Indiana schools work to prevent teen bullying

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With students back in class, efforts are ramping up to stop incidents of bullying.

Indiana recently was aranked by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the third-worst state for bullying behaviors, with an estimated one in four Indiana children saying he or she has been the targets of a bully. Indiana schools are required to have bullying-prevention policies and programs under a state law passed last year.

Tonja Eagan, chief executive of the Social Health Association of Indiana, said the problems begin as early as age 3, peak in middle school – and have long-lasting impacts.

“One in 20 are dropping out of school permanently as a result of bullying,” she said. “So, it’s a health issue, it’s definitely a social issue, and it affects our economy and education as well.”

The Social Health Association of Indiana is launching a new bullying-prevention program in central Indiana, in kindergarten through eighth grade. Eagan said it will reach more than 30,000 students and include resources for teachers to help them work lessons of kindness, compassion, self-advocacy and helping others into their lesson plans.

To be effective, Eagan said, anti-bullying education needs to be peer-driven and peer-led, with professional health educators facilitating the conversations. She said students should understand the definition of the word “bullying,” because the term often is overused.

“People don’t always know what exactly what it means,” she said. “It has to be something that’s intentional and hurtful, occurs ongoing, and there’s a power imbalance.”

Bullying can prompt depression, anxiety and decreased academic performance in its victims. So, Eagan said, early intervention is critical – not only for victims, but for bullies who may be facing their own troubles at home.

“So, maybe they’re oppressed in one environment and they’re aggressive in another,” she said, “so those issues need to get addressed earlier on to avoid long-term consequences.”

According to the National Safety Center, 60 percent of students identified as bullies have criminal records by age 24.