October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and experts are reminding Marylanders to be aware of the patterns within bullying.

The National Center for Education Statistics said one in five students reports being bullied. With the rise of online interaction among students cyberbullying has come to the forefront as a problem, but experts say there is frequently an offline component to bullying.

Maryland criminalized cyberbullying in 2013 and strengthened the law in 2019, increasing the penalties, and reducing the burden on victims in proving bullying is happening.

Jan Helson, co-founder and board chair of the Global Game Changers Children’s Education Initiative, a nonprofit focused on social-emotional learning, said building confidence and empathy are key in helping to prevent bullying.

“If you build a child’s core where they feel confident about themselves and who they are, and have empathy for others, then it helps to avoid bullying in the first place,” Helson asserted.

Students who are bullied are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, along with lower academic achievement and dropping out of school.

Research suggests that school-based anti-bullying programs decrease bullying by 20%. No matter the approach, Helson emphasized it is important for students to remain in dialogue with parents and teachers.

“Whether it’s a teacher communicating with students, or whether it’s a parent communicating is to really stress the importance of opening up that dialogue and providing your child a safe space and looking for those signs, whether they are the victim or the bully,” Helson outlined. “Parents have to be open-minded to both sides of that.”

Helson explained the root cause of bullying often is the bully’s own insecurity and noted it is helpful to consider the inner life of the bully.

“What is it about their background? I think having children understand and have empathy that maybe that bully has something going on in their life that they have no control over,” Helson advised. “It’s a way of them feeling like they have control of something, making them feel bigger than others.”

She added empathy for the bully does not mean accepting their behavior, but giving students insight into the lives of others may help break down the barriers with bullies.


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