Friday, December 13, 2013
By MECHELE COOPER Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA - Throw out the word "bullying" and focus on teaching standards of respect in a proactive environment with the help of parents and the community.
That was the consensus of a panel discussion hosted Wednesday night by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta.
About a half-dozen people attended the second installment of the center's monthlong series on bullying.
Punishment and rewards may appear to provide a quick fix to bullying, but the research consistently concludes that punitive measures do not solve the problem, according to the panel, which included Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, Nicole Manganelli of The Unity Project, Stand Davis from Stop Bullying Now, Chuck Saufler of Safe Schools for All and Brandon Baldwin of the state attorney general's office.
Baldwin said "bully" is a word thrown around so much that it's lost its meaning.
"We need to let that word go," Baldwin said.
Davis said a study conducted by his group found quiet support of a fellow student, and the support and encouragement of an adult who listened helped to reduce the hurt of bullying.
"It was less traumatizing," Davis said. "They were able to withstand more mistreatment without as much harm."
Davis said teaching children to respect others is difficult with so many reality shows on television that dwell on mean behavior.
"Look at 'Jersey Shore,"' he said. "To eliminate that stuff is a pretty tall order."
Saufler said the focus shouldn't be on punishing bullies and expelling mean behavior, but on the community becoming more involved with parents volunteering in the middle and high school grades, not just elementary.
"I know everyone's busy and there's a lot of stress, but the reality is that we're neglecting our kids," Saufler said.
"Bullying is not a school problem. It's a community problem ... (Students) come through the door each day and we're supposed to make them happy. The community needs to step up and do its part and work with the school and kids."
He said parents need to take the time to teach their children good behavior, empathy and morality.
"Those things just don't happen," he said.
Alfond said the state should have a universal model of what is considered unacceptable behavior that all schools can follow.
"You have towns doing it on their own, and there's no consistency," Alfond said. "You don't know if it's harmful or not. It's difficult for parents and teachers to know."
The next program in the bullying awareness series is "Mad versus Mean," a workshop offered at 3 p.m. by Hardy Girls Healthy Women for third- through fifth-grade girls. Enrollment is limited to 30 girls.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, middle school students from Maine's Civil Rights Teams will participate in a panel discussion on "The Cyber Face of Bullying: From Kicking Sand to Clicking Send."
Then at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, an open workshop will be held for civic, religious and law enforcement workers to explore "the circle" process as a community-building alternative approach to bullying intervention. It will be presented by Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Mechele Cooper can be contacted at 621-5663 or by email at: