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HARRIET HAMILTONsummit daily news

FRISCO – We all heard it in grade school. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Summit School District climate coordinator Julie McCluskie disagrees.”Name calling and verbal harassment are the most subtle forms of bullying,” she said. “It’s not often obvious and it’s harder than physical violence to address at the time it happens.” According to McCluskie, proactive education is the best way to prevent hurtful name calling.The issue is a relevant one for area schools. Summit County students identified “put-downs” as one of their top five areas of concern in last year’s Climate Survey, McCluskie said. With the goal of eliminating bullying in Summit County schools, the school district will participate for the first time in No Name Calling Week, Jan. 23 though Jan. 27.Cyber name callingComputers have added a new dimension to school bullying in the 21st century. Summit High School 10th grade counselor Holly Baldwin first noticed the phenomenon of harassing e-mails five or six years ago.”Nowadays kids are sending cruel and vicious messages to each other,” she said. “It’s incredibly harmful the damage this does to both high school and middle school students.” Sometimes whole websites are created to attack individuals.Baldwin sees the direct effects of these written assaults. She said students who receive them won’t want to go to lunch, or to class, or to wherever they may see their abuser. Many times she has watched tearful adolescents in her office read the insulting printed message again and again.Summit High School classifies cyber bullying as “harassment,” and has formal guidelines listing the consequences for such behavior. Baldwin’s office takes a very serious and proactive approach to dealing with the problem.”We keep encouraging the kids to come forward and talk to adults,” she said. “When it’s not out in the open it’s much more damaging.”Elementary students weigh in on the issueUpper Blue Elementary School second grade teacher Courtney Laszlo meets with her class once a week to discuss interpersonal issues. The second-graders talk about what they’re happy about, what’s bothering them and what options they have in unpleasant interactions. There isn’t much name calling in her class, she said, but once in awhile it comes up.Several of her students expressed their dislike of being called names.”It makes you feel really, really, really, really bad,” said 7-year-old Will Essary. “You just don’t want to play with them.” Eight-year-old Alex Mason agreed.”I think it’s bad. It makes you just want to punch the person who said it,” he said.Upper Blue principal Kerry Buhler said students in her school will be focusing on no name calling in classes all week. On Friday, Jan. 27, primary grade students and teachers will wear “shields” listing names they like to be called, such as “good runner,” or “big brother.” Upper grade children will take a pledge of “No Name Calling.”Buhler agrees that education is the best strategy for preventing verbal bullying.”Kids need to understand the impact of teasing,” she said. “They don’t know how much it can hurt.” Buhler is planning activities to illustrate the effects of phrases like “I was just kidding” and “Can’t you take a joke?”A culture of name callingAnyone who has ever watched an episode of “Will and Grace” knows how funny insults can be. Witty comebacks can be the height of sophistication or “coolness.” Teenagers and preteens are not immune to the influence of characters like Jack and Karen and their verbally abusive friendship. The ability to be quick with a putdown can be seen as a necessary social skill. An internet search for “putdowns” yields multiple sites of available insults and snappy comebacks. Although it may be common, or “cool,” to insult one’s friends or enemies, most Americans still say they don’t like it. In 2002, a nationwide study prepared by Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization dedicated to unbiased public opinion research, found 79 percent of Americans think lack of respect and courtesy should be regarded as a serious national problem. McCluskie is aware of this cultural climate, but has seen a change among teachers and administrators in the last decade in their understanding of bullying.”I think events like Columbine have brought a new focus on bullying,” she said. “It can be very dangerous to children.” McCluskie is hopeful this new awareness will improve conditions for today’s schoolchildren.Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13624, or at hhamilton@summitdaily.com.

– Listen and validate your children’s feelings when they say someone is calling them names.- Try not to evaluate how well your children handled teasing; instead, praise them for trying to handle this difficult situation.- Help them develop strategies to cope with stress.- Help your children develop a repertoire of confident comebacks, using previous name calling situations as examples for practice.- Help your children practice hiding their emotions when they are called names or teased. Role playing can provide safe practice opportunities.- Have your children practice looking right at the teaser and maintaining eye contact. This shows confidence and strength.- Teaching your children to remain calm and in control during stressful situations is an effective skill they can use throughout life.Source: National Association of School Psychologists


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