ST. GEORGE — Local officials are reminding the public that October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time to spread awareness and help put a stop to bullying.
According to statistics released by the Utah State Board of Education in 2018, 20.8 percent, or just over every 1 in 5 kids, reported being bullied; however, the government website stopbullying.gov reports that bullying doesn’t just affect the victims but also witnesses and even bullies themselves.
These effects can last into adulthood, with symptoms including depression, anxiety, loneliness, changes in regular sleeping and eating patterns, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy and decreased academic performance.
The Washington County School District recognizes the problem, and the district’s Bullying and Hazing policy has been in place since 2009. The policy states that its goal is to: “Eliminate all types of bullying and hazing by and against students and employees of the Washington County School District.”
The school district also offers resources via an app called SafeUT, which offers a safe way for students and parents to report bullying and other incidents.
“What’s fantastic about it is that it goes directly to the school,” Jon Butler, the district’s counseling coordinator, told St. George News.
Butler said reporting on SafeUT can be done anonymously, but the more information they have, the better.
“It allows us as the agency to really be able to follow up, have some more information, be able to reach back to the person who reported,” he said, “and if there’s a real crisis, then we’re alerted immediately. Otherwise, we’re able to follow up with it and kind of check with the students or the people who are involved.”
Raising awareness before the fact is another way to combat bullying. Christina Furnival, author of “The Not-So-Friendly Friend: How To Set Boundaries for Healthy Friendships,” told St. George News that teaching kids to set appropriate boundaries is a great way to address the issue.
“By teaching children how to set boundaries, they are more capable of exuding an air of confidence and demonstrating the ability to speak up for themselves, making them less likely to be the target of mistreatment or bullying,” Furnival said. “Additionally, when a child is familiar with the traits of a healthy friendship, they are less likely to get involved in or tolerate an unhealthy one.”
The Washington County School District has recognized the importance of teaching students, and Butler said many schools employ a counselor to help educate them.
“We have almost a full-time counselor in every one of our elementary schools, and the majority of their time is spent in the classroom, teaching life skills with the students,” he said. “A lot of that is focused on bullying and resilience and friendship and character and all of those kinds of things.”
Family can be another invaluable resource, Butler said, adding that parents don’t always know how to respond when they discover that their child is being bullied. By reporting the situation, school officials have the opportunity to look into the problem and uncover the whole story.
Furnival said if parents find out bullying is happening to their child, the best things they can do are “empathize, validate, support and inform.”
“Your child needs to know that they are going to be protected,” she said.
Furnival also suggests that children being bullied should let a trusted adults know, such as parents, teachers or principals. By communicating the issue, she said a buffer is created “against more serious long-term problems and risks.”
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