Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series examining bullying in Aiken County and what resources are available in the community to alleviate the problem.
As news of bullying hits national headlines, communities across the country are reacting.
Various local youth programs now include anti-bullying messages to help children or teenagers who are being teased or pushed around. These programs are also concentrating on the bullies themselves, and teaching them why what they are doing is wrong.
Starting the process at a young age
In the Aiken Boys and Girls Club's facility, a “Stop Bullying” banner is on display as a daily reminder that intimidating and aggressive behavior toward others is unacceptable.
The Boys and Girls Club of America has started a national effort to prevent bullying through a partnership with Cartoon Network. According to Aiken Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Shawn Risher, the program is fairly new but he feels the organization has been ahead of the curve for years. The Boys and Girls Club strives to instill positive character traits and leadership skills in the children it serves.
“We're thrilled to use it (the program) any way we can,” Risher said. “We don't have a bullying issue internally. If we did, I know we'd have the tools to squash and stop it.”
The new program includes a series of videos and documentaries for the children to watch. Once they go through the program, they're invited to go to the Cartoon Network website and sign a pledge to never be a bully.
According to Lisa Tindal, executive director of Mental Health America of Aiken County, her organization addresses the issue in its “Don't Duck Mental Health” program for elementary school students.
This program uses five different books about several topics, and one specifically covers bullying, entitled, “Don't Pick on Me,” by Pat Thomas.
“The purpose of the program as a whole is to teach children about mental health and how it affects them,” Tindal said. “Bullying is just one of the pieces of it.”
Tindal said the organization looks to help children learn to deal with a variety of emotions that can potentially lead to bullying, including grief, sadness or anger, in a healthy manner.
They also teach children what it means to be a bully or how to deal with someone picking on them.
Police and deputies get involved
Aiken County Sheriff's Office Staff Sgt. Jason Feemster said they spend a little bit of time addressing bullying during Red Ribbon Week. He said they reiterate a message through a video featuring McGruff the Crime Dog.
Feemster said when it comes to communicating with a bully, they discuss the “stop, talk and walk” method by calmly attempting to reason with the aggressor and walking away from the situation. A child is reminded they have rights and do not have to tolerate any aggressive behavior toward them.
The children are taught the difference between bullies, victims and bystanders.
Sometimes, kids don't know that they're bullying others through simple actions like whispering, pointing and not sharing their friends, said Feemster.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety also goes to schools to discuss bullying. Public Safety Capt. Maryann Burgess said, in the last month, they have held at least two sessions at local schools about bullying and the Internet.
The department's Police Athletic League also helps children and teenagers with self-esteem through its different activities, according to Lt. Karl Odenthal.
“A lot of times, people do it because there's a weakness in their character, and they want to feel more important,” Odenthal said. “Through self-esteem building sessions, it can help alleviate the need to bully.”
For example, the league has a football team, which offers a chance for the participants to build confidence but also become aware of any aggressive behavior like teasing a teammate who made a bad play. Odenthal said that offers them the chance to address the issue, and it becomes a learning experience for that child.
Reaching out to the parents
Sometimes, the cycle of bullying can be quickly stopped at home. But parents may not know that their child is a bully or realize the signs that he or she is a victim of constant teasing.
Through the Parent Project, police do broach the bully topic, Burgess said.
Burgess said they go over how to handle a child being bullied or who is being a bully themselves.
“It's a really good way to combat it for those wanting help in that area,” Burgess said. “It's a really good program for parents who want more tools in their parenting tool belt.”
For more information on the Parent Project, call Burgess at 803-642-7667.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010.