Bullying behavior and relational aggression

By JANEY PATTY / Guest Columnist

There is no doubt that bullying is a hot topic in education today. There are so many tragic stories of children being cruelly mistreated by their peers with devastating consequences, and schools rightly are addressing this problem.

I have conducted research over the last four years in which I examined the office referral rate for bullying type behaviors from year to year. The office referral rate as compared to the overall enrollment was 8.9% in the 2006-2007 school year and by 2009-2010 it had dropped to 3.18%. This indicates that bullying behaviors have decreased at our school. I would be naïve, however, if I were to say that we do not have bullying at our school. Any bullying behavior is unacceptable. And we do still see bullying behavior at VIS.

However, we do address bullying behavior, and I believe that we have had a positive impact on this type of aggression. The faculty and staff at VIS work as a cohesive unit to address bullying behaviors. Teachers work with their classes to build a family atmosphere within the classroom. When bullying behavior or relational aggression is reported, the teacher meets with the students involved and emphasizes how important it is to have empathy for others.

If problems continue, students are referred to me for more in-depth discussion about how to treat others with empathy and respect. The topic of true remorse is also addressed, often followed by an apology from the aggressor. If the problem persists, then an administrator meets with the offender, consequences are enforced and parents are contacted.

I believe another critical component of our efforts at Valley Intermediate is our focus on being a defender. A defender is the type of bystander who comforts the victim, and if it is safe, tells the aggressor to stop the behavior. The other types of bystanders are the sidekick who joins in, the reinforcer who laughs and encourages the behavior and the outsider who stays out of it completely.

When I meet with classes to discuss bullying, I stress with students that they are the ones with the power to stop bullying at our school. The adults are here to supervise, of course, but ultimately if the majority of students act as defenders, then there would be no bullying!

Janey Patty is a counselor at Valley Intermediate.