Craig Provides Insight on Bullying

Posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Professor of Chemistry David Craig was interviewed for an article in Messenger Post newspapers about the rise of bullying at Canandaigua Middle School, following a recent meeting on the topic at the school. Craig is co-director, with Professor of Sociology Wes Perkins, of the Youth Health and Safety project at HWS. The article notes cyber-bullying (bullying via cell phone texts and on social networking sites) has been on the rise at the Canandaigua school, as well as across New York State.

Craig, the article notes, "said the behavior is about perception." It mentions the project's recent study of 10,586 middle school children from 18 schools in New Jersey and one school in Long Island, in which students were asked about both their own behavior and perception of others.

"Craig found young kids think their peers bully more than they really do. Because they have this perception, they engage in the behavior."

He is quoted, "Kids are social creatures and they follow the norms - how to act in society come from the norms."

The full article follows.

Messenger Post
Bullying-and concern - escalate at Canandaigua Academy middle school

Michele E. Cutri-Bynoe •staff writer • June 20, 2010

Canandaigua, N.Y. -
A few weeks ago, at Canandaigua Middle School, two students planned a fist fight using text messaging via cell phone to set the time.

The fight was then recorded and posted to YouTube, a Web site that allows users to share recordings.

Local districts wrapping up their school years are facing a longtime menace - bullying. But today, bullying takes on a whole new dimension because of the ability of kids to use technology to interact.

In Canandaigua, a meeting at the middle school earlier this month became emotional as parents and school officials grappled with the difficulties posed by technology, which greatly enhances a child's ability to bully should he or she choose to do so.

In the Red Jacket district, parents of elementary students have brought concerns for their kids' safety to the school board, which resulted in a new district bullying policy. The policy, however, requires that bullying incidents be reported, and parents attending school board meetings are afraid to go on record for fear their children will become targets of even more bullying.

Tech menace
In the Canandaigua middle school, text-messaging via cell phones has become a major challenge for educators trying to teach and parents who want their children to be safe from bullying.

"We are seeing many of our kids texting really mean, degrading messages," said Joni Mergenthaler, a Family Services facilitator.

"The things they say to each other are shocking," agreed Principal Ralph Undercoffler. The text messages are becoming increasingly horrific, using foul language, racist comments and putting down kids' family members, he said.
Some communication between kids rises to the level of felony criminal charges, one official said.

"Now in the age of cell phones, we have clear evidence," said Lon Sanford, the school resource officer. Typically, children younger than 16 are not charged for calling one another names, he said.

However, when it's in writing, in a text message, it becomes aggravated harassment, which is a misdemeanor and kids can be arrested, said Sanford.

And it can escalate to much worse consequences.

"If it's about ethnicity it becomes a hate crime - and that is a felony," Sanford said.

Problems with texting and bullying have been escalating over the last six to eight weeks with the eighth grade class, said Undercoffler.

In one instance, a group of about 50 kids were texting, escalating a problem between two boys that turned into a fight that took place near Gibson and Main streets, said Undercoffler. There was no reason for it, he said. The two boys acted on misinformation spread electronically.

New York is one of seven states without a specific law targeting school bullying, according to state Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira, whose district includes Yates County. Winner co-sponsored legislation in May to address the rising problem of bullying in schools.

Winner said the anti-bullying legislation was introduced in the Senate in the wake of tragic bullying incidents in New York, Massachusetts and across the nation. Last month, a Long Island teen hung herself after cyber-bully harassment.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a new anti-bullying law after the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, a case that brought national attention to the problem.

Bullies are leaders
"There are two basic reasons why kids bully," said Dr. Mark Spezzano, a clinical psychologist and adjunct Finger Lakes Community College professor. They are underachievers who don't feel good about themselves, or they are good students, good athletes with high self-esteem, but their parenting is inconsistent.

"The common thread - lacking social skills to appreciate and tolerate kids that are different," said Spezzano who has helped school districts with this issue.
Bullying can be stopped, he said.

"Most bullies have more leadership skills than other kids, and they have a small network of very close friends that support and encourage the behavior," said Spezzano. The key is to punish the bully's social network. "Punishing those passive acts as severely as the bully, stops the acts," he said.

Another expert involved in research on bullying in schools said the behavior is about perception. David Craig, professor of biochemistry and the director of the Alcohol and Education project at Hobart William Smith Colleges in Geneva, recently completed a study of 10,586 middle school kids from 18 schools in New Jersey and one school in Long Island. After surveying kids about their own bullying behavior and their perception of how many kids engaged in bullying, Craig found young kids think their peers bully more than they really do. Because they have this perception, they engage in the behavior.

"Kids are social creatures and they follow the norms - how to act in society come from the norms," he said.

Escalating problem
The United State Department of Justice reports that cyber-bullying, bullying through the means of any electronic device, is at an all-time high. Forty-three percent of teenagers reported being victims of cyber-bullying. While nine out of 10 teens, or 92 percent, reported knowing their bully, only 10 percent of those cyber-bullying victims told their parents. Cyber-bullying often involves vicious taunts on social networking sites such as Facebook.

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