By SEAN HARKINS
Rawlins Daily Times
RAWLINS, Wyo. – In the wake of more bullying-related suicides and the issue being addressed in schools throughout Wyoming, questions remain of what can be done.
In 2009, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill requiring each school in the state to adopt a bullying policy.
Psychologist and bullying expert Israel Kalman said such policies and anti-bullying programs have grown in popularity since the Columbine shooting in 1999. He said with each bullying incident that receives media coverage, the anti-bullying movement picks up steam, which he says is a bad thing.
“If you pay attention to negative behavior, you’re going to get more negative behavior,” Kalman said.
The most recent cases are of Jeffrey Fehr, a gay 18-year-old Granite Bay, Calif., teen who hanged himself after being bullied for his sexual orientation, and 15-year-old Amanda Cummings of Staten Island, N.Y., who stepped in front of a bus Dec. 27 and died from her injuries Jan. 2. She was being bullied by classmates because of her friendship with an older boy. The recent suicide of a teen in Cheyenne also may be linked to school bullying.
Saratoga High School has had some bullying issues but not an extensive amount, principal Larry Uhling said.
The high school deals with bullying on a case-by-case basis, Uhling tells the Rawlins Daily Times (http://bit.ly/yiP0dc).
A first offense could result in a phone call to a parent or as far as suspension or expulsion.
“All that would depend on the severity of the bullying incident,” Uhling said.
The bullying policies that have been enacted following incidents like the recent suicides tend to be punitive in nature and are more intensified with each new incident, said Kalman, a school psychologist and psychotherapist since 1978 who has worked with victims for more than two decades.
The issue, he said, is that schools now are acting to protect kids from bullying. He made an analogy to protecting kids from math problems by avoiding the problems instead of teaching them how to deal with the problems. Children should similarly be taught how to deal with a bully, he said.
“It’s inevitable in life bad things are going to happen to you and you have to learn how to deal with it, and we’re trying to prepare children for real life,” he said.
Dealing with it, he said, revolves around not getting upset. Bullies take enjoyment from the victim becoming upset.
And, while challenging, he said the victim must remember the “golden rule” and treat the bully as they would like to be treated – even as they’re being bullied.
Kalman has been criticized for the method because it puts the onus on the victim, which is contrary to most policies that want to blame the bully. He said it doesn’t matter as long as the problem is resolved.
“The idea of blaming is irrelevant,” he said.
Saratoga’s policy doesn’t necessarily dwell on blame. Students are taught to consider the way they interact with different classmates, Uhling said.
“Not all kids have the same perception they have,” he said. “You can say one thing to your buddy and it’s fine. You say the same thing to someone that’s not, and it’s not.”
There have been a couple of incidents regarding online bullying, Uhling said. If bullying is taking place outside of school, he said it is a legal issue or something parents must deal with, but if it interrupts instruction – such as a negative comment on a social media website – it may be dealt with at school.
“I think there’s more of a anonymity to it,” Uhling said regarding online bullying. “If you want to think you can overpower somebody with bullying techniques because you don’t always have to be face to face now. In the past you had to be face to face to do it.”