October is National Bullying Prevention Month

New Jersey communities are reducing bullying through a shift in school culture that empowers children and addresses the underlying issues that lead to the behavior.

“No matter where you look, you’ll find incidents of bullying, but it’s less likely to be tolerated when you have a culture where that behavior is not accepted,’’ said Mary Vineis, NewBridge Services’ director of Community Response and Education. “Kids have become more willing to take a stand, and to bring it to adults’ attention.”

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NewBridge, a nonprofit provider of counseling, housing and educational programs, works in eight school districts and a Morristown charter school to teach students skills to be resilient and to promote a culture of acceptance. 

The United Way of Northern New Jersey and the College of Saint Elizabeth in 2014 selected NewBridge to provide mental health services to students and staff in communities hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. A three-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation allowed the United Way and the College of Saint Elizabeth to expand the School Culture and Climate Initiative.

“Often, what appears to be bullying is actually kids trying to solve conflicts without having the skills to do it,’’ Vineis said.  “Adults need to teach kids tools to effectively resolve conflict.”

Bullying can scar deeply, affecting children into adulthood, Vineis said. Studies also show that children who bully are more likely to have problems holding down a job, struggle in relationships, become dependent on alcohol or drugs, and get in trouble with the law, Vineis said.

One of the most important approaches for schools is to implement rules that delineate acts of bullying and the consequences of those acts. In some high schools, students don’t engage in bullying for fear of being “HIBed,’’ a slang term for being cited under the state’s Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying law, Vineis said.

StopBullying.gov offers these warning signs that a child is being bullied, or doing the bullying:

Signs of a child being bullied:

    •    Unexplainable injuries

    •    Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry

    •    Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness

    •    Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.

    •    Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares

    •    Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school

    •    Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations

    •    Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem

    •    Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

Signs that a child is bullying others:   

    •    Gets into physical or verbal fights

    •    Has friends who bully others

    •    Is increasingly aggressive

    •    Gets sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently

    •    Has unexplained extra money or new belongings

    •    Blames others for their problems

    •    Doesn’t accept responsibility for their actions

    •    Is competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity

During National Bullying Prevention Month, NewBridge urges everyone to take a stand against bullying.