School is over. Not only are the kids on summer break, but so too is the effort by most to stop bullying. Unfortunately, this means the process starts all over each fall and is one of the many reasons why bullying continues. The kids who are the targets of bullying don’t get the summer off; the scars don’t take a break and many have a lifelong negative impact. This article looks at some of the barriers that exist in the prevention of bullying.
One barrier is a lack of a common language, understanding of the problem. Most people confuse bullying with unfriendly classmates behavior, conflict, or kids just being rude. Adults and kids are using the word bully to characterize most contentious interactions. Some kids are taught to tell kids to stop bullying them when someone does something mean to them. If we can’t identify the problem correctly we can’t use the appropriate response or strategy to address it.
A common practice that exists is each school does its own programming around this issue and there is not a district-wide plan. Frequently within a school each classroom has its own way to handle the issue. This means a grade with three classrooms has three different messages for their kids who all eat lunch and play together. Typically, the lunch/recess aides, school counselors and Principals also all have their own way of handling the situations. Often there is no communication to parents about how their children are supposed to handle issues of bullying or meanness. Ideally, there would be a district-wide plan so when kids came together in middle and high school there would be an expectation that kids would stand up for other kids.
More often than not when action is taken it is in the form of an assembly, a new policy and some posters on the wall. It is absurd to think that children can learn how to prevent bullying in a one hour presentation or magic show. Does anyone expect our children to learn math skills that way in a gym with a couple of hundred others. An assembly is great to increase awareness and it is better than nothing, but to really create change there needs to be a comprehensive plan.
Then there is the hurdle of the “it’s not my problem” parent. This is the parent who does not see their own or their child’s role in the problem. There is a lack of awareness or understanding of the issues. The parent does not have a child who is a target of bullying and therefore feels it really isn’t their problem. The parent buys into the flawed notion that kids will be kids and it is a rite of passage. The parent themselves could be a bully or Queen/King Bee and the cliché “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is really true.
Another reason bullying is so pervasive is because of silence. Many kids have been told repeatedly to walk away and ignore the bullying — believing this message says “I don’t care.” The only clear message that ignoring sends is ‘you can keep doing this to me.’ Girls and Boys Empowered are teaching kids to act like they do care. They care because they expect people to respect them because they respect themselves. Kids are in their power when they let others know it isn’t ok to mistreat them, whereas kids are powerless when they send the message ‘it is ok to mistreat me. ‘
The number one strategy that targets have been given is to walk away and ignore it. The advice the bystander is given is not to get involved. It isn’t their problem or business. When the target or the bystander stays silent the bully gets the message that it is ok to treat people that way. This is normal.
In order to prevent bullying the bystanders are going to have to speak up and let the bully know it isn’t ok. Because the majority of kids are bystanders that means we need all kids, parents, and teachers to have a common language and understanding around the issues of bullying, relational aggression and mean-spirited behaviors. The research also shows that when the bystander speaks up the bullying goes down.
In order to bully-proof our schools and children we need to train our children with the skills and strategies of how to stand up for themselves and others and have in place a common language, definitions, strategies and consequence and resources for those children who need help.
Kimber Bishop-Yanke is founder and president of Girls and Boys Empowered, a 13-year-old organization that has been providing programs to children in the area of bully-proofing your children, self-esteem and confidence, social skills and building emotional intelligence. She speaks and trains nationally and internationally in bully proofing children and schools. Girls and Boys Empowered summer day camps are offered at the Beaumont YMCA. To see summer camp schedule go to www.girlsempowered.com. Bishop-Yanke is a graduate of Henry Clay High School. She now lives in Metro Detroit. Visit both information www.girlsempowered.com and www.boysempowered.com