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Always be prepared — to battle bullies

/ Source: The Associated Press

As far as the Boy Scouts of America is concerned, knowing how to confront a bully is now as important as mastering a slip knot.

For the first time in the 97-year history of the nation's largest youth organization, newcomers must show they have learned Scout-approved ways to avoid being pushed around and called names, if they want to advance through the ranks.

Shaken down for your lunch money? Tell the bully how it hurts. Called a crater face? The 2008 Boy Scout Handbook recommends this comeback: "So what if I have a face full of zits. What's it to you?"

"We've always emphasized bullying — how to recognize it, how to prevent it," said Jim Terry, assistant chief executive of the Boy Scouts. "This is just a reinforcement of those principles."

The Scouts say the move isn't in response to increased bullying in their ranks. But some critics are already picking on the organization for its new curriculum.

"I don't see it as radically changing anything," said John Dandurand, executive director of Creating Caring Communities, a Denver-based non-profit that advises schools on ways to discourage bullying.

The 472-page Boy Scouts Handbook devotes a half-page to bullies, and Scouts are required to discuss the material with a troop leader to reach the beginner rank of Tenderfoot.

Terry said the measures help reinforce personal safety lessons the Boy Scouts have taught all along. Bullying has long been the subject of informal troop leader talks, and the Boy Scouts have even published a comic book on the subject.

The handbook also now covers cyberbullying. Aspiring Scouts must demonstrate they know how to show restraint when taunted online.

Terry pointed to the suicide of a 13-year-old Missouri girl who hanged herself in October 2006 after falling victim to an online hoax in which she thought she was corresponding with a boy who didn't really exist.

"That was not a trigger, but it proves we're on the right track," Terry said. "Her death speaks specifically to what we're trying to prevent."

Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, credited the Boy Scouts for mandating the lessons. But she had hoped the material would also have some advice for Scouts who might sometimes bully others.

"You know that some of these Boy Scouts are bullies, and that they're ringleaders," Espelage said. "Why do we always put it on the victim to change their behavior?"

Scouts Will Baker, 11, and Kolby Wassel, 12, said they learned anti-bullying tactics such as not fighting back and counting backward to control their anger when teased.

After making beef jerky at a scout gathering near Dallas, Baker said he didn't think bullying was enough of a problem to make lessons mandatory.

Wassel was more approving.

"For most of the younger Scouts, I think that would be a great thing for them," said Wassel, a third-year Scout. "Sometimes they get really depressed if (bullies) hurt their feelings."