Appearance, shape, race: top reasons for bullying. Solutions?

I flew over Elmira, New York early this summer and was reminded of the  famous Elmira Reformatory which was renown for Warden Zebulon Brockway’s rehabilitation ideas, including that of indeterminate sentencing. Brockway became so popular he was elected mayor of Elmira at age 77. The Elmira Correctional Facility is a major institutiion and employer in town.

No wonder, then, that schools in Elmira have come up with some great projects to combat bullying. A recent story in the local Star Gazette suggests the inspiration for kids at a Youth Summit last summer came from facts from  Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center such as

—Appearance, body shape and race, in that order, are the top reasons children get bullied.

—Out of any three kids, one will be bullied.

—One out of every five teenagers will be bullied. 

— Nearly two-thirds of all victims won’t report bullying, so the above understates the numbers.

Cartoon of Fat Albert in red shirt, blue pants.

Would Fat Albert be targeted today?

Appearance, body shape, race and bullying.

I’ve blogged plenty about appearance as a factor in bullying. Kids born with cleft lips and palates, others with asymmetry, and those with craniofacial disorders are common targets. Heck, even regular kids get corrective surgery to prevent being continually bullied. about their appearance.

Body shape refers to one’s physique, build, figure. Essentially, the Pacer statistics show bullies target extremes: kids who are too fat or too skinny, youths who are very developed (sexy girls, muscle-bound boys) or under-developed (flat girls, prepubescent boys), etc. Deviance from the norm attracts unwanted attention, esp from teens who often worship conformity, similarity.

Race is the third most likely reason children get bullied, It’s not so much deviance from a norm here as whether one’s race is a majority  or minority race in the area. That’s a bit simplified, but bullies zone in on vulnerable targets such as members of a small minority racial group.

Elmira projects to prevent bullying.

And so armed with these alarming statistics from Pacer, youth attending a Y-H8 (Why Hate) Youth Summit—sponsored by the local YWCA— organized and participated in the following projects:

—The “bully boxes” program whereby 20 locked sturdy boxes will be placed around various schools and community centers so that kids can anonymously report bullying. A form is provided at the box so that kids can report incidents, as either a witness or victim, without having to leave their name. A $3000 grant paid for the boxes which—if pilot programs are to be believed—take the fear of retaliation out of reporting.

A spokesperson for the YMCA, Kim Stanton, has said, “The kids want to see them everywhere, but [we’d] like to start with children in third through sixth grade because that’s where most students hear that bullying is taking place.”

There may be a variety of issues to address down the road (separating valid from crank reports, “stuffing the ballot box” to ruin someone’s reputation, etc).  Stanton’s realistic, “Beyond the 20 boxes, we will see how these go. If they work, we will look at doing more.”

Pacer’s statistics show that a classmate’s intervention, like reporting to authorities, ended more than half of bullying situations.

Box resembling a mailbox with Information label on it.

Bully Box.

—A “Rainbow Run & Walk against bullying” in a local park that attracted nearly 2,000 participants and included a ceremony to honor students and adults who have stood up to bullying.  

— A Motorcycle Run and Block Party” where more than 100 motorcycle riders turned out to take a stand against bullying. At the block party, a group of kids showcased puppets with disabilities. After the event, Stanton said there is now a movement to start a local chapter of a national group, Bikers Against Bullying.

 It’s heartening to see new tools being tried to combat bullying behavior. Let’s hope they’re part of a solution.




Run and Walk against Bullying.

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