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Weber County schools get proactive in a new era of bullying

Tuesday , March 13, 2018 - 5:00 AM

SERGIO MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN and CATHY MCKITRICK
Standard-Examiner

Students in Weber County have reported more bullying incidents in the first part of 2018 than the entire year before, according to data from a statewide reporting app. 

According to numbers provided by the University of Utah, since Jan. 1, students from Weber County have reported four cyberbullying tips, 12 bullying tips and 24 suicide tips through the SafeUT app. These numbers are higher than last year, said Barry Rose, a crisis services manager at the University of Utah.

Students who download SafeUT can report any type of bullying by submitting tips, Rose said. They can also chat with a licensed crisis counselor about the issue.

“We are always assessing risk,” Rose said.

Students who report the incidents have the option to remain anonymous, decreasing the risk of being ostracized by their peers.

“If there is any type of dangerousness, we are certainly going to act very quickly,” Rose said, noting the tips are forwarded to school administrators so they can act on it.

Youth bullying has become so widespread in the U.S. that Centers for Disease and Control Prevention now considers it a public health problem.

The CDC defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”

Bullying can take many forms, such as tripping someone, calling them names, circulating rumors about them or not including them in social activities. And now with technology, the damage is quickly compounded through email, texts and social media.

School districts across the state have developed consequences for those students who bully others.

Chris Williams, Davis School District spokesman, said the district teaches students that social media posts can have consequences, as they can spread widely in seconds.

“The challenge with cyberbullying is that students have access to one another 24 hours,” Williams says, noting the difference between on-site bullying, where students leave the premises and the attacks could recess.

He said the school district gets involved in incidents of cyberbullying since, most of the time, the animosity among students stems from in-school dynamics.

Students who violate school district policy regarding a safe environment could receive their education in another setting, including the student’s home.

“We are trying to support the student who has been bullied by, of course, holding the bully accountable,” Williams said.

THE EFFECTS OF BULLYING

Youth generally fall into four groups: bullies, victims, victim-bullies and none of those three.

According to the CDC, victims are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep and problems in school. And bullies are more apt to abuse drugs and alcohol, perform poorly in school and lash out violently during adolescence and adulthood.

Individuals who’ve played both parts — the bully-victims — will likely reap the worst consequences in terms of mental health and behavioral problems.

Tamara Robinette, a licensed clinical social worker with Weber State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center, cited data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study that tracked 1,420 youths over a 10-year period ending in 2003.

“Here’s the bad news,” Robinette said. “Some children … are tired of being whomped on, and now they’re going to do the whomping.”

Robinette noted that victim-bullies were more than twice as likely (21.5 percent) to suffer depression as victims (10.2 percent).

Almost one in four victim-bullies considered suicide and close to one in three suffered from anxiety disorders, Robinette added. And youth who were mistreated both at home and at school were most likely to wrestle with mental illness.

Bullies tend to lack empathy and care even from childhood, Robinette said, and they single out the tender, gentle child to pick on. But being able to bully remotely via text or social media kicks that behavior to a whole new level of destructiveness.

“Cyberbullying makes it so you have access to someone any time of day. ... Now you can bully someone in a different state whom you’ve never met,” Robinette said. “That increases the ability to be cruel because the empathy level is even lower with someone you haven’t met.”

COPING WITH BULLYING 

Julie Higgs supervises school-based mental health counselors for Weber Human Services. She said victims are often easy to spot because they don’t want to go to class. They’ll show signs of depression or anxiety, and their grades will suffer.

“We work on coping skills and different ways to deal with bullying,” Higgs said, such as deep breathing, walking away or simply thinking of something pleasant. And realizing that bullies might also have their own struggles can help victims put a halt to their own negative self-talk, Higgs added.

In Utah, junior high and high schools are required to have counselors. Elementary schools are not mandated.

However, the state Legislature passed a bill that would authorize grants for school-based elementary counselors and social workers.

Michelle Glaittli, Utah School Counselors Association vice president for high schools, said this bill would benefit students at elementary schools, the place where kids learn how to bully.

“We really focus on all aspects of student development,” Glaittli said. “We do as much as we can with students so they are successful.”

She said school counselors work closely with administrators and students to implement strategies that teach students different skills, such as starting healthy relationships. She said these life skills could prevent bullying.

And part of the prevention aspect is teaching students that, as a bystander, they can help report incidents.

“It’s about safety,” Glaittli said. “If you see something, you can speak up — it’s OK to do that.”

Contact Education Reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at smartinezbeltran@standard.net or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

Contact Reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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