Lots of children joke around by calling each other names or roughhouse around a little too much at times in the name of friendship. Who has not suffered from an unwanted nickname or been on the wrong end of a practical joke perpetrated by a friend and looked back with fond memories of the event years later?
Victims of bullying do not look back with fond memories, the effects of living in fear of what will happen next from the hands of a tormentor lasts a lifetime. It's a sad but true fact that many children will be victims of teasing at least once while growing up and witness numerous acts of bullying to which they will feel powerless to intervene on behalf of the victim.
"Bullying may seem insignificant and is often dismissed as part of growing up, but it's actually an early form of aggressive, violent behavior," Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Suellen Reed said when Senate Bill 285 was passed in the Indiana House of Representatives last March.
Reed spent two years working with Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Ft. Wayne, to draft the bill.
"Statistics show that bullying is becoming a national epidemic," Reed said. "In Indiana, we must send a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated in our classrooms and there will be consequences for this misdeed."
Bullies seek one thing through their acts of aggression: power.
The power to intimidate, physically control or the ability exclude the victim from their social groups leads bullies to not favor any financial, cultural or social group. For a bully, anyone is fair game.
Most bullies do not know their victims well. The victim is usually singled out by the bully because he or she is different in some way.
If a bully doesn't learn how to change his behavior, the pattern often becomes a habit as he matures and learns to refine the art of bullying. A bully will use his aggressive behavior in any situation where there is a power imbalance, creating less than harmonious relationships throughout his life. An adult bully will be aggressive to a mate, children and even co-workers.
The effects last a lifetime for the victim carrying emotional scars of surviving the torture and humiliation of bullying during their childhood.
"Several legislators did not take the issues of bullying seriously," Rep. Andy Thomas said. He supported S.B. 285, which was signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels on April 27. "It's a serious problem for some students that needs addressed."
Thomas understands the misery that is part of the "real life" of many victims and their families because of his own son's experience with bullying.
"Several members in my family are teachers and they recognize the problems associated with bullying, but it took two conversations with my son's teacher before the problem was solved," Thomas said.
The mistaken belief that these acts are a natural part of growing up, a rite-of-passage that the victim should be tough enough to endure, makes reporting bullying a social taboo for the victim and any witness to the incident. This taboo leads to victims feeling they are alone as they suffer in silence.
In most situations, victims are tough enough to survive, but sometimes, victims do not survive the torture. And after being repeatedly victimized, some victims begin to see suicide as their only escape.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Thomas said of the new legislation. "If we can prevent bullying, it's much better than dealing with the consequences later."
With a new school year beginning, the staff of the Clay Community School Corporation will begin the process to implement new anti-bullying policies throughout the system in an effort to create a safe place for all students.
"The policy concerning bullying has always existed but was never given the proper focus it needed," Superintendent William Schad said at the July meeting of the Clay Community School Board of Trustees. "There has never been anything done to implement the policy, until now."
Part 3: A victim tells his story.