Dr. Malcolm Smith wants Kentucky educators to know that simply making a bully apologize is not enough. The bully has to atone with an act of kindness, Smith says.
"We're having a crisis among our young people of incivility, and that is fixable, but we've got to do it before it's too late," said the University of New Hampshire professor, a leading national expert on bullying. He was in Lexington on Friday, giving a training session to Kentucky educators at Eastern State Hospital on the science behind bullying and methods to deal with the problem.
The training session made the case that bullying is a complex issue, with roots often beginning in the bully's home life.
"Bullies tend to come from families that provide everything except love," Smith said, and material objects often take precedence over emotional support in bully households.
Smith said bullying rates have dropped dramatically in recent years, but it remains a problem for our society. According to him:
■ 36 percent to 50 percent of all middle school students are bullied each year.
■ About 160,000 students miss school each day because of fear of a bully.
■ More than 200,000 students will bring weapons to school because of bullying.
Bullying has a negative impact not only on the victim but on society as a whole, Smith said. Bullies are more likely to become antisocial adults, more likely to be involved in domestic violence and child abuse, more likely to commit crimes and more likely to have children who also are bullies, he said.
Smith said there are three factors in bullying: The perpetrator must have intended to cause the victim harm, the victim's education is impeded, and there is a clear imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
Smith offered educators tips to handle bullying. Bullies, he said, must be "disciplined, not punished," and bullies must admit that what they did was wrong.
"That is the first part of re-educating a bully," Smith said.
Next, bullies must be able to think of an alternative, changing the negative behavior to a positive. Smith gave the example of having a bully give the victim a pair of shoes .
The third step, which Smith said is the most important, is for the bully to offer atonement for his or her action. He said that for all of these steps to work, parents and educators must be involved.
"Right now is the time to act. ... Mobilize the parents. That's how you'll see change."