Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place. – Amber Todd

 

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It’s been a long time since I wrote about bullying. That doesn’t mean that I have stopped thinking about it or working with victims and bullies in my office. In fact, when I wrote my children’s book My Friend, the Bully over five years ago, I feared that bullying was a growing problem in our schools. That fear has proven to be true over the past five years the statistics on bullying have grown increasingly alarming.

In an annual survey conducted by anti-bullying group “Ditch the Label” in 2015, incorporating more than 70 schools and almost 5,000 students, the following findings were reported:

50% of young people have bullied another person.

69% of young people have witnessed somebody else being bullied.

43% of young people have been bullied.

Appearance is cited as the number one reason for bullying, with 51% saying they were bullied because of how they look.

26% said their weight was targeted, 21% body shape, 18% clothing, 14% facial features, 9% glasses and 8% hair color.

23% females with red hair cited their hair color as the bullying aggressor.

74% of those who have been bullied, have, at some point been physically attacked.

As a result of bullying, 29% self harmed, 27% skipped class, 14% developed an eating disorder and 12% ran away from home.

45% did not report bullying. 32% of which felt it would not be taken seriously, 32% were too embarrassed and 26% were scared of it getting worse.

 

That’s a whole lot of numbers, but what does it all mean? That almost half of all children have been bullied, and more than half have seen someone being bullied. This is worrying information as evidence proves that bullying negatively affects the victim, bully and bystanders. In fact, if we study the data, we can see that while the immediate pain lies with the victim, they are often treated and rehabilitated.

On the other hand, the long-term damage most often lies with the bullies and the bystanders. In fact, those who act as bullies seem to maintain these characteristics into adulthood (if not properly intervened), negatively influencing their ability to develop mature adult relationships.

What can we, as a community, do to fight and prevent bullying? There are several important steps we can take, and thankfully, many yeshivos are beginning to implement these essential changes.

            Zero tolerance. The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence recommends a school-wide approach to eliminating bullies. This includes a zero tolerance for rule breaking. Therefore we need to form clear rules and norms. When students understand that rule breaking will result in punishment, they will hesitate before bullying. In time, those rules will become an ingrained part of the school culture.

            Supervision during recess and lunchtime. We all know that recess is supposed to be a break for children. And it’s also often a break for teachers, as it should be. However, in order to let children feel safe, we need to create safe environments. The only way to let students know that we do not tolerate bullying is by supervising free time in a genuine and organized manner. This means that our schools need to include recess supervision in teachers’ schedules, and teachers need to be present and aware throughout. Of course, not all bullying occurs during recess, but research shows that it occurs most when children are unsupervised.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.