a point person in each school for students and parents to turn to.

I think that to make anti-bullying policies effective you need much more than a wall-plaque containing a policy statement. You need: * Ground rules that specify real-world examples of harassment, bullying and abuse that will not be tolerated. * Guidelines of accepted behavior to resolve disputes without bullying. * A program containing real consequences to deal swiftly with bullying incidents. * Specific examples to show bystanders how they can stop bullying in its tracks. * Proactive administrators, teachers and staff.

Of course that takes training and education. The 40 percent of the students who reported being bullied and all of the others who weren't willing to admit having been bullied would vote "Yes" to expending the money. It's hard to learn or grow strong and straight when you're being beaten down repeatedly.

In my experience, the most important factors in making anti-bullying efforts effective are proactive administrators, teachers and staff. They set the standards and create the culture. Administrators, who are willing to let victims suffer while they attempt to rehabilitate habitual bullies, actually create hot houses in which bullies thrive.

We need new laws because too many administrators are cowards. They're afraid they'll be sued by parents who want to protect their little terrorists. Therefore, we need to require administrators to act and also to protect them from suits when they do act.

Children must be taught not to bully the weak or different, primarily by parents, teachers and administrators if they're going to learn to be more civilized.

True bullies will take empathy, kindness and tolerance as weakness. They'll think we're easy prey. It will encourage them, like sharks, to attack us more. Bullies will show you how far you need to go to stop them.

On an individual basis, parents must teach children how to face the real world in which they'll meet bullies all their lives, even if the children are small and outnumbered. That's independent of the type of bullying - cyber bullying, physical bullying or verbal harassment or abuse. Help your children get out of their previous comfort zones and stop bullies.

Sometimes, children can handle bullies by themselves, beginning with peaceful tactics and moving step-wise toward being more firm and eventually fighting to win. Or, depending on the situation, just get the fight over immediately. Most times, adult help is needed.

When children and teenagers learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, they will develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. They'll need these qualities to succeed in the real-world.

In addition to professional experience, I learned practical, pragmatic methods growing up in New York City and then watching our six children and their friends and enemies. And we live in Denver, home of Columbine High School.

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