PITTSFIELD - Parents and caregivers have the ability to help kids early on, even before the b-word, "bullying," comes up.
Crosby Elementary School drew a crowd of about 40 on Wednesday night for a presentation about what bullying is, how it affects students and schools, and how to create a more positive school and community culture.
"It was a lot of good insight," said Melissa Garofano, the parent of students both in elementary and high schools. "It's important, and I'm lucky that we have a school like this," she said after the event.
The Crosby staff created an environment where parents and students could come after school for a pizza dinner. Kids enjoyed a concert with Terry A La Berry in the gymnasium while parents attended a presentation by Robert Kinzer of the Berkshire District Attorney's Office. Parents who participated were also entered into a raffle to win prizes.
"Scientific research shows that when students feel valued and respected at school and feel like they are a part of the school, [schools] have a lower incidence of bullying," said the second district attorney, who has been doing education and outreach programs like this for nearly a decade.
In 2010, the passage of a new state legislation in response to bullying did not criminalize bullying, but it did mandate education programs for school staff, students and parents, as well as require schools to have action plans to respond to and discipline acts of bullying.
"It's been going on for a long time, but bullying, it's still a problem. We've started seeing more and more kids start taking their own lives, start hurting other people because they felt they were being bullied," said Kinzer.
He told parents that two-thirds of shootings that have occurred in the United States were caused by someone who had felt harassed or tormented.
"That's a real thing," Kinzer said.
He said the best things for parents, even those of elementary school-aged children, to do is to be aware of the definition of bullying; to listen to a child when they talk about bullying, whether they are a victim, bully or bystander, and not overreact; and to teach children how to ask for help.
A confrontation can be considered bullying if it is repeated three or more times, is intentional and there is a power imbalance between the bully and the target. By definition, bullying only exists if all three characteristics take place.
The attorney said that 96 percent of students are either targets of bullying or bystanders, but only 14 percent of them ever do anything about it.
"Bystanders are the most underutilized resource in helping to end bullying," Kinzer said, noting that 65 percent of bullies are likely to stop if another person says something in the first 10 seconds. The parent of a pre-kindergarten and a second-grade student, Kinzer said he is very aware of his own children's actions and the fact that he serves as a role model to them.
"When they're young, we teach kindness, sharing and empathy. We're good about this until about third or fourth grade, when we focus more on academics and good grades. We stop with the social-emotional education, and that's so important. It needs to continue. That's what helps kids grow into positive human beings," he said.