Bullying has become a common topic in the news, and a hot topic in many school districts. It is occurring at all grade levels across the country.
Bullying occurs when one person has an imbalance of power over another, and repeated negative or aggressive behaviors are directed towards the victim. Bullying is not a one-time occurrence, it happens repeatedly over time. Unfortunately, bullying is happening in our schools on a daily basis.
What can we do to recognize the symptoms, or better yet, create effective programs to decrease the number of bullying incidents? Who can we turn to in the school system to provide support and guidance? Studies have proven that bullying can have lasting negative effects to one's self esteem, increased rates of eating disorders, physical complaints, difficulty forming relationships (even into adulthood) and increased rates of depression and suicide.
Programs to raise awareness about bullying must begin at early ages. Many elementary schools begin teaching children about "Bully-Free" zones in kindergarten, and expand on the programs as the children get older.
Teachers and other school staff now attend workshops and information sessions about bullying, including how to recognize the characteristics of both victims and their aggressors.
Many schools in New Jersey celebrate a week in the fall to raise awareness about respecting others. Bullying assemblies are held in most schools throughout the school year.
Although teachers spend many hours a day with their students, it is often the school nurse's office where victims of bullies tend to designate as a "safe haven". The school nurse may be the first person to identify a potential bullying problem.
The school nurse is in a pivotal role when it comes to students who are
bullied. Children often gravitate to the nurse because the rapport with her is different compared to that of other school staff. The nurse is not viewed as a disciplinarian, and children will often confide in the nurse.
The school nurse is often on the front line of dealing with bullying.Children who are being bullied often go to the nurse for a variety of somatic complaints from headaches to stomach pains. The nurse can monitor absenteeism and identify problematic patterns. It is often the nurse who will identify a pattern of their visits, and may begin to suspect bullying and will initiate the initial investigation.
One of the roles of the school nurse is to promote the well being of children and provide a safe environment. Often the nurse is on a schools safety or anti-bullying committee, and can be a great resource for teachers as well as parents to broaden the awareness of bullying.
When surveyed, students regularly designate the school nurse's office as one of the safest spots in school. Knowing they have someone to confide in, who also has the power to do something about a negative situation can be very reassuring for students. The school nurse often leads prevention efforts, contributes to school wide anti-bullying programs, and assists with the training of faculty to identify bullying and how to effectively intervene.
School nurses are usually eager to work with individual students and their families to overcome a bullying situation. If you are a parent and you suspect bullying may be occurring, even if your child may be the bully, reach out to the school nurse, they are there for you.
Advances in technology have skyrocketed the newest form of bullying is, "cyber bullying". The use of cellular phones, the internet and social media outlets have contributed to some of the most harmful cases of bullying. No longer does one write graffiti about someone on a bathroom wall. Now within the click of a mouse hurtful words and rumors can be spread to thousands of people.
The school nurse is in a position to teach children strategies for dealing with bullies who are using electric forms of communication to be aggressive towards them. The nurse can also teach them how to safely use these devices; such as not giving out their cell numbers or passwords, deleting unwanted emails and encouraging them to report problems to a parent or teacher. When parents consult with the school nurse, they can learn ways to monitor their children's electronic world, tips to keep communication lines open with their kids.
We live in a time of modern technology, and most of us can barely keep up with the gadgets, websites and apps our kids use. From the days of Florence Nightingale, when one could turn to a nurse for guidance and support, that concept has not changed! Utilize your school nurse as a bullying resource to arm yourself with the knowledge to keep your kids safe. The nurse is an advocate for you and your child, with a goal of promoting their healthy development, the school nurse is a lot more than Band-aids.
Debra Reinhold, RN-BC, is a NJCU BSN Candidate