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Father-son team addresses bullying

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's nearly impossible to stop bullying from happening. What people can do is start something else in its place.

That's the message a father-and-son team gave Wednesday morning at the annual conference of the National Association of Social Workers' West Virginia chapter at the Charleston Civic Center.

Gary McDaniel, a clinical social worker, and his 16-year-old son Aidan, a sophomore at Berkeley Springs High School, have been bullying prevention advocates for the last five or six years, the elder McDaniel said.

McDaniel first gained interest in putting a stop to bullying after he became the social worker for Morgan County Schools, where he saw the problem up close.

"It's just a horrible way to treat another person," McDaniel said. "Seeing someone being cruel to someone else piques my social justice nerve. Especially if it's someone who has more power."

The two have spoken previously at a past NASW West Virginia conference, a conference of the International Bullying Prevention Association, and at Harvard University's Symposium on Youth Meanness and Cruelty. They also will speak at Yahoo's Digital Citizenship conference.

McDaniel said he wants to encourage people to do something in their communities. Simply telling bullies to stop and punishing them doesn't work, he said.

"It's hard to stop something from happening," McDaniel said. "You have to start something else."

One of the things that McDaniel has helped to start is a Sardine Club at Warm Springs Intermediate School.

While many adults cringe at the thought of sardines, children often taste and like them, McDaniel said.

The fish are packed with protein, calcium and Omega 3. At $1 a can, sardines are a good nutritious food, especially for poor communities, he said.

The club that started with four fourth-grade students has grown to include students in grades 3 through 5, who meet weekly during lunchtime.

Research has indicated that the food may have a positive impact on a person's aggressive behavior, McDaniel said. More research is needed to determine if it will decrease bullying behavior, according to the school's website. 

McDaniel said he and Aidan have helped start five or six other programs in their community in an effort to prevent bullying.

They say the idea that bullying affects only young people is a myth. Bullying actually gets worse as people age, they said.

Eighty percent of children say they've never been bullied. Only 50 percent of adults say they've never been bullied in the workplace, they said.

"If [adults] are worse than they are, how are we going to fix them?" Gary McDaniel asked.

McDaniel encourages people to use their hobbies and interests to get involved in their communities.

"[People] can have an impact if they will just get involved," he said. "Start anywhere. If you like making music, make music about it. ... Whatever you like to do, do it with other people."

At first, McDaniel and Aidan primarily worked with students who were being bullied. But bullying doesn't just hurt the victim. Often the person who is bullying has problems in their life too, McDaniel said.

The father and son also encourage bystanders to do something when they see someone being bullied. Bystanders can stand up to bullies, he said.

Because a bully often does it to get "a positive social reaction," they often stop when they get a negative response, McDaniel said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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