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updated: 2/14/2012 11:22 AM

Schools take steps to stop bullying

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Jen Janik's third-graders at Big Hollow Elementary School in Ingleside asked, "Why do other people need to bully kids that are smart?"

Bullying is a very big problem. Statistics show many student absences result from kids feeling bullied, and as many as 75 percent of students say they've been bullied.

However, people are taking action -- as many as 48 states have laws in place to stop bullying.

"Bullying has been around for years. I am sure all of us can think back to a time when we were younger and we witnessed a bullying situation as a victim, bystander or even being the bully," said Keeley Lawriw, a social worker at Libertyville's Rockland Elementary School.

Lawriw has written a packet for students and parents to better understand bullying, its consequences, and tips for prevention.

Writing unkind things about people, calling names, pushing, pinching, spreading rumors about people and forcing people to do things they don't want to do are ways that people bully, as outlined in Lawriw's bullying prevention packet.

"It's the effect the behavior has on another person," she writes.

It's not just boys who bully; girls can be bullies, too.

Teasing can be a form of bullying.

"Often, kids say they were just joking," said school social worker Elise Lagattuta, who works with students at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Schiller Park. "We tell them it's not a joke if it's bullying."

Why do kids bully? Sometimes kids who are insecure resort to bullying.

"We help kids learn how to use their language skills to ask for help and we work with them on problem solving techniques," Lagattuta said.

Another reason for bullying might be a lack of adult supervision at home.

"We've had students who team up and write notes at home to place in other kids' backpacks," Lagattuta said. "We tell them that it's not respectful and it hurts other people's feelings. They need to be responsible for their actions."

Overly forceful parents or aggressive behavior at home are contributing factors identified in Lawriw's packet.

What should you do if you are bullied or if you see someone being bullied? Get loud. Tell the bully you don't like what they're doing. Look them in the eye. They don't like it if you are confident and in charge. Talk to an adult.

"Parents and kids can sometimes feel like they are tattling," Lagattuta said. "But parents should call the school and kids should tell an adult. These are problems that kids need an adult to help resolve."

Kids with access to computers and cellphones can become bullies by posting or texting unkind or embarrassing comments and rumors. This is called cyberbullying.

"I believe in educating students in this area so that they can make positive choices when situations come up," Lawriw said.

Without limits or consequences, bullying behavior will continue as people mature and can result in violence and even criminal behavior.

Bullying can happen any place where people gather. Offering praise for good behavior and creating environments that are inclusive can help minimize negative exchanges.

Talk to members of the organizations you belong to -- Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, Rotary, Lions Club, community sports organizations -- about commitments they can make to prevent bullying.

There are many resources on the web that offer free bullying prevention teaching programs.

It's everyone's responsibility to make our communities safe and secure.

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