Bullies have always been with us. Some people are plagued with low self-esteem and can only boost their egos by badgering others mercilessly – both physically and emotionally.

But bullying has been taken to a whole new level in the age of the Internet. The pervasive nature of social networking sites and the anonymity granted by the Internet have prompted widespread, destructive bullying. And this has led to tragic consequences, with multiple reports of teens committing suicide in response to bullying.

The Bozeman School District is to be commended for adopting a proactive strategy for heading off bullying in local schools. Bozeman students recently took part in a nationwide “Stand Up 4 Change” program that instructed students in how to recognize bullying and what to do once they see it.

And the entire district is adopting the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. As part of the program, students will be discussing bullying incidents they have witnessed in their advisory classes, and all district employees – including cooks and janitors – will be trained in recognizing and responding to bullying incidents.

For too long, parents and school officials have shrugged off bullying as just part of growing up. Conflicts among children will always be with us. But there is no reason we have to tolerate children who exploit unfair advantages or gang up on others simply to inflict pain and suffering.

These types of incidents have been proven to trigger dangerous depression in students. And though most survive the experience, the scars can last a lifetime – and in some cases lead victims to indulge in bullying themselves.

The Olweus program required a modest investment on the part of the district, but it was funded with crime prevention grant money. Where it has been employed, the program has reduced reports of bullying by 20 to 70 percent.

We will never make our schools perfectly safe. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that bullying doesn’t occur in our schools. It happens everywhere.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t minimize this behavior and its effects. And the Bozeman School Board was right to get in front of this problem.

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