Bullying discussed by officials, families

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., Nov. 21, 2012
Glastonbury Youth and Family Services Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator Emily Dickinson and GLAD President Sheryl Sprague take part in an open discussion about bullying on Nov 15. Photo by Steve Smith.
Glastonbury Youth and Family Services Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator Emily Dickinson and GLAD President Sheryl Sprague take part in an open discussion about bullying on Nov 15. Photo by Steve Smith.

The Glastonbury Alcohol and Drug Council (GLAD) held an informal round-table discussion about bullying on Nov. 15, at Glastonbury High School, to discuss several aspects of bullying and some of the ways people can help prevent it. Sheryl Sprague, GLAD president and prevention manager at the Rushford treatment center, chaired the discussion and said the focus on the programs she's working on are attempting to get students to be empowered and stand up to bullying.

“If it's mean, intervene,” Sprague said, adding that she hopes young people, as well as adults, will see mean-spirited behavior and say something. “We take the power away from that person, giving them no reason to bully,” she said. “The key is to empower students to stand together – not necessarily one-on-one, because that can be a very uncomfortable feeling – but if you're with a group of friends and you see someone that is being bullied... you can say, 'That's not a comfortable feeling. You've made that other person very uncomfortable.' If we can teach young people to stand up, that can go a long way in eradicating bullying.”

Lori LaCapra – an outreach social worker who works at Smith Middle School – said she thinks our culture does a poor job of supporting the role of such an “up-stander.” She said there are too many ways that people use mean-spirited behavior in a way that is sanctioned. “We have plenty of college basketball coaches, for instance,” she said, “treating their players, who are less-powerful than them, in what seems to me to be mean-spirited ways. Yet, we're really all about those coaches making a lot of money and getting their teams to have winning seasons.”

LaCapra said that she tends to observe that when there are more people around, fewer people seem to act. “To change that culture is really difficult,” she said. “To move our kids to being brave enough to stand up, to be that one person... to protect that vulnerable person, is a big challenge. I think there are tons of ways we can do it, but we have to do it together.”

Connecticut state law defines bullying as “repeated abuse by one or more students through written, oral or electronic communication, directed at or referring to another student within the same school district. Sprague said that in order for schools to get involved in the bullying law, it would have to be between students within the same school district. Sprague said schools have developed safe school climates, which address a wide range of behaviors, including bullying. But finding the right resources within schools is also something of a challenge.

“It's hard for schools, because it's what schools consider to be an unfunded mandate,” she said. “In other words, you have to do this, but we're not going to give you any more money to do it. You're going to have to educate all of your staff on what bullying is and how to report it.”

GLAD past-president Geralyn Laut said parents may struggle with how to deal with their child being bullied. “I think parents may be a little too intimidated to report a case of bullying,” she said. “I would try to address it myself [with the other parent]. It's a very individual decision, but the laws are put in place, so that if you do choose to go through a school, it has to be investigated and taken seriously.”

“There are approachable parents and there are completely unapproachable parents,” one parent said. “You just kind of need to know the person and judge it that way.”

“Without a doubt, technology has helped facilitate bullying,” said Rich McKeon of the Glastonbury Police Department's computer forensic unit. “The issue that we're seeing is a desensitization of the behavior,” he said. “They don't see the effects. In a school-yard, if you punch someone in the face or yell at them, you would see immediate results on how your victim responded to your behavior. It will have some sort of effect on you, even as a bully. That component, when it comes to technology, is removed.”

“The word bullying,” Sprague said, “is something that is sometimes steered away from, because no parent wants to get that phone call that says their child is a bully. But on the flip side, I'm concerned with a parent being told, 'Your child is engaging in mean-spirited behavior.' Are people going to take that more seriously?” Sprague said the hope was to get people talking, and in that respect, the mission of the forum was accomplished.

“I'm really encouraged by the conversations and the dialogue,” Sprague said, after the discussion. “If you have somebody walk away with something, then it's a success. I definitely think that the participants that were here walked away with something.” Sprague said she learned that more forums need to be held, and that GLAD should communicate more with families.

“We need to have the parents and kids together, because I think that's a great way for us to all make sure we're on the same page. We have to listen to what the kids are saying.”

Sprague said that parents or students who wish to help with the bullying issue, specifically or more generally, can contact GLAD, the Glastonbury Human Services Department, or the schools. “They can contact the principals,” she said. “They are very receptive to hearing from parents.”

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