Bullies can target any student. Even a mayor’s daughter.
Racine Mayor John Dickert said that like many other youth, his daughter has been a victim of cyber-bullying.
“She was really hurt,” Dickert said. “I reminded her that bullying on the Internet was no different than bullying in person.”
Now, Dickert is one of more than 170 mayors across the country who signed on to the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying, a national initiative to raise awareness, foster safer school climates and work with experts to combat bullying in their school districts.
The project involves partnering with educational experts from the Bully Project, an advocacy and educational organization inspired by the award-winning documentary “Bully.”
Bullying has always been around, but many say it’s now epidemic, especially with the proliferation of new technology that makes bullying online easier, faster and sometimes more vicious than what children would do or say to each other in person.
A report released last year by the National Center for Education Statistics found that nearly 28% of students in U.S. schools were bullied, and that 9% were victims of cyber-bullying.
Bullying can take the form of physical harm, but also psychological harm such as being made the subject of rumors, being called names, being excluded from games on purpose, or being the subject of hurtful information posted on the Internet, according to the NCES.
Bullying can lead to physical injuries, social and emotional problems, or even death, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
“Children do not have good mental health when they’re under physical duress or being tormented by other youth,” said Martina Gollin-Graves, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Wisconsin.
Gollin-Graves said adults can’t minimize bullying by telling kids not to let it bother them or else the next generation of kids will think bullying is normal.
“Bullying is one of the things that many people in our society turn a blind eye to,” Dickert said.
It’s one of the reasons he joined mayors Paul Soglin of Madison, Jim Schmitt of Green Bay and Steven Ponto of Brookfield to sign up for the national campaign.
Lee Hirsch, who created the Bully film as well as the Bully Project, said lawmakers stalled on legislation, including the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which could help end the bullying epidemic. The act would have resulted in making some federal funds received by school districts contingent on them adopting codes of conduct that would ban bullying and harassment.
Dickert said his district has a peer-mediation program that aims to diminish bullying, but there’s more work to be done in terms of educating the public.