The following is a guest post by Rick Phillips, developer and Executive Director of Community Matters and coauthor of Safe School Ambassadors: Harnessing Student Power to Stop Bullying and Violence along with John Linney and Chris Pack.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time when are reminded of the importance of preventing and stopping bullying from happening in our schools and communities.
However, the “virus” of bullying, which shows up in many forms such as; cyberbullying, “mean girl” behavior, purposely excluding others, saying hurtful things, threatening or physically assaulting someone, is getting younger, meaner, and more acceptable in youth culture.
Researchers and others who study the issue have reported that despite 49 of 50 states enacting laws and many of the nation’s schools having “zero tolerance” policies, we are not achieving the results we all want.
So what do we do and what do we do differently? We can be overwhelmed by the size and scope of the issue and continue with the status quo, or we can wake up our courage, change our approach and make things better.
We understand that we cannot legislate civility nor can we punish children into being more tolerant. The only viable solution to the spread of the bullying virus is to change the social norms that allow the “virus” to live and grow. In more than 85% of bullying incidents, there are witnesses. However, more often than not the witnesses or bystanders do not say or do anything positive. The consequence of their silence is profound because; silence is a form of consent. Not speaking up emboldens the bully who perceives the silence of others as permission and tacit approval of their actions.
Dr. Stuart Twemlow, respected author and bullying expert recommends bystander education as the most effective strategy available to schools today. And that’s exactly what we do at Community Matters with our Safe School Ambassadors program. We have equipped 1000’s of students and adults with the skills and support to raise their voices and effectively intervene when they encounter bullying in all its forms.
In school after school, the data we collect demonstrates that the actions of mobilized and trained students make a real difference. When Ambassadors speak up, they interrupt, de-escalate and often stop incidents from escalating and becoming offenses. We hear from many administrators that their school climate and culture is greatly improved and the number of fights, suspensions and other negative behaviors are reduced significantly.
Young people are powerful, but often adults don’t recognize their capacity to be peacemakers and change agents. I’m reminded of the power of youth by this quote from Desmond Tutu: “Young people are uniquely equipped to change the world because they dream. They choose not to accept what is, but to imagine what might be.”
Let’s commit that we won’t let the Bullying Prevention Month come and go without taking action. Let’s raise our voices and make a difference. Here’s 10 Ways You Can Help To Stop Bullying:
- Build healthy relationships with the people around you: your children, children in your community, classmates, co-workers, neighbors, parents, players on your team, etc.
- Educate yourself. Know that bullying today is more relational and cyber than it is physical. Read more, go on-line, dialogue with others, etc. Bullying is just one form of mistreatment. Know what’s not OK, what hurts others (physically or emotionally).
- Sharpen your communication skills so you can connect with others, understand them; keep the channels of communication open.
- Walk the talk – don’t bully others. Be kind. Use your influence with care and compassion.
- Be observant and notice what others say and do, and don’t ignore mistreatment.
- Intervene. Stand up and speak up to mistreatment. Voice your concern or objection. Suggest an alternative or get help if it’s bigger than you are.
- Refuse to join in. If all else fails and it doesn’t feel safe to intervene, walk away and report it when appropriate.
- Offer support to the person(s) being targeted. Show that you care.
- Advocate. Be a voice for constructive change in priorities, policies, and practices, in schools and other organizations. Make “positive social-emotional climate” a top priority.
- Know that individual action matters and starts a chain reaction of positive change.
For more information and to learn more go to www.community-matters.org.