Has your child been bullied in school? Bullied after school on social media? Is your child a bully? Do you know the differences between bullying and teasing? Do the effects of bullying during childhood carry through to adulthood?
October is annual National Bullying Prevention Month, and schools across the Southern Tier held programs to make students and parents aware of this scourge.
It’s a real problem with impacts on a child’s immediate well-being, and a cause of emotional scars well into adulthood.
Here is an in-depth look into how schools in the Southern Tier address bullying, and the immediate and long-term effects bullying can have on a child.
Meet Dustin Warburton, who’s 37Â and a successful author. Decades later, he can look back on bullying with clarity, and pain. He shared those hurtful memories with the Press & Sun-Bulletin / pressconnects.com.
“I was first bullied at the age of eight, in secondÂ grade while riding the school bus. I had an hour and a half bus ride each morning. I was physically hurt, and harassed every day,” said Warburton, an Oxford Academy graduate.
“The bullies were in high school, 11th and 12th grade. I reported it to the school bus driver on numerous occasions. Nothing happened. I also reported it to the school office, and I remember being told to âbe tough.â It came to a point where the bully informed me if I told anyone what was happening, he was going to kill me in front of my mom and my dog.”
WarburtonÂ told pressconnects.com: “The bully would torment me each day by pulling my hair, punching me in my arm, pinching me, and giving me ‘Indian burns’ as they used to call them. This is when a person would rub his hands in opposite directions on your arm, which would hurt terribly.”
That was the physical part of growing up bullied in Chenango County.Â The mental effects were much worse, he said.Â
“Every day, the bully would tell me he was going to blow up the bus in front of my parents’ house, and kill my mom and dog who were always outside waiting. As we got closer to my house, he would tell me the bomb was under the seat, and he would then rattle the bus chains, making a loud metallic noise, which I thought was a bomb,” Warburton recalled. “I would get very upset and cry, and I remember the bus driver laughing at times.”
While Warburton went to school in Oxford, he lived with his family in McDonough, an even more rural area than Oxford.Â
“I vividly remember girls in school saying, ‘Ewww, heâs from McDonough,'” Warburton recalled. “I remember when I had a nervous tic, which consisted of rapid eye blinking and twitching, people would say, ‘Thatâs a McDonough thing,’ as they laughed.”
Warburton, whose dream was to become an author, turned his personal experiences with bullying into literary works. He remembers being asked what inspired the characters in his first book, ‘Taste,’ which was about his hometown.Â
“I told her that the misfit and bullied kids in the story represented my years as a child, because we were often bullied and ridiculed by the elite kids in Oxford for being ‘McDonough kids,'” he said.Â
New York State officially describes bullying as an unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
Bullying can occur inside the school building, on the playground, during sports or other club activities, or after school through social media.Â
Bullying can take multiple forms:
No federal laws address bullying.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services StopBullying website:Â “There is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying. In some cases, when bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, bullying overlaps with harassment and schools are legally obligated to address it.”
States have addressed the bullying issue, and while many have both laws and policies regarding bullying, and others simply have laws.Â
New YorkÂ has both laws and policies in place against bullying. Most notably, the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).Â
DASA seeks to provide the Stateâs public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.
DASA took effect in 2012, and the most recent amendment made was to provide explicit definitions of bullying, cyberbullying, sexting, harassment and discrimination.Â
The DASA website includes templates and potential activities for schools to use to press the anti-bullying initiative.Â
In NY, each school district must have the DASA regulations available not only on school websites, but also in plain view on school premises.Â
Dignity Act Coordinators must be trained and in place in all NY schools, and their contact information must be displayed in the school for students to know who to reach out to, and also provided on the school’s website for both parents and students.Â
âș GET CLOSER:Â Here is a training video created by the New York Capital Region BOCES on DASA.
Is DASA accessible from school websites?
Here are some examples in the Southern Tier area:
Windsor Central School District:Â Windor’s bullying prevention page is accessible from the home page in one click. There’s a bullying prevention tab on the homepage that leads to a breakdown of policy and reporting procedure.Â
Windsor even allows anonymous bullying tips to be submitted to staff.Â
Windsor has five Dignity Act Coordinators on staff.Â
Corning-Painted Post School District:Â Corning’s bullying policy is also found on the school’s homepage, under quick links. The school lists 11 Dignity Act Coordinators on staff, and the contact information for each.Â
From that spot on the school website, is a link to the school’s policy on bullying and harassment.
Union-Endicott Central School District:Â From the school’s homepage, there’s a link to report bullying. There are seven coordinators for the district. The online form is thorough, but if a student or parent fills out the form, the ‘name’ field is optional, allowingÂ anonymity.Â
Ithaca City School District:Â There is no direct link to DASA, nor anything bullying related on the homepage for the district.Â To locate the DASA information, one must first click on ‘District,’ then ‘Resources and Links’ to find DASA on the left hand side of the page.Â Ithaca has 17 coordinators, the most of any of the districts evaluated.Â
The DASA reporting form can be located at the bottom-most part of that page. Unlike electronic submission like other schools, with Ithaca, the form can be printed and handed in in person. The form reads, “This report may be completed anonymously, but doing so may limit the follow up that can occur.”Â Â
Vestal School District:Â The link to DASA for Vestal can be found right on the homepage, under Dignity for All Students.Â There, it states that all Vestal students will be provided with a plain language code of conduct regarding DASA. A link to report bullying electronically is also on the page, with the option for the person reporting to remain anonymous.Â
The district lists seven Dignity Act Coordinators.Â
Whitney Point Central School District:Â With one click from the homepage, one can read the full text of DASA via PDF, and also read a brief breakdown of the district’s policy. It provides definitions of bullying, harassment, discrimination, cyberbullying and hazing without having to click another link.Â
The district has four Dignity Act Coordinators.Â
Norwich School District:Â The DASA information is one click away from the homepage, under the ‘families’ tab.Â
Six coordinators are at the school, and the incident report form is available electronically.Â
Schools post the DASA policy on their web pages and inside their school facilities, but what else is done to help curb bully?
Windsor Central School District.Â Superintendent Jason A. Andrews said each building addresses October as bullying prevention month, but added it’s important to note that the month is just a means to continue the discussions on bullying.Â
“It is a means to keep students, staff and community aware of the importance of maintaining vigilance over striving to create a safe learning environment for all,” said Andrews.Â
Andrews maintained that systems must extend beyond just awareness, and need to include reporting systems, training, and programs that provide each student with a sense of purpose.Â
The district has adopted the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program inÂ all schools.Â
Examples of some programming at Windsor:
Vestal Central School District.Â Public Information Coordinator Regina Felice said the district’sÂ elementary principals “build a school culture with themes that are inclusive.”
Vestal Hills Elementary School Principal Therese Mastro said her school’s theme is ‘Growing a Garden of Leaders.’
“Our morning program, Buddy Days and Team Time focus on community building, anti-bullying strategies that focus on positive interactions, friendships and mindset,” Mastro said.Â
Each district school conducts a rigorous character education program teaching students the important values of tolerance, compassionÂ and civic responsibility, Felice said.Â
Norwich City School District.Â Did you fill anyone’s bucket today? That’s likely the phrase you’ll hear most often inside Stanford Gibson School in Norwich.Â Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Hansen said the school and district prides itself on its approach to bullying.Â
Students are encouraged to fill each other’s buckets, rather than ‘dip’ their bucket.Â
“Filling someone else’s bucket could be as simple as helping another student sound outÂ a word in class, or grabbing someone a spoon if they forgot to get one,” Hansen said. “Dipping someone’s bucket could be saying something unkind, or not paying attention to another student when they’re speaking to you.”Â
Hansen said assemblies are held where students can earn awards for being bucket fillers, and the positive response to this initiative has likely thwarted incidents of bullying.Â
Corning-Painted Post School District.Â Each month, a character education trait is highlighted at the elementary level, said Bill Cameron, public information officer.Â
“Morning announcements in many buildings highlight these traits, as do bulletin boards, book reads and student recognition opportunities,” Cameron said.Â
School counselors and social workers are a huge supports in this, he added.Â
Cameron saidÂ the middle school has created an âadvisoryâ period in which students are placed in small groups to discussÂ bullying.
Binghamton School District:Â The Binghamton School District uses the Restorative Practices program, whichÂ provides both strategies and intervention to enable students to self-correct, problem solve, make amends, repair harm, learn new behaviors, and restore good standing.
According to the district’s Code of Conduct, “When students are supported, they participate in an accountable, restorative intervention that addresses specific issues and behaviors.”
Restorative Circles are facilitated in three stages designed to identity the key factors in the conflict, reach agreements on next steps, and evaluate the results, per the district’s policy.Â As circles form, they invite shared power, mutual understanding, self-responsibility, and effective action.Â
The program is used year-round throughout the district.Â
Gail Parsons, founder of Lifecycle Focus, shared what she knows on the topic.Â
“Every situation is so specific and so different, so it is important to empower parents and encourage them to listen to their children,” said Parsons.Â
Parsons said there is a difference between teasing among friends and bullying. “Bullying is more about an imbalance of power, and there is an intent to harm. There is often the threat that it’s going to continue.”
“Bullying is not a rite of passage,” Parsons said. “It can have lasting, dangerous effects.”Â
She suggests that when parents know about bullying instances, they should intervene. “If school officials don’t know, they can’t stop it,” Parsons added.
“It’s not just ‘girls will be girls’ and ‘boys will be boys,'” Parsons explained. “The message parents need to send is that we need to listen to our children, and the ways to do so vary by age group.”
Parsons explained that on the middle and high school levels, bullying discussions are not effective by simply sitting down with the child and asking if bullying is taking place.Â
“The conversation has to be secondary at that age,” Parsons said. “Maybe it can be brought up while driving or folding laundry is the primary activity, and the discussion would then ensue.”
At the elementary level, Parsons said the conversation has to be primary. There has to be eye contact and active listening and response to the child’s concerns.Â
“What’s difficult,” said Parsons, “is that bullying rarely happens in front of a school staff member or an adult. The schools will then often say they had know idea, which may be the case.”
Norwich Police Chief Rodney Marsh said that while it’s not common for the department to receive bullying complaints, it does happen.Â
“There have been times when a parent either came to the PD after having spoken to school officials or stopped here before going to see school officials,” Marsh said.Â
“These types of complaints are sometimes also difficult to associate as having anything to do with the schools. Sometimes the bullying occurs between a victim and suspect over social media. They occur after school hours or on the weekends, so they may not actually have anything to do with the school themselves.”
In the past year, Marsh said there were eight complaints to the Norwich Police Department, all from the middle and high school.Â
Bullying does not stop at the school doors. Many students have their own cell phones and social media accounts, so bullying is not only on the playground or in the hallways and classrooms.Â
According to the StopBullying site,Â cyberbullying can harm the online reputations of everyone involved â not just the person being bullied, but those doing the bullying or participating.
Parsons suggests that parents not allow their children to take their cellphones into their bedrooms with them.
Sexting is further included under Cyberbullying and DASA.Â
TheÂ Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conducted a study on locations of where bullying took place. The results showed that 66 percent of students had been called names or bullied while on the playground, and 79 percent of students reported they had seen other students being bullied on the playground.Â
Other areas with higher percentages were in the cafeteria, hallways, school bus, classroom and bathroom. In each location, more students reported that they witnessed bullying than students to admitted to having been bullied.Â
The organization conducted a study among members of the LGBTQA community.Â
Key findings included:Â
Another study by GLSEN found that in elementary schools across the nation, the most common form of biased language was the misuse of the word “gay” by both students (45 percent) and teachers (49 percent).Â
Comments regarding race or ethnicity were found to have been used by students (26 percent) and teachers (21 percent).Â
Three quarters of students reported that students at their school are called names, made fun of or bullied with some regularity.Â
The Interactive Autism Network conducted a national study about children on the autism spectrum being bullied in schools.Â
The results of the study in 2012 suggested that “children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are bullied at a very high rate, and are also often intentionally triggered into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by ill-intentioned peers.”
According to theÂ New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated ParentsÂ (NYCIP), in NY, it is estimated that more than 105,000 minor children have a parent serving time in prison or jail at any one time. More than 72 percent of incarcerated women in NY report being parents.Â
The DASA guidelines for administrators suggests that children with incarcerated parents face additional stigmas that may make them more susceptible to being bullied at school. It’s suggested these students may miss school more often than other students, and they may experience feelings of humiliation, making them easy targets for bullies.Â
The federal government provides various warning signs for parents whose child may be a victim of bullying.
âș GET CLOSER: GreatSchools.org created the video below to teachÂ parents what to look for so that they can step in, talk to teachers, and teach their child how to respond to bullies.
If your child is bullying others, the federal government provides the following warning signs.
âș GET CLOSER:Â Below, Dr. Natalie Abramson, a child psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, provides parents with what signs to look for and how to address possible bullying with their kids.
Windsor Superintendent Andrews said it’s not only the bullied who are impacted. “Students who bully as well as students who observe bullying are impacted in negative ways,” he said.Â
According to the stopbullying website, “Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues.”Â
Information on bullying from the Owego-Apalachin School DistrictÂ statesÂ as many as 160,000 students stay home on any given day nationwide because theyâre afraid of being bullied.
The StopBullying website lists various impacts of bullying:
Consider Dustin Warburton, who recalled his history of being bullied at the beginning of this article.
Decades after his experiences with being bullied, he’s been featured on The Tonight Show, Oprah, and has written and made Hollywood films.Â
“I tackle difficult topics in literature, taboo topics if you will, and bullying is something I dealt with as a child, and also as an adult when I evolved from a horror writer to childrenâs author,” Warburton said in an interview. For him, it didn’t end when high school ended.
ButÂ Warburton said he persevered.Â
“I knew someday I would address this head on, and it finally came when I became friends with Hall of Fame BoxerÂ Kostya Tszyu of Australia. Kostya told me his youngest child was being bullied in school because of his status as a world champion fighter, and I knew right then it was the moment to finally address this issue. In a way, it gave me closure in my own life in regard to the way I had been treated, but my main motivation was to try to help people learn how to not only confront it, but to abolish it from their lives.”
“My advice is to talk to your parents, and tell them whatâs going on,” Warburton said.Â “If you donât have parents, find someone that cares for you, and talk to them, donât hide it.Â My biggest regret is I didnât tell my parents until they realized something was going on with me, in regard to my sick stomach every morning.”
He said when he finally did tell his father, after more than a year of abuse, his father had him point out the individual that was abusing him, and he drove to that person’s house and spoke with their family.
“To this day I donât know what was said, but that individual ended up leaving me alone,” Warburton said. “The school did nothing, the bus driver did nothing, but my dad put an end to the abuse I suffered on the bus at least.”
Warburton said that the bullying he experienced both as a student and an adult will forever be with him.Â
“The state regulations on bullying are good, but it does nothing if the people present donât do anything about it,” said Warburton. “People need to be aware and look out for one another, and this is how we create a culture change where bullying is not accepted.”
Has your child been bullied or witnessed bullying?
A good place to start would be on the site to report school incidents, found on most school district websites. If immediate attention is needed, visit the school and meet with administrators.