Students need tools to combat bullying, author says

PARKERSBURG –Students must be given the tools to deal with bullying, both for themselves and for others, a national anti-bullying advocate said Wednesday.

Tom Thelen, author and founder of the Victimproof Bullying Prevention Program, visits schools throughout the country, talking to students about bullying and what they can do if they’re bullied or see others being bullied.

On Wednesday, Thelen spoke at Blennerhassett Middle, Edison Middle and VanDevender Middle schools. Today he will visit Hamilton Middle and Jackson Middle schools and Williamstown High/Middle School.

Thelen told students at Blennerhassett most anti-bullying initiatives focus on teaching kids not to bully others, but students must also be taught how to handle bullying.

“If you don’t have a solution for when you see bullying … you’re stuck,” he said.

Thelen said studies have shown only about 10 percent of students are willing to speak up when they witness bullying, which isolates victims of bullying.

“That’s sad that so many kids sit back when they could speak up,” he said.

Thelen said in many ways dealing with bullies is more challenging these days with the advent of smartphones and multiple messaging platforms.

“We had the internet (when I was a kid),” Thelen said. “We just didn’t have it in our pocket.”

As a result, it is harder for kids to get away from bullying since they can be reached at all hours regardless of whether they are at school or at home. Thelen also said a single bully online can seem like an army to his or her target.

Thelen said he was attacked multiple times online by one person using numerous accounts after speaking at a school in New York about bullying awareness and prevention.

“I’m the cyber bullying speaker being bullied after a bullying speech,” he said. “That online world does not always reflect the real work.”

Thelen said students must learn to react calmly to bullying, stand up for others and work with trusted adults to address other students’ in-person and online behaviors.

The speaking tour is part of Community Bank’s Community Cares campaign. Mary Ann Laughery, a marketing manager at Community Bank, spoke Tuesday to the Wood County Board of Education concerning the program. The event is part of Community Bank’s 100th Anniversary year-long celebration. Laughery said officials decided to focus on three initiatives: A food and fundraising drive for area food banks, the Community Cares campaign which encourages random acts of kindness within the community, and a Compassionate Work initiative which launches in October to collect items for the Humane Society of Parkersburg.

Laughery said national studies have shown bullying is widespread in schools and can have terrible consequences for victims. Middle school students in particular experience a higher level of bullying than other grades.

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