Stop Bullying Now: A Safe Learning Environment for All Students
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. At the State Board of Education (SBE), we take bullying seriously. We know that in addition to hurt feelings and bruises, bullying can lead to missed classes and lower grades. All students deserve to feel safe and accepted at their schools.
Recently, a middle school student presented a petition to the SBE asking that schools include students in their anti-bullying efforts. Who knows more about the school’s culture and student attitudes than students? They have vital information to share with teachers and administrators and should be a part of the process to identify and eliminate bullying.
In response, the SBE’s two student board members are drafting an anti-bullying resolution they will present to the board next month for possible adoption. Since the topic is fresh in their minds as they work on this subject, I asked them about their experiences with bullying and what they believe can be done to improve the situation. Their answers are below.
Have you been bullied or seen bullying at your school?
In elementary school, I was bullied by kids in my class for speaking out against things that were unfair towards others or hurt other kids. It was a mixture of subtle actions and looks that amounted to a very unfriendly experience, but I was lucky enough to not experience any bullying past elementary school. An online page critical of our new vice-principal was created, and let’s just say that fifth graders don’t necessarily understand the consequences of cyber-bullying.
I have seen bullying that happens at my school, but most of it happens in ways that aren’t what adults expect; glances and cold looks can’t exactly be reported as single incidences, but they can be quite detrimental to someone when they accumulate over time. Additionally, I believe the use of social media to bully others has increased. I recently had a run in with the abusive use of an anonymous question-asking site. It seems that many kids don’t understand what bullying truly is – they don’t realize that saying offensive, hurtful or disrespectful things about others is a form of bullying.
How does bullying affect your school?
Bullying has a very negative effect on the school environment. In any community, the culture comes from the attitude of its members, as well as a mutual trust and caring for each other. When bullying and other negative interactions occur between students and/or staff members, it creates a sense of hostility and distrust. Most of the time things are fine; small incidences get worked out. However, sometimes bullying goes unnoticed and awful things happen.
What can we do to help?
Students should be more aware of the effects of their actions. Comments on social media sites may seem innocent, but it is not okay and is considered bullying when those comments demean, threaten or harass. Students in leadership positions especially should:
- Be aware of what constitutes bullying or could potential be labeled as bullying.
- Show their friends, through their actions and words, that bullying is not acceptable behavior.
- Report any instances of bullying that they see or hear to an administrator. Standing back and allowing it to happen is almost worse than being the instigator – they show that the behavior is permissible.
Administrators and teachers don’t really have a way to see what happens on our phones and over the Internet, but students that understand the negative effects of bullying on our peers and friends can have the greatest impact. By changing the culture slowly, beginning with uncomfortably telling their friends to change their behaviors, students can completely alter the way other students deal with bullying.
Teachers should be careful in their behavior towards students (picking favorites is obvious and distasteful) and be genuinely kind. Without asking them to add more to their constantly busy schedules, choosing to be kind is the easiest way to instigate change within a community. Fostering a community of kindness and respect is the best way to eliminate things like bullying.
Parents can do their part by being involved in their kids’ lives. Be aware of how we’re doing or if we’re acting differently. These can be a good indicator of things happening in the social world. Simply be kind to your kids and your kids will be kind to others.
Any Final Thoughts?
Bullying isn’t always sent through physical harm and public verbal abuse. As technology advances and social media takes over, our ways of identifying and tackling bullying must change with it. At this point, kids know best. We know the latest apps, websites, forms of communication, and we usually know exactly who’s doing the bullying. I’ve seen extraordinary cases where groups of students worked to find out who was doing the bullying, and then rallied to support the targets. The system isn’t perfect, but it could be a lot worse. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Alissa Muller, SBE Communications Manager, (360) 725-6501