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Defining, preventing bullying in Utah schools

By Nicole Vowell | Posted - Oct. 8, 2015 at 11:05 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — The National Association of School Psychologists reports more than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day in the U.S. because of bullying. Seventeen percent of American students report being bullied 2-3 times a month or more within a school semester.

One in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4 percent of the time. By age 14, less than 30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls will talk to their peers about bullying.

In Utah, it is estimated that 1 and 3 students are bullied each day, starting at elementary school age.

Defining bullying

How do we define bullying? And what crosses the line between bullying and teasing?

"If it causes you emotional unrest that becomes bullying," said David Parker, Ed.D, director of the Center for Creating Community, who has spent nearly 30 years studying bullying behavior among different peer groups.

"When that intent becomes to hurt then it's a threat to my safety, my emotional safety, and my physical safety," he said.

Parker has a clear definition of bullying compared to teasing. Other experts like Dr. Douglas Goldsmith say the line between bullying and teasing is thin.

"I think they're both dangerous," Goldsmith said.

Parker and Goldsmith say teasing can turn into bullying.

"Both of them (can be) hurtful," Goldsmith said.

Although answers varied among the two experts, perhaps the real expert, bullying victim Zoey Evans, a middle-school student in Lehi.

"Maybe if they're teasing like saying, 'You're a nerd' or something, whereas if they're bullying they could be saying, 'You're such a nerd nobody what's to be your friend,'" she said.


We need to speak up when we feel things are happening, or we know things are happening,

–David Parker, Ed.D, director of the Center for Creating Community


The main difference between teasing and bullying according to Parker, Goldsmith and Evans is consistency and intent. Parker said the most important thing is to be aware of your feelings, identify them, stand up if you see someone needs help or they're being bullied, and speak up if you feel like it's happening to you.

"We need to speak up when we feel things are happening, or we know things are happening," Parker said.

Prevention in Utah schools

Throughout the state, Utah school districts have adopted a program called "Prevention Dimensions." It's something some school districts implemented 30 years ago to help in the prevention regarding drugs, alcohol and abuse. However, the anti-bullying element to the program was only added to schools last year, but it's already making an impact.

"It's important that our school districts develop strong policy," said Verne Larsen, a specialist in the Utah State Office of Education Prevention and Intervention. "Our school districts work with the Anti-Bullying Coalition and other agencies to develop personalized anti-bullying programs for teachers and students. Our administrators, our teachers, they take this very seriously."

Prevent Bullying
  • Step in if you see someone who needs help
  • If you see something, say something

With annual training programs for educators, they not only prepare lesson plans for English, math and science, but they also learn to implement social and anti-bullying lessons in the classroom on a daily basis, starting from the elementary level.

"Bully Blockers is in the Granite District," Larsen says, adding each district creates programs for students and teachers that best fit their schools. "Prevention is very comprehensive. There's not one thing that's going to solve the issue, but it's when a group of community members, which include schools, the different agencies, government entities and parents, get together and make it work for their community."

These programs, Zoey said, are working.

"Everyone that's in this club, they go on this camp to learn about how they can resolve the problems of bullying," she says, adding speaking up really helped her, and knows it can help others, "It can be scary, but even if it is scary, just talk to someone whether it be your parents or your friend or just an adult that you look up to. Anyone can help out."

Take the pledge

You can take the pledge against bullying by visiting utahantibullying.org

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Nicole Vowell

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