Steve Rose

Cyber-punches from bullies bruise the hardest

Punching me in the arm in my first year of high school for no good reason other than sadistic pleasure was part of the routine for the powerfully strong bully who dominated the halls of Shawnee Mission East High School.

My upper arm turned black-and-blue from the bruising. And I lived in mortal fear of running across him in the halls between classes.

It was a bad year for bruising. The two older guys on the school bus liked to harass some of us younger kids, too. One time, one of the bullies slammed his fist on my fingernail, which caused it to turn black and eventually fall off.

No, I didn’t report these incidences. I thought it would only make matters worse.

As it turns out, in light of what has happened to the world of bullying, what I experienced was mere child’s play. I was not destroyed by the bullying or tempted to commit suicide. It was a scary time but it was not devastating.

Physical bullying, particularly on school buses and during recess, is still very much alive and well. But cyber-bullying has expanded the pain “by light years.” That is according to SuEllen Fried of Prairie Village, who is founder of BullySafeUSA.

“Today’s bullies are much more mean-spirited,” said Fried, who has authored four books on bullying, including her latest, “Banishing Bullying Behavior, Transforming the Culture of Peer Abuse.”

Bullies today can destroy a person’s reputation and self-worth, which can be far more destructive than physical abuse.

“Cyber” weapons such as computers, cellphones, emails and text messages make it easier for the bullies to attack their victims.

“Cyber-bullying is destroying lives,” Fried said, “and the bullying can be done anonymously.” Bullying today, particularly cyber-bullying, is of epidemic proportions, she said.

One national study found that 42 percent of kids have been bullied online.

Just as with me, many of the instances go unreported because kids are afraid they will make matters worse by tattling. In addition, if the messages are anonymous, it is difficult to know who the bully is.

Fried says girls can be particularly vicious cyber-bullies. They tend to be more verbal, emotional and will bully behind one’s back. Boys tend to be more physical and sexual bullies.

Cyber-bullies can disseminate untrue statements about a victim by social media, and it is difficult to stop them. But real attempts are being made both in schools and out of schools to prevent bullying.

Schools across the country, including in Missouri and Kansas, have implemented anti-bullying policies, which Fried said help prevent bullying. Schools issue anti-bullying policy statements, provide staff training, and then implement the policies.

Fried travels across the country to take her anti-bullying programs into classrooms. Locally, Fried has been involved in intense training in the Blue Valley, Olathe, and De Soto school districts.

A counselor at Blue Valley told me that in addition to anti-bullying programs, anti-bullying messages are now woven throughout the curriculum. Although it is difficult to quantify, the counselor thinks the attention to anti-bullying has reduced the incidents at school.

But bullying often occurs outside of school, and the dilemma has been how to deal with that reality. That’s why Kansas City just passed an anti-bullying ordinance, which is among the first of its kind in the country.

The ordinance holds parents accountable for their children who are bullying. The ordinance calls for a fine of up to $1,000 or, as an alternative, bullies may be required to attend anti-bullying programs.

We know from experience that holding parents’ feet to the fire over teen curfews has helped. Holding parents accountable for teen bullying may be just as effective, hopefully even more so.

It is too early to know the effect of this ordinance. But the two-pronged attack on bullies — at school and in the home — is a combination that may save some of the devastating pain wrought by bullies, particularly cyber-bullies.