PERRYSBURG - It can be physical or emotional, in-person or online. And it can sometimes lead to violence, even suicide.
|Dr. lisa Kovach (from left), David Smigelski, Detective Patrick Jones, and Robin Laird listen intentlt as they take questions from the audience during the Anti-Bullying Summit at the Commodore Building Theatre in Perrysburg Thursday night. (Photo: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
Bullying was the topic as the Perrysburg school district and Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson presented a panel discussion on the issue Thursday night at the Commodore Building. While the district has made strides to fight what seems to be a national epidemic, some parents felt the schools could be doing more.
Superintendent Tom Hosler, in his opening remarks to the approximately 50 audience members, recounted his own run-ins with bullies as a child.
"Bullying was something that happened, was something where you got called names and got picked on" but it was nevertheless dealt with and moved on.
However, "today, with social media and Facebook and Twitter and all the things that are out there, it's very difficult for kids to get out of it."
"This is something we all need to talk about," or it will continue, he said.
The district has implemented the nationally-recognized Olweus bullying prevention program in the schools as a means of stamping out bullying amongst students.
Panelist Dr. Lisa Kovach of the University of Toledo acknowledged that the issue has intensified nationwide, stating "I think we're finally at a point in that we're realizing that there's a life and death component to bullying." Bullying behavior has a strong connection to subsequent targeted violence, as well as suicide.
Perrysburg Junior High Assistant Principal Robin Laird pointed out three signifiers of bullying: First, that the activity is repeated over a period of time; second, that it involves an imbalance of power; and third, that the activity is intentional."
"The imbalance of power's probably the biggest piece that we look at."
While often thought of as an exclusively male province, bullying behavior these days is more and more closely associated with girls.
"We have a real increase in female-to-female bullying," said Laird, especially due to modern social media, a fact echoed by Dobson.
Bullying, said Hosler, no longer simply involves the traditional activities of face-to-face name calling and jostling in the hallways of a school.
Perrysburg Police Detective Patrick Jones tackled the topic of cyber bullying, noting its definition as the use of the internet or electronic devices to harm or harass.
"That's where you're rising to the criminal level of things," he said, later describing a recent incident in which a group of girls posted a video to the site YouTube in order to harass another.
Dobson stated that, as yet, there is no "bullying" crime in the state of Ohio, but bullying offenses involve crimes such as menacing, criminal damaging, criminal mischief, unruly behavior, disorderly conduct, and assault. His office is largely seeing cyberbullying incidents.
Kovach said that much bullying behavior can boil down to parenting style. Bullying, permissive, or uninvolved parents can often find themselves with bullies for children.
During the discussion, it was made clear that bullying offenses should be reported if they are found to continue beyond one instance; that the involvement of parents and teachers can be especially important, as can the ability of bullied students to have the opportunity to stand up for themselves, if they have the temperament to do so.
However, not all in the audience felt that Perrysburg school's anti-bullying protocols have been effective.
One mother expressed her consternation at physical bullying experienced by her children for years.
"What I hear you saying is maybe we need to do a better job following up," said Hosler.
Karen Smith spoke up, noting an instance of bullying against one of her children years ago, saying that they took action and reported it to the school. However, "everybody found out that I came forward."
"We've had to deal with so much backlash from this, it's not even funny," she said. She was informed that there are anonymous reporting measures now in place at the schools.
Another mother, while she noted seeing positive outcomes of the Olweus program, told the panel that there are a number of students who still do not report bullying incidents for fear of backlash against them.
Another woman described two separate instances in which two of her children were bullied; each defended themselves, but one got in trouble, while the other didn't.
"So there's kind of mixed messaging," she said.
Hosler noted that situations like that can boil down to how different officials can perceive an issue differently.
One woman, however, described an incident in which she worked with the mother of the bully over an issue, and achieved a positive outcome for both of the children involved.
"We've come a long way in terms of where we've been," said Hosler, adding later that "we know we need to do better."