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Susan Swearer: Don’t let bullying become yesterday’s news

The documentary “Bully” opened nationwide recently after weeks of press coverage, ratings controversies, reviews and hype. As someone who has spent years researching the subject of school bullying, I was encouraged by the amount of coverage the film received and the dialogue it seemed to spark.

However, I fear that now that the opening-day crowds have gone home, the important conversations about bullying will cease. As adults, it is our responsibility to make sure this does not happen.

For the past 15 years, I have focused much of my academic and clinical work on the psychology of school bullying. Many of us can personally relate to incidents of bullying; after all, we didn’t all have a picture-perfect high school experience.

Yet with each new class, bullying continues. Experts agree that at least 25 percent of students across the nation are hit, shoved, kicked, gossiped about, intimidated or excluded from social groups, whether online or offline. And today’s children must contend with bullying in new venues. Damaging behavior that would have reached two or three kids in the past now has the potential to reach thousands.

The change has to start with adults. The young minds of our children, not yet fully developed, lack the decision-making ability to turn the tides of this kind of national epidemic on their own. They need leadership and they need guidance. They need us to be examples of how to treat one another and how to help. We must empower and support youths to create a kinder and braver world.

It isn’t that difficult. Often we and our children just need a little education.

Take the school-bus environment as an example. Most of us would agree that the school bus can be a nerve-racking place for a young person. Recent studies show that more than 50 percent of school-bus drivers believe bullying is a serious problem on their bus; two-thirds of these drivers say they have received complaints from students about bullying.

Is this just a problem with the kids? Some school service providers are saying “no,” and are proactively adopting the anti-bullying recommendations to protect students that are available at www.education.com.

For example, First Student, which provides transportation for the Wichita school district, launched a “See Something, Do Something” campaign for all of its drivers. This campaign includes training and empowers drivers and attendants to establish an environment of trust and respect on the bus, recognize signs of bullying, and take immediate action.

On the school bus – just like in the classroom, in the hallway and in our homes – the right behavior must start with adults.

I am often asked, “Can we end this epidemic?” My answer is that we can if we take both top-down and bottom-up approaches to bullying.

Don’t only leave this issue for the kids to work out. Let’s set the example as parents, teachers, neighbors and mentors, and make it a priority to return civility to our schools. If we do, our kids will model our behavior.

So whether or not you have seen the movie “Bully,” let’s not allow this opportunity to pass us by. We have a unique window here to make a difference in the lives of students. Don’t let the topic of bullying become yesterday’s news.

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