INTERNATIONAL.- The unwanted were turned away from cafeteria tables. Fistfights broke out at karaoke. Dances became breeding grounds for gossip and cruelty. It became clear this place had a bullying problem on its hands. What many found surprising was that the perpetrators and victims alike were all senior citizens.
Nursing homes, senior centers and housing complexes for the elderly have introduced programs, training and policies aimed at curbing spates of bullying, an issue once thought the exclusive domain of the young.
“There’s the clique system just like everywhere else,” said Betsy Gran, who until recently was assistant director at San Francisco’s 30th Street Senior Center. “It’s like ‘Mean Girls,’ but everyone is 80.” After the cafeteria exiles and karaoke brouhahas, the 30th Street Center teamed up with a local nonprofit, the Institute on Aging, to develop an anti-bullying program.
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All staff members received 18 hours of training that included lessons on what constitutes bullying, causes of the problem and how to manage such conflicts. Seniors were then invited to similar classes, held in English and Spanish, teaching them to alert staff or intervene themselves if they witness bullying. Signs and even place mats around the center now declare it a “Bully Free Zone.”
“I think in the past I would have just stayed out of it” said Mary Murphy, 86, a retired real estate agent who took the classes. “Now I might be inclined to help.” Robin Bonifas, a social work professor at Arizona State University, said existing studies suggest about 1 in 5 seniors encounters bullying.