Bullying prevention: Protecting our most vulnerable populations

All children, especially those with chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions, are at risk for bullying.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month with an effort to draw attention to students’ strengths, attributes and inherent worth. Kids’ Count data shows that in Michigan, 474,000 children under the age of 18  are at increased risk of a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional condition.  These kids also may require health and other related services beyond what is typically required of children.

Children with conditions such as these are at a higher rate of risk to experience bullying. 65 to90 percent of students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder are or have been targets of bullying according to the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAOM). In fact, a relentless tour has been launched by the AAOM through Anthony Ianni to raise awareness of this statistic and empower students to eradicate it.

Students with disabilities and the witnesses to their treatment are all at risk for mental illness challenges, substance abuse and poor academic performance. This is alarming considering over 80 percent of seventh  grade students in many counties reported witnessing bullying acts (whether physically, verbally or through cyber means) in 2012-2013 through the online survey Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth.

Bullying prevention programs start kids on a healthy path of respect for themselves and others by examining the complex issues contributing to bullying behaviors. Such programs strengthen communities and improve health outcomes for the future of Michigan residents. Michigan State University Extension educators team up with childcare providers, afterschool settings and clubs with the BeSafe initiative. Hands on activities, scenarios and discussion focusing on respect, perspective, cyber behaviors, human differences, emotional and social intelligence, moving from bystanders to allies, safety plans and reflection are all designed to help create an atmosphere of teen and adult partnership while building skills.

MSU Extension also links communities with other resources including recorded webinar trainings, recommended readings, and tip sheets by StopBullying.gov.

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