New hotline targets bullying, regardless of its form

New hotline targets bullying, regardless of its form

Fairmont students help illustrate the ways teenagers are bullied.

By Rachel Sheidler, Staff Writer

Waking up and dreading to go to school for fear that you’ll be called a mean name is something no student wants to go through. Neither is checking your phone expecting to see a message from your best friend only to find a message from an anonymous source telling you how stupid or lame you are.

But according to stompoutbullying.org, one out of four teenagers has experienced bullying in one way or another, leaving them with feelings of frustration, hopelessness and depression. But what exactly is considered bullying? Fairmont psychiatrist Karen Johnson says that “anything that makes a point of putting somebody down” is considered bullying.

Johnson also emphasizes that people need to keep in mind that students aren’t bullies naturally; it’s learned behavior. “Very often students who are engaged in a lot of bullying come from homes where there is bullying or where behavior isn’t monitored,” she said.

People often have a wrong idea about bullying, thinking it’s a normal process that every teenager goes through when, according to Johnson, it shouldn’t be tolerated. “There are still some people who believe bullying is just one of those things that you have to accept,” Johnson said. “They believe it’ll toughen you up.”

Bullying is first established in elementary school, then becomes more common in middle school, and usually drops in high school. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem in high schools. Johnson says she talks to students around three times a month about bullying incidents that have happened in the school.

According to Kettering City School District Administrative Policy #5517.01, bullying is defined as “any intentional written, verbal, graphic, or physical act that a student or group of students exhibited toward another particular student more than once and the behavior both: (A) causes mental or physical harm to the other student; and (B) is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intmidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the other student.”

In January, the state of Ohio passed the Jessica Logan Act, which states that all schools must implement a system through which students can receive advice on how to deal with bullies.  The law requires all Ohio schools have a policy that includes “a statement providing for possible suspension of students who engage in cyber-bullying, means for making anonymous reports of incidents, disciplinary procedures for students who make false reports, and strategies for protecting other persons from harassment or retaliation after a report has been made.”

The law was named after Jessica Logan, an 18-year-old Cincinnati high school student who committed suicide in 2008 after being a victim of cyber-bullying.

Kettering City Schools set up a bullying hotline (937-643-4444, option #7) at the beginning of October for people to call anonymously if they feel the need to discuss bullying conflicts.  When a call is made, the unit principals get an email and a text message. Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf says he decided on a hotline because he wanted to give kids “an opportunity to do the right thing without feeling like they were putting themselves into the situation.”

The law said the policy didn’t have to be in effect in all Ohio schools until Nov. 4.  So why did Fairmont set up the hotline so early?  “We pride ourselves in being proactive, especially when it is going to help kids; there was no reason to wait until November if it is a good idea and something that would give kids another resource to keep this a good, safe place.”

VonHandorf said a call was received the day the hotline was set up. “It was a great opportunity for us to try it out,” he said. “A parent called the hotline and we contacted him within two minutes of making the call. He was stunned and amazed that we were that responsive.”

Although the hotline has been receiving calls recently, VonHandorf wishes more students would call. “I hope it gets used a lot more than it is now,” he said.

Bullying can be done in various ways and forms. The four main types of bullying are physical, verbal, indirect and cyber-bullying, according to stompoutbullying.org (an organizational program committed to ending bullying).  All are very different forms, but they all serve the same purpose of putting people down.

Physical bullying

Physical bullying involves punching, kicking, pinching, spitting, or anything done in direct contact to a person’s body. According to Johnson, physical bullying is the least common method at Fairmont because “physical bullying is much more obvious for people to pick up on. When it does happen, somebody is there to stop it.”

However, Stomp Out Bullying reports that an estimated 282,000 students in the United States are physically bullied in schools each month. One Fairmont senior can relate to those 282,000. (This senior and other bullying victims in this story are not being identified; information from these students was obtained by The Flyer anonymously through the assistance of a guidance counselor at Fairmont.)

“I wasn’t one of the cool kids in elementary school, so I was seen as an easy target,” he said. Throughout the bullying, he says he felt abandoned and that it was impossible to defend himself in any way.

“I was beat up on the bus and at school,” he said. “Not a day went by when I didn’t go home with a new bruise.”

But once he realized the bullies were looking for a reaction, he stopped giving them one. “People kept trying but eventually stopped when they realized they weren’t getting any reaction,” he said.

Verbal bullying

Johnson says verbal bullying is the most common form of bullying she sees at Fairmont. Verbal examples of bullying can be anything from name calling to racist jokes or offensive remarks.

One Fairmont sophomore was verbally abused by being called names because of her favorite hobby. “People made fun of my singing so I stopped singing for a year,” she said. “It’s something I’m good at and I missed it a lot. After that, I had major stage fright. I still do, not as bad as it used to be, but it’s still hard.”

The effects of bullying can be long-lasting and even detrimental to one’s mental health. “I went into a depressed mood and pushed friends away,” she said. When asked what the hardest part of the healing process was, she said it was “the patience I had to have.”

Indirect bullying

Indirect bullying can be much harder to defend due to the fact that the victim may not even know it is happening initially. “Indirect is done behind your back, and it can escalate so quickly,” said Johnson. Examples include excluding someone from a group or gossiping about another student. 

Cyber-bullying

Fifty-eight percent of teenagers admit that someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online, and all of the 58 percent have not told their parents or any adult about it, according to Stomp Out Bullying. Cyber-bullying is essentially anything carried out through an electronic device and may be the most dangerous because people can remain anonymous. “So many people have access to technology that is involved in cyber-bullying,” said Johnson. “It is hard for adults to monitor it.”

Johnson thinks the school is doing a lot to “reinforce that bullying is not acceptable behavior,” such as making students aware of the Forty Developmental Assets for Adolescents, a list of building blocks believed to help youth ages 12-18 to grow up healthy, caring and responsible.  The list was developed by Search Institute.

“It is very important to make people aware of the positive assets we need to encourage in students and in each other,” she said.

There is no sure way to stomp out bullying, but there are steps people can take to prevent it. “Students being bullied have to let somebody know what is going on,” said Johnson. “Students need to feel that their opinion is important and that when they come forward with this kind of validation, it will be taken seriously.”

Frequently, victims are reluctant to report bullies because they fear retaliation and embarrassment from peers. However, the same Fairmont senior who was physically bullied has taken a stand.  Asked what he would say to the bully if ever confronted again, he replied, “You’re not accomplishing anything and you do not understand the impact of what you are doing to another.  You have to understand the magnitude of how you are hurting someone.  Are the few minutes of entertainment that you’re getting really worth what the kid might do to himself that you are bullying?”