June 6 2012
For the audio version of this story, click the podcast player below.
It's hard to make it through middle school without occasionally getting teased. Seventh grade is an awkward time for any student. Things are changing, hormones are starting to percolate, and emotions are running high. That could be why some parents, educators, and students sometimes overlook the "bullying" topic in schools, some of them even saying it's a rite of passage.
But bullying is far different than playful teasing, and its impact on a child can be serious and lingering. Bridget Clementi, Director of Community Health at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, says the difference lies in motivation.
"An individual really has an intent to hurt another individual in some way, whether its physically, emotionally, or their reputation," she said. "It's repeated over time, so it's not a one-time instance. It's multiple times with a real desire to hurt to hurt that child."
Clementi admits bullying has always been an issue with young people. Kids didn't just start being jerks to each other this century. But she points to a new kind of bullying -- delivered right to a kid's inbox.
"The one that really is increasing significantly is obviously all the digital or cyber-bullying. Now, it can extend quite far into the evening or even overnight because of the digital opportunities that students have available to them," she said.
To combat the bullying issue, Children's Hospital has spent the last two years researching behavior. It will soon finalize an evidence-based, online educational program called "Act Now!" It's aimed at student bystanders, equipping them with skills to react to bullying.
"About one in ten engage in some kind of bullying behavior. One in ten students are victims. But there's eight of them in the middle, or 80 percent, of the kids that are watching all of this happen and they don't know what to do," Clementi said.
She compares the program to a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Students are presented with a variety of scenarios and response options. After students finish clicking their way through the program, Act Now! generates a report showing how likely they are to positively react in a bullying incident.
The program is available for free (for now), and it's designed for use within a school's curriculum. It's primary lesson is simple -- respect.
"Our job as human beings really is to accept other people. We don't always have to get along and hold hands and sing kumbaya. But we still have a responsibly to accept, understand, and respect individuals," Clementi said.
To check out the program, or to get the conversation started in your child's school, Children's Health Education Center's official website.
To hear the audio version of this story, click the player. The words of a seventh grader may surprise you.