Bullying is reaching epidemic proportions in North America, with 83 percent of American girls and 79 percent of boys saying they've experienced harassment, according to the National Education Association. Adults typically respond to bullying issues with concern, outrage and frustration, and for many, the only thing worse than being the parent of a bullied child is discovering their own child is the one committing the bullying.
"My parents were horrified to find out that I had bullied other kids in my school and neighborhood," says John Nelson (name changed to protect his privacy). "They tried everything to get me to change my behavior, but ultimately they were at a loss, and so was I. I knew I was on a road to disaster, but I didn't know how to stop."
Nelson and his parents were right to be concerned, experts say. Bullying often escalates into more serious behavior, the NEA points out, and 40 percent of boys identified as bullies in grades six through nine had three or more arrests by age 30. Bullies are at greater risk of suicide than their victims, and often grow up to perpetuate domestic violence in their own homes, the NEA says.
For help, Nelson's family turned to a resource that some parents might find surprising: military school.
Nelson's parents enrolled him in Robert Land Academy, a private military-themed school located in Canada that accepts students throughout the school year from the U.S. and around the world. With the prevalence of bullying throughout schools in the U.S. and Canada, many of the academy's students have experienced bullying, witnessed someone else being bullied or committed an act of bullying themselves. Many also suffer from behavioral and health problems, including attention deficit disorders.
"Bullying is damaging all around," says Deputy Headmaster Colin Doig of Robert Land Academy. "It's obviously awful for the victims, but it also damages the perpetrator and his or her relationship with family, friends and others in the community. Any solution to bullying must address the need for change in the bully as well as protecting the victim."
Doig cites RLA's structured environment and emphasis on self-discipline as key factors in helping students change self-destructive behaviors, from poor eating habits to discipline problems and even bullying.
The school's stand against bullying led a group of RLA cadets to share their anti-bullying commitment with the world. At www.NoBystanders.me, visitors can view a video of RLA students courageously talking about their experiences, both being bullied and being bullies. Guests can sign a pledge promising he or she will not be a bully and will not stand by silently when witnessing someone else being bullied. Every student at RLA has signed the pledge.
"You can fight bullying in your own community," Doig says. "It's important to know the signs of when someone is being bullied and when someone might be acting as a bully."
According to www.stopbullying.gov, a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, signs a child is being bullied include:
* Unexplained injuries
* Lost or destroyed possessions, including books, mobile devices and jewelry
* Frequent illnesses like headaches or stomachaches, or faking illness
* Changes in eating habits
* Problems sleeping and/or frequent nightmares
* Declining grades and loss of interest in school
* Loss of friends
* Decreased self esteem
* Self-destructive behavior like running away from home
* Talking about suicide
Signs a child is acting out as a bully include:
* Engaging in physical or verbal fights
* Associating with others who bully
* Increasingly aggressive behavior
* Frequently in trouble at school
* Having unexplained extra money or new belongings
* Blaming their problems on others
* Shirking responsibility for their actions
* Overly competitive and worrying about their reputation or popularity
"The structure and self-discipline I learned at RLA helped set me on a better path," says Nelson.