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Choosing kindness over bullying could save a friend’s life

By Staff | Jan 31, 2016

A photo of Jeremiah who was bullied a lot in his life before deciding to take his own.

As a youth, many people of older generations dealt with bullying in one fashion or another. You either ran or stood up to the bully.

But with todays cell phones, computers and technology, it makes it more difficult to know who is bullying our youth. A black eye used to physically show you someone was being picked on. Now there are less visible battle wounds, which can be silent to the eye, but leave more internal scars.

How do we, an older generation, teach our children how to deal with today’s technology, when it is something so foreign to us. Programs like the Olweus Bullying Program and Jeremiah’s Hope for Kindness are a great start to the conversation.

The Wells United Methodist Church Youth-FUSION group is holding a free event on Saturday, Feb. 6 beginning at 6:30 p.m. It will be held at the United South Central School in the auditorium. Speaker Ann Gettis will be sharing her message about Bullying Prevention and Building Kind and Respectful Environments.

Gettis knows personally what kind of an impact bullying can have on a family.

Jeremiah's Hope for Kindness (JHFK) was started by his mother, who got an education in bullying to help prevent what happened to her son.

In 2006, Dennis and Ann Gettis lost their beloved 21 year old son, Jeremiah, to suicide. Jeremiah wrote about the bullying he endured for years and the devastating effect it had on him.

Gettis returned to college to study bullying and its prevention. In 2011, she received her Master of Arts degree in Community Psychology with an emphasis on bullying and violence prevention from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Also, Gettis became a trainer for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

In 2011, Jeremiah’s Hope for Kindness (JHFK), a 501(c)(3) public charity, whose mission is to foster kind and respectful homes, schools and communities was founded by Jeremiah’s family. Gettis serves as the director of JHFK. JHFK works to raise awareness, provide education, training, resources and support to schools, students, parents and all community members.

“Our vision is to create communities where every child and adult feels safe, welcomed and valued and receives the support and guidance they need to follow their dreams, cope with life’s challenges and be caring, compassionate and engaged members of society,” says Gettis.

What does bullying look like? Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power. Most often, it is repeated over time.

School bullying takes on many forms, and it is done by both girls and boys. A recent U.S. study shows that 17 percent of all students reported having been bullied “sometimes” or more often. This amounts to almost one in five students.

It might be hard to tell the difference between playful teasing and bullying. Teasing usually involves two or more friends who act together in a way that seems fun to all the people involved. Often they tease each other equally, but it never involves physical or emotional abuse. Bullying is meant to be hurtful, happens repeatedly and often to the same person.

The same question seems to keep coming up, “Why do some students bully?”

Research suggests there are several partly interrelated motives for bullying:

Students who bully have strong needs for power and (negative) dominance; they seem to enjoy being “in control” and subduing others.

Students who bully find satisfaction in causing injury and suffering to other students. This may be at least partly due to the environment at home, which may have caused hostility within the student.

Students who bully are often rewarded in some way for their behavior. This could be material or psychological rewards, such as forcing the student who is bullied to give them money or enjoying the attention, status, and prestige they are granted from other students because of their behavior.

Students who bully others may have some common family characteristics, such as parents who are not very involved in their children’s lives, who lack warmth and positive involvement. Some parents may not have set clear limits on their children’s aggressive behavior and may have allowed them to act out aggressively toward their siblings and other children.

Parents of children who bully sometimes use physical punishments and other “power-assertive” methods of child rearing.

In addition, students who bully others are more likely than other students to have seen or been involved in domestic violence. In all probability, they have also been exposed or exposed themselves to violence in the media and maybe through participation in “power sports” like boxing, kickboxing, and wrestling.

It is important to emphasize once more that these are main trends. Not all students who come from families with these characteristics will bully others, and not all students who bully come from these family environments. The peer group may also play an important role in motivating and encouraging bullying behavior in certain children and youth.

“Our work draws from a number of theories, research, best practices and experience,” Gettis says. “We operate in the knowledge that bullying, which is violence, is a societal problem. We have a holistic, strengths-based and restorative approach. We understand that all behavior is purposeful and an attempt to meet needs. Our work is built on the premise that we all have the capacity for kindness and compassion. We work to educate, provide skills, resources and support to youth and adults with a primary goal of creating and strengthening caring and respectful relationships and environments in which every person feels valued and part of the community.” The goals of the program are to reduce existing bullying problems among students, prevent the development of new bullying problems and to achieve better peer relations at school.”

Nicole Swanson, writer of this article, is the editor of the Courier-Sentinel.