Bullying is not a topic Coal City High School students typically cover in their annual fall play.
But this year is different. In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month, Coal City High School is performing “Bully Plays” this weekend – which consists of a dozen 10 minute skits that show various scenarios that relate to bullying – to help raise awareness about the issue. Admission for students is free.
“It’s such a strong message that we’re trying to get across,” high school senior Carlos Schoemaker said.
That message is “listen to the warning signs and speak up,” senior Enzo Dreher said.
In Grundy County, 44 percent of sixth-graders, 45 percent of eighth-graders, 37 percent of 10th-graders and 20 percent of 12th-graders have said they were bullied, according to last year’s Illinois Youth Survey, in which all four local high schools and most elementary schools participated.
The effects of bullying can be devastating. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, bullying can induce headaches, stomach pain, poor appetite, depression, suicidal thoughts and a slew of other problems in victims.
“This is not just, boys will be boys, or kids will be kids. This is serious and needs to be addressed,” said Paula Goodwin of Grundy County’s No Tolerance Task Force.
Earlier this month, Goodwin organized “The 3 B’s: The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander,” aimed at educating local youth about bullying. Morris Community High School’s T.R.O.U.P.E performers wrote and performed a skit specifically for the program.
Goodwin said NTTF chose to focus on bullying at this year’s event because local resource officers, social workers and administrators cited bullying as an increasing problem in schools.
About 350 middle schoolers from 11 local schools attended the event, Goodwin said.
Nationally, the campaign for bullying prevention and awareness has been on the upswing in the past decade. In October 2006, the federal government established a National Bullying Prevention Month. In 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Prevent School Violence Act, which defines and prohibits bullying in all Illinois schools. The PSVA also created the Illinois School Bullying Prevention Task Force, which provides bully prevention training, research and evaluation.
This uptick in prevention comes with the increase in cyberbullying or peer harassment through technology.
“I would say the biggest change we’ve seen is the use of social media,” said Liz Lee-Pluskota, social worker at Morris Community High School. “Girls especially use social media and texting.”
MCHS recently adapted the existing harassment policy to address bullying through technology; parents, student and staff are required to read and abide by.
Cyberbullying is a form of verbal bullying – saying or writing mean things – and social bullying – hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Physical bullying is the third form of bullying, which involves hurting someone’s body or belongings.
Bullying does not just affect those being harassed. Statistics show that bullies suffer, too.
According to information from the Department of Health and Human Services, those who bully are more likely to attempt suicide, drop out of school and engage in illegal activity than their peers.
A 2011 study found that 60 percent of boys classified as bullies in sixth through ninth grades were convicted of at least one crime by age 24, and 40 percent had three or more convictions.
“I don’t know if there is a profile for bullies,” Lee-Pluskota said. “In my years, I’ve seen kids that are respected students. They’re not the ‘social misfit’ that many people think of.”
Goodwin said the best way to prevent bullying is to look for the signs.
“Parents need to ask their kids, ‘Where did you get that bruise?’ or even, ‘How did that backpack strap break,’” Goodwin said. Warning signs include torn clothes, bruises, loss of appetite, mood changes and reluctance to go to school.
Once a parent identifies signs of bullying, he or she should take the problem to the child’s school administrator or social worker even if the child is scared to do so, Lee-Pluskota said.
Enzo Dreher thinks the best defense against bullying is tolerance.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to someone who is different from you,” Dreher said. “We’re all here to support each other.”
If You Go
What: Coal City High School Play, "The Bully Plays"
When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: CCHS Auditorium Stage
What: The play consists of 12 (10-minute skits) that all show certain places, people and circumstances that relate to "bullying"
Learning to recognize bullying is the first step toward dealing with the bullying behavior. There are three types of bullying:
• Inappropriate sexual comments
• Threatening to cause harm
• Leaving someone out on purpose
• Telling other children not to be friends with someone
• Spreading rumors about someone
• Embarrassing someone in public
• Hitting, kicking or pinching
• Taking or breaking someone’s things
• Making mean or rude hand gestures
Source: Information provided by the No Tolerance Task Force