/ Modified oct 4, 2013 6:21 p.m.

AZ Week: Bringing Bullying to an End in Society

Greater prevention efforts needed in legal, educational realms in schools, cyberspace, workplace, experts say.


The image of the school yard bully may harken back to times past, but he still lurks, despite greater awareness and strategies, several experts say.

An expanded realm for the bully, into cyberspace, has been made possible through technology, deepening and complicating the issues, they said.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and to mark it, Friday's Arizona Week broadcast looked into bullying and the prevention and educational efforts around it. The first step, educators and others said, has been to raise awareness.

"I think we are more aware, and I think we are more purposeful," said Mary Montaño, principal of Summit View Elementary School in Tucson's Sunnyside Unified School District. "Sometimes, because we are more aware, you catch it immediately and so therefore it can be interpreted as now there's a bigger problem than there was before.

"I don't think that it's a bigger problem," she said. "Again, I think we are more aware."

Montaño, who has spoken to parents groups in the Sunnyside District about bullying, said she runs a proactive program at Summit View that reinforces positive behavior among students, and as a result considers bullying to be minimal at the school.

"We really try to create a culture where we are going to focus on the positive things that you do, and we're going to reward you for that," she said.

But as children get older, she and others acknowledged, bullying can become more of an issue, including the move into cyberspace.

The ease with which people can communicate through texting, Facebook postings and other electronic means make it a problem to be reckoned with, said Sheri Bauman, a professor and director of the counseling master's degree program at the University of Arizona's College of Education.

"Cyberbullying is really an extension of traditional bullying, but with a distinct difference that makes it much more dangerous," Bauman said.

The difference manifests itself in two ways, she said: "The size of the audience" for online bullying makes it seem as if "everyone in the world" is seeing the victim's humiliation; the appearance of anonymity and the victim's fears from not knowing who is making the attack.

The Arizona Legislature passed an anti-bullying law aimed at cyberspace in 2011, but it has its limits, Bauman said, because it doesn't regulate what students do with their own cell phones or other electronic devices.

State Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, a co-sponsor of anti-bullying legislation, said he and other lawmakers have to walk a fine line between protecting bullying victims and allowing free speech.

Farley said further legislative moves would come at the behest of criminal prosecutors as they see issues unfold and determine that existing laws are not adequate.

To view information on this month's anti-bullying activities in Tucson, go to www.endofbullying.com.

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