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Children's author, advocate visits Sibley

Ryan mcgaughey/Daily Globe Children's author Trudy Ludwig (far left) leads an interactive exercise with Sibley-Ocheyedan students and staff on the tangled web that can be caused by bullying during her Monday afternoon presentation to sixth- through eighth-graders in the Sibley-Ocheyedan High School Auditorium.

SIBLEY, Iowa -- "Do I look like a bully? Do I sound like a bully?"

Those were the seemingly unlikely questions asked of Sibley-Ocheyedan sixth- through-eighth graders by children's advocate and author Trudy Ludwig early in her presentation Monday afternoon in the S-O High School Auditorium.

"I have news for you. I was a bully," added Ludwig, who then placed what she called a bullying hat upon her head. "I'm going to show you how easy it is, including grown-ups, to wear this hat."

Ludwig, from Portland, Ore., has written books that have received such recognition as the Mom's Choice Gold Award, the Cooperative Children's Book Center's "Best of the Year" award and the Moonbeam Children's Books Gold Award. She speaks at schools and conferences across the nation, and was at S-O to mark the school's observance of Bully Awareness Week.

"Bullying -- we learn it at home, we learn it at school, we learn it in our neighborhood," Ludwig said.

"There's only one reason why a kid picks on another kid, and it's because they're choosing to be cruel," she continued. "They're making a conscious choice ... and it's a learned behavior."

Ludwig gave a presentation on bullying to third- through- fifth graders earlier Monday, and had other programs for kindergartners through second-graders -- as well as parents -- scheduled later in the day.

She told the sixth- through eighth-graders that "relational aggression," or "emotional bullying," is typically the most harmful. She cited research that surveyed 14,000 boys and girls.

"What do you think is most hurtful, physical or emotional bullying?" Ludwig asked students in the auditorium. The emotional variety was the overwhelming consensus of the students -- and the correct answer.

Behavior that qualifies as relational aggression includes forming an exclusive club, giving the silent treatment, spreading rumors to ruin a reputation, talking behind someone's back and revealing someone's secrets to humiliate him or her.

Quoting an unidentified 16-year-old from Michigan, Ludwig said: "Words can be just as powerful as fists."

After reading a story about a young girl who consistently bullied others, Ludwig called on S-O students to transform themselves into "hero bystanders." Telling them that they have the power to end bullying in the school, she noted that research shows bystanders who do nothing to stop bullying often experience similar physical symptoms as youths being bullied in the first place.

"Martin Luther King said, 'In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends,"' Ludwig stated. "You need ... to comfort, include and report."

Ludwig also told students that their brains function differently than those of adults, referencing a Harvard University study that showed teens only having a 50 percent accuracy rate determining facial expressions. She then played a brief game of guessing facial expressions with students.

Cyberbullying is another significant concern, Ludwig explained.

"If you don't say it in person, why say it online?" she asked. "When you're cyberbullied, you're tied to your tormentor 24-7."

Ludwig asked S-O students if they had cell phones, cell phones with cameras, and whether or not they send text messages. Most raised their hands.

She also showed pictures of youths who committed suicide as a result of bullying.

"I need you to see the faces. It could be your brother, it could be your sister ... it could be you," she said.

Ludwig reminded students that anything posted on the Internet is ultimately "public and permanent" and one can leave "all these little electronic cyberbully footprints wherever you go." She also spoke of legal concerns regarding sexting, adding that a person who receives a provocative photo electronically and then sends it to another could face felony charges.

S-O will continue its Bully Awareness Week activities with visit from an Iowa State Patrol trooper on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

(507) 376-7320