Want to Stop Bullying? You Can’t Without These 4 Critical Steps.

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Students are tired of bullying awareness programs.

Students are tired of bullying awareness programs.

Every time I am in front of a gymnasium full of high school kids to speak about bullying prevention, I start with the following question: “How many of y’all were bummed when you heard this assembly was about bullying?”

Pretty much every hand goes up in the air. There’s nothing quite like facing 2,000 students who have just let you know that they have no interest in what you’re going to talk about. But after close to a decade in public speaking for students, I know exactly what I’m walking into when I deliver my presentation on The Bystander Effect.

Then I ask: “Real talk…how many of y’all believe after we’re done here today that nothing will change and it will be back to The Hunger Games by next week?”

This time many, of the hands are held high by students with pain in their eyes silently pleading, “Give me something that will make things easier”.

The Bystander Effect is a social phenomenon that refers to cases in which cases do not offer any help to a victim when other people are present.

The Bystander Effect is a social phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any help to a victim when other people are present.

Imagine being a student targeted by bullying behavior. Imagine that the only solutions offered by trusted adults are suggestions to “be nice to others” and to “speak up” about your situation.

Unfortunately, many schools end up deploying these types of superficial approaches when trying to combat bullying behavior. The question is, what are educators and parents to do to create more meaningful conversations and actionable plans around issues of bullying?

The conversations that are the most difficult to have are usually the ones that are needed the most.

The conversations that are the most difficult to have are usually the ones that are needed the most.

Starting The Conversation

In our Student UPstander Intervention Trainings, students write down what behaviors they have witnessed on campus and/or online that they would consider to be bullying. Participants also identify groups of students who may be targeted. I have worked with thousands of students across the country on this exercise and consistent patterns always emerge. These patterns demonstrate that bullying is not as simple as children being cruel.

Students’ ethnic, gender, racial, ability, body size, and other personal identities are often targeted. Incidents may be complicated by racism, sexism, classism, and hate. While too few adults possess the skills to openly discuss these kinds of hard to broach subjects, we often expect students to navigate these issues as best they can without providing them the critical tools necessary to promote civility.

The solution is an evidenced-based strategy that, if implemented properly, will positively influence beliefs and behaviors to change the culture of a school. A healthy school culture, where every student feels valued and connected, is the only way to truly prevent bullying behavior.

This type of behavior in our schools is much more common than people think.

Students’ lack of perspective on issues related to diversity is problematic and can cause conscious and unconscious biases to surface in dangerous ways.

1. Get Clear On Pro-Social Behavior 

It is critical that students understand what behaviors promote healthy relationships. Kids want to be shown a pathway to healthy relationships. As educators and parents, we want to guide students to become adults capable of developing authentic human connections and trust.

During UPstander training, students write down indicators of pro-social behavior. What are the action steps to healthy relationships?

This exercise always proves more challenging than identifying bullying behaviors. Students most often write down broad qualities such as:kindness, integrity, honesty, empathy, etc.

The language we have equipped them with is not specific enough to influence action. We must be crystal clear on high leverage behaviors that create civility.

What does being kind look like to a high school student?

What does it look like to be a person who speaks up?

What are the behaviors of a person who has integrity?

These behaviors can be as simple and specific as holding the door for others, expressing gratitude, celebrating others’ successes, or resolving conflicts without emotion.

We must get specific and help them identify behaviors that are easily recognizablereplicable, and accessible. 

This helps students to build a positive mental model. Civility and incivility are both contagious forces that either push communities towards or away from their collective brilliance.

Pro-Social Behaviors are contagious.

Pro-Social Behaviors are contagious.

2. Empowering Students

Many high school students don’t realize how critical they are as individuals to the social landscape of their school. Students wield incredible influence.

We need to be deliberate about empowering our students to use their influence for the good of their community and to remind them that greatness is not achieved alone.

One way to do this is through the power of choice. A group of Columbia University psychologists wrote in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences in 2010, “The need for control is a biological imperative.” When people believe they are in control, research shows that they work harder, are more resilient and push themselves more.

Rather than tell students what not to do, we provide them with the tools to confidently choose civility and respect over incivility and bullying. Students, like the rest of us, cherish autonomy and the freedom of choice.

Once students understand what bullying looks like and are clear on the high leverage pro-social behaviors that move communities away from it, they are ready to identify what social role they can best step into to build a culture of civility in their community.

3. Building a Framework for Engagement 

The final piece of our CivilSchools Student UPstander Intervention Training is where transformation happens. Research indicates that one of the most effective means of addressing bullying behavior is to engage bystanders to act as UPstanders when unhealthy behavior surfaces.

That can only happen when students possess the skills necessary to act with confidence and competence. Not every student is the same and each individual has personal strengths.

The CivilSchools methodology allows students to self assign how they personally are going to deploy pro-social behaviors to inspire acts of civility.

Students choose where they best fit from the following UPstander Roles (they can choose to fill single of multiple roles).

Social Normer-

The theory of Socio-dynamics states that only around 1/3 of a community determines what is considered to be socially acceptable behavior. Social Normers use pro-social behaviors to strategically inspire others to engage in healthy behavior.

This is a low risk social influence tactic where most kids can easily step into. These students may decide to smile more than their peers, acknowledge other people, be good listeners, hold doors for others, etc. These students make a conscious effort to model healthy behavior on campus and within the digital world with goal of influencing pro-social behavior in their peers.

Objective=Inspire acts of civility and respect through pro-social behaviors that are recognizablereplicable and accessible on campus and on-line.

Interrupter-

These students tend to have a little more social capital and are better at conflict resolution than most of their peers. They tend to be able to control their emotions and are creative thinkers. They are able to take the perspective of and recognize emotions in others.

These UPstanders recognize potentially unhealthy social situations and interrupt the behavior in the moment. They may strategically redirect the attention of a group or find away to deescalate the situation.

Objective-On the spot intervention or distraction of attention to stop or redirect behavior that could be unhealthy.

First Responders-

These students are dialed in to the emotional well being of others and possess a high level of empathic concern. They understand that we are all connected and that the health of their school ecosystem is best when all stake-holders feel safe and valued.

These students deliver positive feedback loops on-line and in person to those involved in unhealthy behavior. They not only deliver emotional first aide to those targeted but they can also provide reflective feedback to offer perspective to those engaging in bullying behavior.

We would not run a school without people certified to administer First-Aid/CPR. In the digital age we cannot send our kids to a school where people are not certified to administer Emotional First-Aid

We would not run a school without people certified to administer First-Aid/CPR. In the digital age we cannot send our kids to a school where people are not certified to administer Emotional First-Aid

These students remind their peers of the big picture and speak to people in a manner that appeals to their altruistic side. They understand the difference between empathy and sympathy and can stay out of judgement when responding to a situation.

Objective-Remind people involved/effected by unhealthy behavior that they matter and are valued by their community.

4. A Bias Towards Action

If we want students to cross over the chasm from being a bystander to acting as an UPstander, we must teach students how to take control of social situations and experience the fulfillment that comes with looking out for the well-being of others.

Students do not show up at school as natural born Upstanders, yet they all show up with the virtues to act as one.

Being able to positively influence social situations and inspire acts of civility is learned and is the product of a community effort.

So, PAHLEASSSSEEEEEE, next time you hear an educator suggest a bullying prevention assembly. Or hear an adult advise a student to simply “Be kind and Speak Up!” Enthusiastically send them this article.

Times are too complicated to let our students navigate these issues the same way most of us did. There are proven systems that work. CivilSchools offers one of those systems… this is not a cure all and there are plenty of other pieces to our CivilSchools program, however, this is a relatively quick and effective approach to building safer and healthier learning environments.

***

At the conclusion of every Student UPstander Intervention Training, we have students approach us, expressing that for the first time they have hope. They have hope because they were given the tools to prevent and respond to bullying behavior.

Not to sound cliche, but think of the kids and put this information into the hands of the people committed to serving them. If you need some guidance or would like to work with our team, please email me.

CivilSchools cofounder, Eric Thompson

CivilSchools cofounder, Eric Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric is available to help facilitate change in your school community. To book Eric as a speaker, please contact Director of Business Management and Outreach, Erin Frisby at  erin@civilschools.com

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6 Ways Parents Can Address Bullying

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comforting-467x267Photo Credit: PBS.

If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, it’s likely that you’ve been affected by bullying.

With approximately 30% of students reporting being bullied and far more being peripherally affected or even traumatized by bullying, it’s a weighing concern on parents’ minds.

I often will meet parents when I’m out at a party or on a long flight who, when they hear that I’m a bullying-prevention educator, immediately begin to impart their terrible story of childhood trauma and abuse or stories about their kids being bullied in school.

And while just about every parent cares passionately and deeply about ending bullying, most are unsure of what they can do to protect their child.

That’s one of the reasons that I partnered with Everyday Feminism a few months ago to facilitate a free webinar on how parents can intervene to end bullying.

Knowing that not every parent has an hour to sit down and watch the recording of our webinar, though, I wanted to offer a quick read for parents who are concerned about bullying.

Understanding Modern Bullying

Before parents can effectively intervene when bullying is taking place, it’s important that we understand a few things about the nature of modern bullying.

First, a comprehensive review of the research on bullying from the American Educational Research Association tells us that “bullying is often aimed at specific groups” and is often a direct result of power imbalances.

In short, bullying is primarily a problem of power, not simply random childhood cruelty.

Though not every instance of bullying is directly related to identity, research indicates that it can be important to talk about bullying through the lens of identity.

Second, the nature of bullying has changed tremendously in the last 15 years.

I often have adults say to me, “Man, I was bullied, and I survived! All this coddling isn’t going to help kids toughen up!”

My response is always, “While I’m really sorry that you were bullied, we also need to understand that bullying today isn’t the same thing as bullying when we were young.”

In my own case, I was bullied pretty terribly in my youth.

It got to the point that I felt pretty desperate and even suicidal at times. And this was in a time when I was able to take breaks from the bullying.

You see, when I got home from school, the bullying stopped. And every summer break, I got a two-month reprieve from the bullying behavior. And I barely survived!

Today, with the wide accessibility of cell phones and the Internet, bullying can be near constant.

One of the last things young people with cell phones do before bed and first things they do when waking up is check their phone. If they’re being bullied through Twitter or text, that’s how they will start their day.

The scary thing about cyber bullying is that it never takes a break.

Knowing these two things about bullying will help tremendously as you look for the ways to best support your child and intervene when they are being targeted for bullying.

1.  Look for Signs of Bullying

Though it may seem obvious, many of the signs of bullying go unnoticed or written off as moodiness or growing pains.

But there are concrete things that you can look for that will help you to identify when you child is being bullied.

No matter your child’s age, ask yourself these questions:

Has your child…

 …stopped doing things that they enjoy?

Students who are being bullied tend to express greater self-consciousness, and as a result, they may suddenly stop doing things they enjoy.

Maybe they’re being mistreated at baseball practice, so they no longer want to play baseball. Maybe they’re being bullied for their interest in Magic the Gathering, so they suddenly stop playing the game that they love.

…expressed a sudden or progressive sad or sullen attitude?

Maybe this is a sign of seasonal affectedness, or maybe this is because the teasing has finally broken through your child’s defenses. Once the poison of bullying gets inside, it often will show up through progressive or sudden sadness.

…expressed a sudden or progressive angry attitude?

Similarly, bullying can also lead to sudden outbursts of anger.

This is important to recognize because it can often end up leading to your child“passing on the hurt” by bullying other people.

For me, I was terrible to my parents and best friends when I was being bullied in middle school.

…expressed sudden or progressive self consciousness about their identity?

Because much bullying is identity-based, it can lead to students feeling more self-conscious about the aspect of their identity that is being targeted.

In the case of heterosexist/homophobic bullying, it can lead targeted kids to express self-consciousness and to project their understandings of heterosexuality in extreme ways.

…been reluctant or afraid to attend school or activities?

Maybe they’re just hitting that time of year when nothing can make them want to go to school, or maybe they’re being mistreated in some way. But sudden reluctance to attend school or activities is a good sign that bullying could be taking place.

 If your answer to any of these questions is yes, talk to your child.

The more open and honest you are with them about your concern, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what’s hurting them.

And even if they don’t end up sharing everything with you right then and there, bringing it up helps them understand that they can come to you for help.

2.  Engage Your Child’s Digital World

If your child is not yet online or using a cell phone, it’s only a matter of time. So it’s important to set a precedent early about how you will engage with their digital world.

Sadly, cyber bullying is on the rise and is becoming one of the key tools in bullying behavior.

You have to decide for yourself how involved you feel comfortable being, butbeing involved is without a question vital to intervening if your child is being bullied or demonstrating bullying behavior.

Ask yourself whether you’d feel comfortable knowing your kids’ passwords and until what age? Have you talked to them about web safety? To what degree are your kids trusted with unsupervised use of cell phones or the Internet?

All of these questions are vitally important.

Do you know all of the different social media apps your kids might be using?

One thing that was surprising to me is that I consider myself pretty “in the know”when it comes to the digital world. Yet when I was doing research for the CivilSchools parent workbook and polled high school students about what apps or platforms they’re using, a number came up that I had never heard of!

Young people are fleeing Facebook for Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Ask.fm, Tumblr, Lulu, Whisper, and other platforms.

It’s important, then, to have an open and honest dialogue about what kinds of social media they engage with and how they engage, reminding them that if they or anyone they know is being mistreated, they can talk to you or other trusted adults.

3.  Self Reflect

One of the hardest things for parents to realize is that bullying behavior is learned. Therefore, if you’re concerned about eradicating bullying behavior from your community, you need to start in your own home.

In her fantastic reflection on learned bullying behavior, Rachel from Hands Free Mama astutely realized that the biggest bully in her daughter’s life was herself.

One of the best things we can do to prevent bullying is to think about the ways that we might be teaching bullying behavior to our kids.

Do we talk badly about other people or identities? Do we demonstrate that it’s okay to say terrible things to others (perhaps through our road rage or in how we treat service employees)?

4.  Build a Parenting Network

In the midst of our busy lives, parents are becoming increasingly disconnected from other parents in their children’s school community. Yet parent allies are some of the best people to step in and help when you fear your child is being bullied or demonstrating bullying behavior.

 Does your community have a parent advocacy organization? If not, what would it take to start one and get other parents to join?

Having a parent advocacy network doesn’t require a ton of extra time or meetings on the schedule. Parent listservs or Facebook groups make it easy in our busy schedules to reach out to other parents.

Sometimes a simple message like “I’ve been noticing my child’s been more and more angry lately, and I’m wondering if something’s going on at school” can alert other parents who may be having the same problem, and you can start to get to the bottom of it together.

Plus, if you suspect bullying is taking place, a parenting network might help you reach out to the parents of children you suspect are exhibiting bullying behavior.

There’s a chance those parents will be defensive and you’ll have to go through the school, but if there’s even a small chance that alerting an unaware parent might stop the problem, a parenting network can be the thing that saves the life of a bullied young person.

5. Build a Proactive Relationship with Your School

Sadly, if the first time that your kid’s school hears from you is when you come in furious that they’re doing nothing about the bullying your child is experiencing, they’re far more likely to write you off. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

If you’re worried about bullying, one of the best things you can do is start building a proactive relationship with the school early.

Identify who your allies are in the building, and reach out to them early offering your help and support. That way, when you reach out for help and support with bullying, you’ve got some people in your corner.

Additionally, teaming up with other parents to both show that you support your school and teachers and to draw attention to bullying behavior is important.

Schools are likely to take you more seriously when they realize bullying is a problem that is affecting more than one family.

Finally, when working with your kids’ school, assume best intentions on the part of teachers and staff, but do not hesitate to get forceful to make your voice heard.Your child has a legal and ethical right to feel safe and included in their school environment.

6. Demand a Comprehensive Approach to Bullying

One of the reasons that I originally designed the CivilSchools program is that research tells us that bullying is preventable, but only when the entire community – parents, teachers, students, administrators, and the wider community – is engaged.

Whether it’s a program like CivilSchools or something else, there needs to be mechanisms to engage the entire community if you truly want to build the kind of community where bullying is no longer present and where all students feel safe.

A recent national study indicates that only half of school employees have received training in how to prevent bullying, and more than half of school staff say they need additional training.

Unfortunately, though, with the laser-like focus on reading strategies and math concepts (which are important – don’t get me wrong), schools don’t often prioritize the time and money it takes to actually involve everyone in bullying prevention until there is some sort of tragedy.

But schools tend to listen to parents.

If a bunch of parents from your parent advocacy network start e-mailing the principal, demanding a comprehensive approach to bullying, it will happen.

Bullying By Any Other Name…

Sadly, the term “bullying” has been used as a catchall recently, thus watering down the term and making it far less effective for describing the actual problem at hand.

But one thing we know is that when you describe specific bullying behaviors to students and ask them to identify the ones that are present in their schools, we know that bullying is a problem that ain’t going away simply because we’ve passed some “zero-tolerance” laws (PS: They don’t work!).

Building bullying-free school culture and climate where every student feels safe and inclusive is hard work that requires parent engagement. The more organized and tenacious you are about demanding a safe and inclusive environment in your school, the more schools will have to listen.

The more we demand social-emotional learning that teaches empathy and the more we equip our community members with tools to actually prevent bullying, the greater a change we will see.

But don’t forget: Bullying is preventable if we engage the entire community in building more inclusive school environments.

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