According to the most recent survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on school violence, 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied on school property, and 16 percent reported being cyber-bullied.
In Alachua County, there is a community-wide effort to end the cycle of violence.
Stopping a bully starts at home. Experts like Kathryn Kvols and Dot Maver said it’s no longer enough to say “kids will be kids” when they’re fighting.
Kvols, the founder of the International Network for Children and Families, is also the author of several parenting and family books, like “Redirecting Children’s Behavior.” Kvols offers parenting workshops around the country, where she stresses the importance of early childhood education as a mechanism for “bully-proofing” kids.
“We start out at home with the kids when they start fighting with each other,” Kvols said. “We teach them how to do conflict resolutions there.”
Kvols said parents have to be advocates for their children, especially if they suspect their child is being bullied. Part of this is knowing what signs to look for — a torn backpack, missing lunch money, or a sudden change in behavior could be a sign something is wrong at school.
“My son came home one day and he was about 12 or 13 years old, and he came into the house and said something very rude and disrespectful to me,” Kvols said.
She found that her son had been bullied at school that day.
“We need to be really cognizant of those signs that our kids give us that say, ‘Help! I’m in trouble here,’” she said.
Kvols said another good way to “bully-proof” children is by letting them advocate for themselves. Acts of self-sufficiency like ordering meals at a restaurant build self-confidence and help children stand up to bullying when they see it.
Kvols is working with the River Phoenix Center for Peace Building, along with other organizations and agencies in Alachua County, to celebrate Community Peacebuilding Month in Gainesville.
The River Phoenix Center advocates a proactive approach to peace building by resolving conflicts before they end in violence.
Heart Phoenix, with the help of her family and others, founded the River Phoenix Center in Gainesville in 2011. It is named in tribute to her son, the late actor and activist River Phoenix.
Maver, executive director and co-founder for the River Phoenix Center, worked with Heart Phoenix, and Phoenix’s husband Jeffrey Weisberg for the Peace Alliance at a national level in the early 2000s.
Conflict can lead to growth if disagreements are handled without violence, Maver said. The key is healthy communication. Conflict resolution is a life skill — one that can impact a child’s life forever.
Bullying isn’t just a big kid at school sticking a little guy’s head in the toilet. It comes in many forms — and it isn’t exclusive to children and teens. Bullying exists on college campuses and in the workplace, too.
Maver said at a university level, for example, bullying is most common in relationships. Unmet and unexpressed wants may lead to aggression and violence.
Maver described one of the most common stories heard on college campuses everywhere: “A young man and young woman are dating one another. The woman decided to break up, and the young man got quite drunk and wanted to discuss this and ended up being a bit forceful.”
“When someone who is bullying or being forceful realizes that their actions (and) their words have hurt someone else, their hand goes to their heart, symbolically speaking,” Maver said. “And they’re appalled and they want to make it right — most of us do.”
She said sometimes a bully is someone in a position of power, such as teachers, employers and even parents. Sometimes bullies attack in person; sometimes they hide behind computer screens. Kvols and Maver agree, no matter how or when bullying occurs, it is most effective to stand up to it in a group of three or more.
The River Phoenix Center is teaming up with other local organizations in recognition of the second annual Peacebuilding Month.
October is also National Bullying Prevention Month, a campaign started by PACER’s National Center for Bullying Prevention in 2006. Gainesville’s Peacebuilding Month recognizes national month-long initiatives for domestic violence awareness and conflict resolution.
More information about Peacebuilding Month events can be found at www.centerforpeacebuilding.org.