Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez remembers his days as a youth sports coach, and he said he immediately established a ground rule. There would be no taunting and no pointing fingers at teammates for anything that went wrong.
Perez said he was aware the playing field is a prime area in which bullying or hazing could occur.
He wanted to make sure it never started.
“There’s a difference between good-natured ribbing and crossing the lines,” Perez said.
Those who have been bullied learned to identify where and how it takes place, and it’s anywhere kids might not be supervised. In sports, that can mean a locker room or during a time when teammates gather away from a sporting event or practice. Other red flag areas can be bus stops, the bus ride, bathrooms, the walk home and online, where cyberbullying can take place.
On Monday, when members of a group called Knights Against Bullying packed a meeting room at Kaneland Harter Middle School, many who spoke described bullying that took place in just such situations.
Former Kaneland student Andrea Dahlman said she was a target on the bus; items were thrown at her and every day was an ordeal. Parent Darlyne Dwyer spoke about her son, describing an incident in a school restroom that eventually led to felony charges against the classmates involved.
Justin Williams, a South Elgin resident, said when he was a youth in Elgin’s school district, he was targeted on the walk to and from school. And administrators from every public school district the Kane County Chronicle covers identified cyberbullying as a serious situation that continues to grow.
Author Jacqui Marchese DiMarco, who wrote a book about bullying, said such situations provide opportunities for those who bully.
“We hear all the time, ‘boys will be boys,’ but that’s not normal behavior,” she said. “People get so hung up on what is or is not bullying. … It’s someone trying to have power over someone else. … Someone trying to be more powerful than another person for really no other reason than to gratify some other need that they have.”
Williams said he has encountered some who still think bullying stems from “the lunch-money bully.” That wasn’t the case for him when he was a middle-school student. Many who were bullied described situations in which the main bully was part of a group. Williams said he felt he was picked on “when somebody needed a laugh.”
“It was very gradual,” he said. “It went from mild intimidation to heavier intimidation, and I felt less confident. They laid this groundwork in me. They were chipping away at my self-confidence, and it led me down the path to being afraid, that if I do this [to stop the situation], then they’ll do this [to escalate the situation].”
Author Julie Nicolai, a Geneva native and a teacher in Glen Ellyn, also said bullying isn’t as easy to spot as it once was.
“Bullies can be very manipulative,” Nicolai said. “In the past, it was really obvious, and they would get in trouble with the principal or teacher. There would be some consequence, and it would get stopped. Now, there are more kids who are secretive. There’s lots of cyberbullying, and kids can do it anonymously. In the past, there wasn’t that kind of technology.”
Nicolai recommends parents walk their children to bus stops at least until fifth grade, and they should accompany them if they walk to school. There should be a presence to make sure potential bullies don’t think they can act without getting caught.
“Kids should know there are parents out there,” she said. “And they should be acting the right way.”