Last year, several high-profile bullying incidents led children to consider or commit suicide, including the Baltimore City girl who made the news after she tried to jump out of her elementary school window.
Since then, there has been a major push to expose this serious issue, highlighted by a “Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week” in Maryland last May and the designation of October as National Bullying Prevention Month. On our Facebook page, we have linked to a photo of Maryland’s First Lady (who also volunteers as a Truancy Court Program judge) speaking about bullying.
Recently, the Baltimore Sun featured an article on its front page showing the positive effects of this exposure, as well as the pervasiveness of bullying. Reports of bullying incidents more than doubled in Maryland. Officials attributed this increase to greater sensitivity to and reporting of incidents that were previously shrugged off as “kids being kids.” For example, reporting in Baltimore City increased from 231 reports of bullying two years ago to 541 last year, a 150% increase. State-wide, 3,800 reports of bullying were made last year, an increase of more than 2,000 reports from the previous year.
The Truancy Court Program (TCP) has tackled a number of bullying incidents, as well as the rise of cyber-bullying and the impact of Facebook. We have seen students refuse to attend school because of a compromising picture of them that was posted on Facebook, and we have seen the pain they feel when placed back with their peers.
We at CFCC hope that the spotlight will remain on this important issue and on approaches that identify and curb bullying. Some TCP schools have established “circles,” where a small group of students work with a guidance counselor or social worker to talk about their interpersonal dynamics when they appear unhealthy. Other programs, like the TCP, can help uncover and address bullying when a red flag is raised by attendance or academic problems.
It is important to advocate for and enforce strong anti-bullying policies within schools and disseminate best practices widely so that all teachers, administrators, peers, community members, and parents are equipped to effectively recognize and address bullying at an early stage.