Sun Editorial: Work all year to end bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Be kind.

This simple sentiment can go a long way. It’s an easy one to remember, but during National Bullying Prevention Month, it doesn’t hurt to share this reminder – and share it often.

Last week, school districts across the state observed the Week of Respect, and next week is School Violence Awareness Week, both opportunities to provide anti-bullying education. While these measures are helpful in highlighting important issues during National Bullying Prevention Month, it is the work our school districts carry out all year – building mentorship programs, earning No Place for Hate designations and more – that can have the greatest impact at eradicating violence.

There are a number of legal measures in place to curb bullying in the Garden State. Mallory’s Law, unanimously passed in the state Senate in June and named for a New Jersey 12-year-old who took her own life after continuous bullying, places more stringent guidelines on the state’s already strict anti-bullying law, adding more accountability for bullies and involving parents and guardians from the start of a bullying report.

However, with bullying on the rise in New Jersey – earlier this year, it was reported in an Education Law Center analysis that bullying, violence and substance use were up 26 percent in the state – legal ramifications don’t seem to be enough.

Where a difference needs to be made is in school culture.

Bullying is complex, and according to stopbullying.gov, prevention programs have had mixed results. The best approach, the website states, is confronting the problem from many angles. This involves creating a safe and supportive school community – an environment where, if bullying does occur, a bystander will intervene. Where a bully will be told not here, not now, not ever.

Adults who interact with children and teenagers on a regular basis – parents and guardians, teachers and coaches, and others – need to also remember to keep the lines of communication open. Ensure these kids know not only that they have an adult to turn to, but also that they are truly being heard. Encourage them to seek help if they or someone else they know are being bullied.

And always – always – teach them to be kind. That’s where it starts.