The Gerry Dalton Story
Kells is a small town in County Meath, Ireland with a population of less than 6,000. It would seem like a tranquil place to raise a family and send children to school. What happened to Gerry and Liza Dalton and their family in recent years has been anything but tranquil. Because of violence in South Africa, the family relocated to Ireland in 2010.
During the 2011 – 2012 school year Gerry Dalton,a 10 year-old son was continually harassed, both emotionally and physically. The bullying of Gerry Dalton included incidents at school as well as cyber bullying. The situation became so bad that another parent contacted Gerry Dalton concerning the bullying of his son. In November of 2011 the school called to inform the Daltons that their son needed to be picked up because of a head injury. The boy suffered from double vision and headaches for several days after the incident. This was an incident that the school said was accidental.
The Gerry Dalton bullying escalated to the point that several of the bullies came to their home and stole Christmas decorations. Later, many of these same children slashed the tires on their car and the home was pelted with oranges. When various authorities were consulted the family was told to install cameras and obtain proof. The Dalton’s son was bullied so intensely that it was necessary for him to leave school. The family finally chose to homeschool their child. It seems the child was brutally bullied because he spoke with a South African accent in an Irish community.
The Gerry Dalton bullying situation is important because considering the statistics; it’s not an isolated incident. Whether in Ireland or countries such as the United States, bullying and the long term effects it has on children is staggering. This story is an example of how overwhelming and out of control bullying can become. It’s appalling that a situation such as this can continue as long as it did without apparent remedy. But perhaps bringing this unfortunate case to light will bring about the necessary changes to prevent it from happening again.
Consequences of Bullying
Studies conducted at Duke University found that bullies, as well as those being bullied, suffer from a variety of disorders involving depression and anxiety. The effects can last well into adulthood. Constantly fearing when and where the bully may show up puts a child in a heightened state of anxiety that can carry over into adulthood. What many people may not realize is that there is a similar effect on the bully as well. Many bullies are harassed or even abused at home and this may be the reason they themselves have become bullies. Even when this isn’t the case, the constant level of agitation that the bully exhibits often affects him or her years after the bullying stops.
There has been increased attention in recent years regarding suicides due to bullying. The increase in suicides may be related to the increase in cyber bullying. Most experts agree that the cruelty of children has not increased but their methods of harassing their victims have changed for the worse. What was once primarily face to face contact has escalated due to the digital age. Because of the overwhelming presence of social media in the lives of most young people there can seem to be no escape from bullies. Twenty years ago students could remove themselves from an unpleasant situation and be completely free from the bully. The way young people are tied to today’s technology it is nearly impossible to achieve any real respite from the pain. For this reason children may feel trapped by the bully and see suicide as their only means of escape. According to bullyingfacts.info approximately 50 percent of teenagers have been the victims of cyber bullying. Protecting children online is a battle parents, educators, and authorities are struggling with considering how easily bullies can hide behind a computer screen.
There are a few basic things to remember when fighting online bullying. First, children should not directly respond to the bully. Second, save all emails and messages. This may be painful, but there are times when the messages can be traced back to the bully. The messages should also be saved as evidence. If at all possible the bully should be blocked from all social networks, emails, and phones. Finally, change accounts if necessary and report any harassment to the service providers.
While most sympathy lies with the victims of bullying, addressing the problems that the bullies face is important as well. According to stopbullying.gov kids who are bullies are more prone to abuse drugs and alcohol, engage in sexual activity at a young age, and be abusive toward their partners. These potential behaviors in the future have a huge impact on our society. Helping both the bullies and the victims of bullying is crucial to adequately dealing with this ever increasing social problem.
The Responsibility of Schools
It seems outrageous that the Dalton family had to suffer as they did while the school seemingly did little on their behalf. Unfortunately, schools often turn a blind eye to oppressive bullying. There was a case in England in which a child was ruthlessly bullied by approximately 40 other students in front of a teacher. While this lack of intervention on the part of the schools is indeed unacceptable, understanding why schools often hesitate to help is instrumental in solving the problem.
These types of incidents show just how overwhelming the problems are. It also shows how helpless teachers often feel. The initial response of the public is usually frustration that the teachers and schools aren’t doing more to stop this sort of behavior. But when 40 students are involved in an incident, teachers can feel powerless to intervene in the situation. In a classroom with twenty-five students, if even five are involved with bullying it can be extremely difficult for a single teacher to control the situation. In short, teachers and schools often feel their hands are tied and the situation is simply too overwhelming for them to handle. Sometimes they may even fear retribution from the bullies or the bullies’ families.
This understanding of the difficulties teachers and administrators face is by no means a rationale to let such behavior slide. On the contrary, it proves that stronger laws are needed to deal with the problem. Educators need laws with teeth to make it easier to protect the children in their classrooms without fear of retribution from the bullies or their families. Adults who are responsible for protecting children need adequate training and resources at their disposal. They also need administrators and authorities in the community who will provide assistance directly in the classroom as well as legal support. Teachers, administrators, and local authorities must have policies in place to deal with bullying. They must be willing to share information and work together to ensure all children are provided a safe learning environment.
In the United States, schools are legally required to have a policy that prohibits any type of bullying or harassment. A definition of bullying and procedures to follow when it happens are required components of a school’s policy. Protecting victims and disciplining the bullies are to be necessary aspects of the policy as well. Proper documentation of these procedures are also required. All of this is to be clearly laid out in the student handbook. Every parent should ask for and read over the school’s policy concerning bullying. Writing a policy is one thing. Implementing and understanding the best way to carry out the policy is where most problems occur.
What Parents Can Do
According to Kidpower, a global nonprofit organization that promotes safety and violence prevention, there are several things parents can do to empower their children. Children who develop certain skills and ways of behaving are less likely to be victims of bullying in the first place. For starters, children need to learn to walk with confidence while projecting a calm, yet assertive personality. This includes keeping their heads up, walking briskly, and projecting a confident persona. Children need to learn to speak to those who may bully them in a clear and concise manner. This means using a strong, clear, and firm voice. Parents should teach a child not to use an aggressive voice, but one that is strong and in control. Kids should be taught to be persistent in asking for help if they are not able to handle a situation on their own. Children should learn to persistently ask for assistance, from several individuals if necessary, until someone acts on their behalf.
In light of bullying that is taking place in schools, parents must become proactive in dealing with the problem. Children should be taught from an early age that telling an adult about physically or emotionally abusive behavior is not tattling. Anytime there has been a physical assault of any sort parents should call the police immediately.
Currently there are only state laws regarding bullying. There is much discussion, however, on whether there is a need for specific laws at the federal level. Some have argued that existing hate and harassment laws should be able to cover bullying crimes as well. Civil rights laws may also cover bullying in some instances. On the other side of the debate it can easily be argued that existing laws don’t seem to be having much impact on the increase of bullying. Bullying is a problem that often encompasses so many aspects of a child’s life that individual school policies and even state laws may not be adequate to deal with it. While legislation has not always kept up with the problems regarding bullying, there have been laws passed recently to help address this problem. As of April 2013, all states in the United States except for Montana have legislation dealing with anti-bullying.
If parents or individuals feel that schools, the workplace, or local authorities have not adequately dealt with the bullying in their lives there are places to turn to for help. The US Department of Education has a civil rights office that can be contacted. They can be reached at ed.gov. The US Department of Justice has a civil rights division that can be contacted at www.justice.gov. In Ireland where the case of Gerry Dalton took place, there are organizations that can be contacted to report bullying. The Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum can be reached at www.niabf.org.uk.
If a victim feels that their cries for help are not being addressed they should consider hiring an attorney. There are agencies and groups that can assist those who are unable to financially afford an attorney. Having an experienced attorney is sometimes necessary to expedite the proper procedures and get help in a timely manner.
What happened in Ireland needs to be a reminder that we must remain vigilant concerning the millions of lives that are affected by bullying. Continual education, strong anti-bullying policies, and preventative measures must be implemented in our workplace and schools.