Category Archives: Bullying and Harassment
If zero-tolerance is:
- Ineffective (one-size fits all and does not teach better behavior)
- Counterproductive (escalates the school suspension to drop out to prison pipeline)
- Sometimes even foolish (suspending a first grader for hitting another student)
And since misbehavior and conflicts are:
- An inevitable part of everyday life in schools, homes, and communities
- No longer handled with automatic student suspensions and expulsions
What can we do instead?
- Teach positive social behavior at all developmental levels
- Teach basic conflict resolution skills K-12
- Provide students with constructive options to resolve conflicts before they turn into a crisis
- Treat a crisis as an opportunity to learn
There is so much we can do if we intentionally weave these approaches into everyday school life. The school culture would be one of prevention based on care and respect, taking responsibility, learning appropriate behavior, and of intervention based on restoring damaged relationships.
What kind of problem behavior are we talking about?
We are concerned with all types of violence (physical force used to violate, damage, or abuse another, and abusive or unjust use of power)on the continuum from subtle/emotional to obvious/physical.
The Violence Continuum- where conflicts escalate from subtle to obvious:
SUBTLE__name-calling__excluding__teasing__embarrassing__taunting__hitting__stealing__ spreading rumors__ bullying__harassing__stalking__threatening with harm__ganging up on__punching__assaulting sexually__targeting for hate crimes__stabbing__shooting__killing__OBVIOUS
What kind of solutions are there?
Conflict resolution prevention and intervention strategies needed to prevent and address violence also fall on a continuum from pro-action/prevention to intervention/resolution.
The Conflict Resolution Continuum where school-wide practices range from prevention to intervention to crisis management:
PREVENTION__ nurturing a positive school climate of caring, respectful relationships where every student is my student__identifying common values and social norms__providing bullying-prevention training, policies, and procedures__compiling student generated behavior guidelines/rules/codes of conduct__teaching, practicing, modeling, applying principles of restorative justice and positive social and conflict resolution skills__using informal conflict resolution(What are you doing? What can you do instead?)__involving families to work with us as a team__developing individual problem-solving plans__counseling/adult mentoring__providing formal peer and adult mediation__assigning in-school suspension__suspending from school__using formal restorative justice programs__expelling from school____arresting__incarcerating__ CRISIS
When a situation escalates in seriousness, conflict mediation and restorative justice can break the cycle of punishment:
inappropriate behavior+punishment+more inappropriate behavior+harsher punishment=
destroyed relationships + damaged lives
Mediation allows each student in a conflict to peacefully work out a solution they can both live with. The impartial mediator-peer or adult-provides a safe and respectful setting where they can express their concerns and feelings, gain insight into how their behavior affects others, and talk to each other in a respectful way to come up with an agreement. Mediation helps students consider the perspectives of others and can prevent the escalation of a conflict. It helps restore broken relationships and to build new ones. Through the mediation process students learn that conflicts are normal, to take responsibility for their part in the conflict, to work together to solve the problem, and that they can peacefully settle conflicts with positive words and actions.
Restorative justice is an opportunity to change negative behavior by focusing on the harm done to the victim-person or community. Its goal is not to punish but to develop empathy and mend relationships. The offender is expected to make things right and to not repeat the behavior in the future. Rather than receiving external punishment handed out by an adult authority, the offender takes ownership of his actions and is actively involved with repairing the damage done. It is an educational approach that aims to teach responsibility, change attitudes, and replace destructive behavior with constructive choices. Formal restorative justice programs are appropriate for secondary students and we also practice restorative justice with young children when we ask them how they can fix the mess they made, including emotional hurt they may have caused others.
Through mediation and restorative justice processes, students learn how their actions are personal choices and that their choices have consequences on people and communities. They learn the invaluable quality of empathy and compassion and how to restore harmony.
Even with strong prevention efforts conflicts and violence of many forms and intensities will still arise. Mediation and restorative justice are not the answer for all offenses. Serious behavior that threatens someone’s physical safety and emotional well-being is still dealt with consistently, swiftly, and assertively. Yet we can address all those other negative behaviors on the middle and lower ends of the violence continuum in more constructive ways that teach, model, and expect better behavior.
Tags: building trust, changing school culture, empathy, Mediation, positive school climate, Relationships, responsibility, Restorative Justice, safe school climate, school violence, violence continuum, zero-tolerance discipline policies
A Case of Rights vs Rites
We owe it to our students to call it what it is.
Hazing is violent behavior we’d never excuse under its real name: bullying and assault.
Hazing is tacitly permitted and spans the violence continuum from taunting, extortion, and humiliation, to forced substance abuse, and physical and sexual assault. Like all bullying, hazing is an abuse of power and it negatively affects both girls and boys. The problem continues to exist because students are afraid to report it, it flies under the radar of adult scrutiny, or adults are aware of it and do nothing. Looking the other way and this veil of secrecy provide the perfect mix for uncontrolled, destructive behavior under the guise of tradition and good fun.
The traditions and myths surrounding hazing allow it to enjoy a protected place in our culture, not just in our colleges, but also in our public and private elementary and secondary schools. Status as a cultural norm, which considers negative initiation rites benign and even character building, is an imposing barrier. The norm is strengthened even more by student peer pressure and the need for acceptance into the group. The effect is students routinely give up their rights and quietly suffer humiliation and put themselves in emotional and physical danger in exchange for the chance to be included. They don’t see a way out of going along with the initiation rites if they want to be able to take part in the group activity they enjoy. We need to develop and present a new mindset and set up policies that give students a way out.
Who is in charge of eliminating hazing?
Clearly we are, just as we are responsible for maintaining academic standards and establishing a safe school climate. The adult staff is accountable to do no harm and to allow no harm be done to their students. Coaches and advisors for sports teams, music groups, social activities, and clubs have a specific responsibility to keep safe the students under their care by prohibiting and reporting hazing that occurs on or off school property and during or outside of school hours. If a college fraternity chapter can be suspended from campus for life for hazing abuses and members charged with assault, coaches and other adults who allow our young students to be abused and those students who abuse others should face comparable consequences.
The reality is most students want us to protect them from hazing. They don’t want to be victims and many don’t want to be put in the role of victimizer. They want adults to intervene, hazers disciplined, the police called, school leaders who are educated about the underground of initiation rites, and hazing replaced with positive experiences.
Adult culpability for what happens to their students is a wake up call to all elementary and secondary school staff. The Ohio State Education Department takes this responsibility seriously. Their anti-hazing code warns that any adult who “recklessly” permits hazing, or who has knowledge of the hazing and takes no action to stop the behavior is liable for civil action for injury and damages, including mental and physical pain and suffering. They have placed hazing into the realm of a crime where it belongs.
But students fear nothing will change, and some adults justify hazing, because it is difficult to break down well-established traditions. Yet we have repeatedly proven we can change school climate and school culture. Think of what used to be ingrained in the culture and policies of our schools: students segregated by race, separate schools and classrooms for students with disabilities, different courses and graduation and post graduation expectations for boys and girls, rigid academic tracking from a young age, the use of corporal punishment for discipline. From experience, we know that the most effective way to change the status quo is to get the cooperation of those involved and to take a clear and firm position together.
In the unique case of hazing, school policies, staff, students, and families need to be clear and firm that no emotional or physical violence, couched as a harmless initiation rite for acceptance into a group, regardless of tradition, will be allowed, ignored, or excused. Any anti-bullying policy that does not specifically address hazing is incomplete.
Instead we will:
- Create a written code of conduct for extra-curricular groups that specifically prohibits any form of hazing. (See Evergreen Colorado HS anti-hazing sample policy below.)
- Bring parents together to review the code and to enlist their support for its success.
- Consistently publicize and enforce the anti-hazing policy.
- Create a confidential hotline so hesitant students and parents can report hazing to the authorities.
- And as our new mindset, offer positive, respectful adult leadership and collaborative activities to welcome new students into a group.
Evergreen Colorado High School Anti-Hazing Policies
Evergreen High School prohibits recognized groups, organizations, athletic teams or those that attend events or activities sponsored, organized or supported in any way by those organizations, from hazing members, prospective members, or other persons seeking to obtain benefits or services from any of these organizations.
Hazing is any action or activity, with or without consent from a person, whether conducted on or off Evergreen High School property, which is designated to or has the reasonably foreseeable effect of humiliation, denigrating, offending, physically or mentally abusing or exposing to danger a person, as a condition, directly or indirectly, of the person’s consideration for, continuation in, admission to, membership in, participation in activities of, receipt of benefits or services from, an organization or group.
Cyberbullying – What does it look like and what can we do about it?
It will help us and our kids
prevent, avoid, and deal with
You might also want to see some of my related posts:
I used to say please. I don’t anymore.
I have red hair.
I wear glasses.
I have freckles.
Please don’t call me names.
I am short.
I have learning problems.
Please don’t make fun of me.
I don’t speak English well.
I have dark skin.
I am quiet around others.
Please don’t laugh when others taunt me.
I wear wrinkled clothes.
I get free lunch.
I like reading more than sports.
Please don’t try to embarrass me.
I am gay.
I live with my father.
I have few friends.
Please don’t gang up on me.
I used to be your friend.
I like the same boy that you do.
I don’t want to drink or smoke with you.
Please don’t write mean things about me.
I shouldn’t have to say please.
I am a person, like you are. I have feelings, like you do. I have rights, like we all have. You are not better than me.
I shouldn’t have to say anything.
But until it stops, I won’t say please.
The Renewed Interest
Lately, there has been a spike in the number of hits on my posts about the 2008 murder of Larry King by classmate Brandon McInerney. At first puzzled why there was this renewed interest, I learned about HBO’s recently aired documentary, “Valentine Road.” I then sat down to watch it – with some trepidation. I hoped HBO had done a professional job of presenting the facts and raising the many core issues of the case. They did. It was an accurate and non-sensationalized exploration of the circumstances of Larry’s murder and the legal and social aftermath. Through videos, interviews with those involved – family members, friends, teachers, lawyers – and using court and police records, we see the polarization in the community over who was to blame and the agony of how to impose punishment.
The two boys: Fifteen year-old Larry was openly gay and cross dressed, Brandon was straight. Larry was multi-racial, Brandon was white. Larry was small with a slight build, Brandon was tall and athletic. Larry lived in a group facility for abused children. Brandon lived with his father and grandfather while his mother was in rehab for her drug addiction.
The basic facts of the incident were straightforward and undisputed: On February 12, 2008, fourteen year old Brandon McInerney brought a loaded gun to E. O. Green Middle School in Oxnard, CA, got up from his seat in the computer lab, stood behind his classmate, Larry King, who was sitting at a computer, and shot him twice- point-blank-in the back of his head. As Larry fell to the floor, Brandon dropped the gun and fled the school. Larry died two days later and Brandon was charged with first- and -second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and a hate crime. The district attorney was trying him as an adult and a conviction of first-degree murder carried up to a life sentence with no parole.
The Court Case
The case finally came to trial three years later and after nine weeks it ended with a hung jury. The members of the jury had no doubt Brandon had premeditated and carried out Larry’s murder. Their issues were over the fairness of trying a just-turned 14-year-old as an adult and the perceived circumstances that “drove” Brandon to take such a violent and permanent solution to a problem.
The Mitigating Factors
The mitigating factors proposed by the attorneys revolved around Larry’s increased use of make-up and dressing in girls clothes, the unappreciated open crush he had on Brandon and their unpleasant interactions, the growing tensions between the two, the lack of teacher and administrative interventions in the obviously escalating conflict, accusations of bullying and harassment by both parties, and Brandon’s state of mind when he shot Larry. Other factors on the jury’s mind were: the family backgrounds of both boys, which included foster and institutional care, physical and emotional abuse, family violence and parental drug use; the easy availability of guns; and the role of a local hate group.
After the mistrial trial, Brandon was again charged as an adult for first degree murder. To avoid another exhausting, contentious trial, Brandon pleaded guilty to second degree murder and manslaughter and was sentenced to 21 years in prison. At the sentencing, conflicting Save Brandon and Justice for Larry buttons were pinned to the sea of onlookers.
What do you think? Would there have been a hung jury and so much public support for the killer if the circumstances were reversed and Brandon was the boy who was bi-racial and the boy who was gay/transgendered and dressed like a girl? Was Larry’s murder a hate crime? Should a 14-year-old who commits an adult level crime such as lying in wait to kill someone, be tried as a juvenile? How much weight should mitigating factors such as family life and bullying have in assessing blame and assigning consequences?
Watch “Valentine Road” on HBO GO, (Valentine Road Trailer), read my schoolclimate.com blog posts as I followed the case, read what others have written, look at the thought-provoking Valentine Road Discussion Guide, and most importantly, think about what we can do to avoid such a the tragedy in the future.
It’s a new school year, a clean slate.
You want to create a safe, encouraging, positive climate for learning. You want to develop a relationship of mutual respect among your students and between you and your students. You want your room to be a place that students enjoy coming to, where they cooperate, collaborate, and work hard.
Don’t miss the opportunity to establish, from day one of the new school year, that your classroom is a safe haven – a bully-free zone. Students need the adults in the school to enthusiastically and seriously lead this effort by word and deed. The message you want to send to your students is clear and firm…
- We all have a right to be treated with respect and care.
- We do not allow members of our school community to use power over others to hurt them in any way, emotionally or physically.
- We do not condone bullying by standing by doing nothing or laughing and encouraging the bully.
- We tell an adult if someone is bothering us or if we see bullying happening to someone else.
The best way to convey your commitment to a healthy classroom climate is to get your students talking about what respect, disrespect, and bullying look like. They already have the answers in their heads and hearts; they know what is okay and what isn’t, even if they might not always seem like they do.
It’s a simple process that needn’t take long. Ask your students to work with you to set the guidelines for acceptable classroom behavior. Through a meaningful group dialog about how to treat each other, they can decide what they want their classroom to feel like and then commit to making it happen.
So instead of starting the new school year with a pre-made list of class rules, actively engage your students in this critical discussion. Their ideas about what respect looks like can easily be made into brief statements of positive classroom behaviors and attitudes that show the goodness they have inside them.
Now your students are an integral part of your no bullying plan! You have a common purpose!
They have described the positive classroom climate you want for them and that they deserve.
Worth reposting as you get ready to start a new school year…
Witty humor or caustic mockery? Good-natured ribbing or anger with a smile?
Sarcasm. Widely used and widely misunderstood. Some people defend it while others condemn it. Is the line between sarcasm and innocent humor really that fine? Not if you look at what makes sarcasm unique.
We know it when we hear it.
Read these statements first with sarcasm and then as if you honestly mean them.
- (Student says she’ll bring the book in tomorrow.) Right, that’s going to happen!
- (Teacher was talking to a student.) It’s going to be a great year with you in my class.
- (There are papers scattered under a desk.) I love the way you always put your papers away so neatly.
- (Student couldn’t answer a question.) Keep this up and you’ll be a big success when you grow up.
- (Class has been doing poorly on tests.) I’m sure everyone is going to study hard tonight.
- (Student has a disciplinary note to give his parents.) I know you’ll have your parents sign that letter like you always do.
- (Teacher is looking at a messy paper.) Thank you. Your essay is so neat and legible.
- (Teacher is frustrated with the noise level.) I’m so glad I get to start each day with all of you. I must have a guardian angel.
Hear the difference? That core of insincerity and meanness? The little dig?
Sarcasm is saying the opposite of what we mean; there is an intentional contradiction between the literal meaning of the words and the social and emotional intent. It is a putdown couched in humor meant to embarrass or hurt, motivated by negative emotions – frustration, disgust, disdain, futility, anger, even hate – communicated through the context, the words chosen, and the inflection used.
Why is sarcasm one of the deadly sins of relationships?
Because it comes out of left field like a stomach punch, with enough of a grain of truth to breed insecurity. It puts us off-balance, even adults, and is particularly hurtful when aimed at children who expect adults to speak the truth. Sarcasm is verbal aggression with a smile, a sideways way to express criticism, which is actually more hurtful than the honest criticism it replaces. It is intentionally dishonest and kids need honesty to feel secure. It damages relationships instead of strengthening them.
Power differential + sarcasm = bullying + not funny
Teacher-to-student bullying, the same as student-on-student bullying, but with more emphasis on the power differential, is defined as “a pattern of conduct, rooted in a power differential, that threatens, harms, humiliates, induces fear, or causes students substantial emotional distress.”
The lack of understanding of the difference between humor and sarcasm and the venting it provides, and the false belief that it produces results, perpetuate the use of sarcasm for classroom management, student reprimands, and motivation. Yet, fear of embarrassment or ridicule is not a healthy motivator. Younger children and those with learning disabilities or Asperger’s syndrome will just be confused. With older students, sarcasm might get a laugh from the other children and short-term compliance from the target. But at what cost? A child’s feelings of self-worth, sense of security, trust in adults, and ability to concentrate and learn? A backlash of resentment and retaliation towards the teacher? Modeling the very disrespectful, unkind behavior that we complain about?
Good-natured humor, unlike sarcasm, is not mean or targeted at a specific person or group. It is a shared enjoyment of a comical or ironic situation, cleverness, or wordplay, motivated by our basic need to have fun. Laughing together helps us connect with each other and strengthens our bond. It is healthy, even necessary, especially in classrooms where students are our captive audience.
How do we create a no sarcasm zone?
We know it when we hear it, so we can do something about sarcasm if we:
- Evaluate and change our own behavior.
- Make sure we are honest and kind, with pure motives.
- Teach and model better ways of being.
- Treat students and their families with genuine compassion and respect.
Albuquerque City Schools offers this advice.
Replace the old way…Teacher communicating with sarcasm: “My, my, my. Aren’t you a smart class. It looks like by age 12 you’ve all finally learned to find your seat and sit down after the bell. And to think it only took you half of the morning to do it. I don’t know if there is another class in the entire school as smart or quick as you guys.”
With a new way…Teacher communicating honestly without sarcasm: “One of the expectations of this class is to be seated and ready to go to work when the bell rings. I appreciate those of you who were quietly seated when the bell rang today.”
Exactly. Straightforward, helpful communication, with no victims.
School’s out! Let the fun begin!
Not so fast.
Sure, summer vacation brings with it the promise of nice weather, more freedom to choose what to do, and participation in fun activities. And if your child was a target of bullying at school, she might be relieved to be out of that hostile environment for a few months.
Yet the sad reality is she isn’t safe from bullying when school is out. During the summer, young children and teens are often supervised less closely and for longer periods of time in new surroundings with unfamiliar children and adults. The expectations for behavior may not be clear and there are no established relationships to make the group a positive community. This mix of factors provides ample opportunity for bullies to choose targets and make their summer miserable.
Where does summer bullying happen?
- At day camps
- Sleep away camps
- Community recreational and enrichment programs
- Shopping centers
- Swimming pools
- Sports programs
- Childcare centers
- And on the Internet
What can parents do?
There are some things parents can do to reduce the chance their children might be the target of mean, hurtful, abusive behavior.
- Only consider summer activities where the children are well-supervised by trained, caring adults and they value and create a respectful environment.
- Would an anime workshop be a better choice than soccer camp? Be considerate of your children’s likes and dislikes. Offer options and ask them what they would like to do. Avoid putting them into a situation where they have little interest and may perform poorly. This can set them up as a target for bullying from the more skilled children. It is empowering to be with others who share their interests.
- If possible arrange for your children to attend summer programs with some of their friends.
- Find out what the program or camp’s bullying prevention policy is and how they actively ensure a bullying-free experience for their campers. (See Bullying Prevention: Camps Take a Stand (Sample Parent Letter)
- Talk to the program director. Ask questions such as: What do you do to intentionally model and build a culture of acceptance and empathy; who can a child go to if there is a problem; may a child call home when he wants to; and how are incidents handled and how are parents involved.
- If your child was victimized at school, talk to whomever will be working with him and explain the situation. Ask what they can do to help your child have a successful summer experience.
- Cyber-bullying is a problem during the school year and even more so when children have with hours of free time, often unsupervised. Add to this how social networking sites are unregulated and any damage done by a text or picture is immediate. Set ground rules for Internet use, discuss proper and safe use of social networking, and check in to see what they are doing.
- Talk to your children regularly about their day-to-day experiences in their summer program and be on the lookout for symptoms they are being bullied, such as the child has stomach aches or complains of not feeling well, or tells you he just doesn’t want to go to the program or camp anymore.
- Listen to your child and find out what is going on. Report any concerns you have to the camp counselors and program directors. Remember there is a difference between tattling and reporting a problem where someone is being hurt.
But, there is another place where children are bullied, one you might not have considered.
You might not have considered the possibility that your child is being bullied at home by a brother or sister. We are increasingly aware of the damage done by sibling bullying, especially since the recent publication of a report in the Journal of Pediatrics on The Association of Sibling Aggression With Child and Adolescent Mental Health
If there is no parent available, who is watching your children during the summer? Have you appointed an older child to be in charge of his siblings? How does he treat his charges?
Home should be a safe haven, where we are unconditionally loved and cared for. But it isn’t a safe haven if parents condone or passively allow their children to boss, wield power over, verbally abuse, and physically hurt each other. This kind of sibling violence in our homes is as harmful to a child’s well-being and feeling of security as the bullying that occurs on the school bus or in the cafeteria. In fact, some think it is more harmful.
Sibling bullying is not the same as everyday squabbles or disagreements that arise. A level of conflict is expected within families. It is natural and provides a chance to learn how to consider the needs of others and compromise to reach a solution. But sibling bullying is very different. It is when one – or more than one – sibling is always the aggressor and another is always the victim, and the abuse is repeated and deliberate. Such violence in what is supposed to be a loving relationship leaves the child confused, feeling powerless and unworthy, even unlovable, and models an unhealthy view of what a loving relationship of mutual respect and concern looks like. And most striking is the puzzling reality that what would never be accepted between peers in a school is accepted as a normal part of life when it happens at home between siblings.
Why is this the case? In the Journal of Pediatrics report, Corinna Jenkins Tucker, the lead author of the paper and an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire, sums up the problem: “Historically, sibling aggression has been unrecognized, or often minimized or dismissed, and in some cases people believe it’s benign or even good for learning about conflict in other relationships.”
Preventing and Intervening
Bullying is never healthy. There are many things parents can do to prevent bullying behavior between their children and to intervene if it already exists. The first hurdle, is for parents to admit sibling bullying is not okay, and to then take an honest look at the relationships and behavioral patterns among their children. To set the expectations and a cooperative tone, bring everyone together for a thoughtful, respectful conversation about what is and is not acceptable in their house. Ask the children to name okay and not okay behavior. Write down their ideas and make an agreement to follow these guidelines. Follow through and be consistent in your expectations.
A child who is bullying a sibling needs to be held accountable, just as she would be if she bullied someone in school. A parent must tell her to stop the violent behavior, immediately, and tell the victim that being bullied is not her fault. At this time it is also wise to talk to the child you have placed in charge of her siblings about how she feels about the responsibility she was given, and re-examine and, if possible, adjust the arrangement you have made for child care.
With an open dialogue, and clear expectations and sensitivity to all the parties, you have a good chance of removing home from the list of places where children get bullied during the summer.
Speaking out takes practice.
The only way to develop more allies is to educate students and adults about the roles they play in bullying. Participating in bullying role plays and discussing it with each other sensitizes everyone to the perspectives of all the players. This fosters empathy and compassion for the victim, builds a feeling of efficacy – I can do something to make this better – and creates a support group of peers who want to do the right thing. It teaches decision-making, the effect of our choices, builds character, and might even be the catalyst for a child’s self-realization that he is bullying others. Students come away with the powerful understanding that their choices affect how they and their classmates are treated.
For this understanding to translate into a change of attitudes and behavior, students must hear and believe these five messages from adults:
- You are not responsible for the actions of the bully.
- You do not have to live with it.
- We want you to report bullying.
- We promise, if you are being bullied, we will never leave you to handle it on your own.
- Reporting a serious problem is not tattling.
To show you mean it, make posters of these five messages to post around the school.
Strategies that empower
With these messages clearly delivered and received, we can teach students to take a stand to not join in bullying using strategies that convey confidence, show resistance, and assess situations. Role plays offer practice for:
- How to avoid being a victim.
- How to assess danger and act wisely.
- Ways to stand up to a bully.
- The exact things to say to the bully.
Doing the right thing takes personal courage and the ability to assess the situation. Acting as an ally or defender does not mean trying to break up a fight or getting into an altercation with a bully, and if you are the victim, standing up to a bully at that moment is not always the best choice. There is no set approach to stopping bullies in their tracks; specific circumstances and those involved determine the nature of each interaction. Bullies are often physically and mentally strong, act in groups, and have a sense of entitlement that is resistant to correction. Standing up to them does not always work and the target or ally can get hurt in the process. Sometimes the best thing is to get away and seek help immediately. To encourage reporting, some schools have successfully set up bullying hotlines to give students a secure way to report problems.
Victims should only stand up to a bully and an ally or group of allies should only intervene face-to-face when it feels safe to do so. Then they can firmly tell the perpetrator:
- Stop it!
- Don’t call her that.
- That isn’t funny.
- What you are saying (doing) is mean.
- I’m getting an adult.
Allies in cyberspace
The roles students play in cyberbullying are similar to face-to-face bullying, but cyberbullying requires additional cautions when you consider how public it is. Social media makes it easy to do, bullies can share photographs and cheerleaders can make anonymous comments, and the size of the potential audience is immense. The cyberbully feels protected and powerful because she does not have to face her victim, while the impact on the victim is immediate, widespread, and devastating.
First, young people need strategies to avoid being a victim of or encouraging cyber-bullying:
- Choose social media sites and friends wisely.
- Think about and be careful choosing what to post.
- Do not post, text, or email anything you don’t want the whole world, including your parents, to see.
- Do not take part in or cheer on cyberbullying.
- Use privacy settings and do not share passwords.
- Do not respond to cyberbullying.
Second, they need to know what to do if either they or someone they know is a victim of cyberbullying. A cyber ally:
- Tells a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult right away.
- Keeps evidence of cyberbullying.
- Blocks the offender.
- Reports it to school.
There is safety in numbers, especially for young people who are greatly influenced by peers. The goal is to create an active majority of allies, adults and students, that knows what bullying looks like and the role they can choose to play. When people refuse to take part or to look the other way, and instead report incidents of bullying to adults who can help, the ally peer group grows and the school climate changes to one of positive action where bullying behavior is no longer tolerated.
Bullying involves more than just the bully and the victim.
My last post was on the Pepsi Max test drive commercial and how thinking that mistreating another person is funny and not speaking up to denounce what offends us encourage bullying behavior. PepsiCo, the YouTube audience, bloggers, commentators, and the business groups and ad agency reviewers who praised the commercial all played a role in perpetuating the myth that bullying, if done “in fun,” is okay.
This happens in school, too, when bystanders, both students and adults, choose to ignore or encourage this type of violence, and often think it is funny. But bullying isn’t funny. It is abuse committed repeatedly against a victim that escalates over time, where the perpetrator appears to enjoy the power to intimidate and hurt. It shows a lack of empathy, compassion, and respect for others. It is predator behavior and we are charged morally and legally to prevent it from happening, and to take swift action when it does.
What role do we choose?
Once we accept that bullying is a type of violence and is a problem in our schools, where do we start? Bullying prevention efforts begin by developing an understanding of what violence is, the forms it takes, and why it is hurtful. Then, to change attitudes and behavior, students and teachers need a breakdown of the specific ways we participate in bullying:
- Victim (target of the bullying)
- Perpetrator and co-perpetrator (the bullies)
- Ally (defender of the target)
- Bystander (is aware it is happening)
- Audience (congregates and watches)
- Cheerleader (actively encourages the violence)
Each of these roles is a choice we make as an individual and each has an impact on the continuation of bullying. The perpetrator, cheerleader, and ally choose to take a lead role and openly encourage or discourage the bullying. They make a decision to do something. The bystander and audience take what appears to be, but isn’t, a passive role. They make a conscious choice to not do anything. Taking no action one way or the other is not a neutral position. Inaction is a decision to allow the bullying to continue.
What do these roles look like in face-to-face bullying?
The perpetrator and co-perpetrators decide on a target, someone they perceive as weaker and more vulnerable than they are. They make a decision to tease, demean, threaten, dominate, and hurt the victim, and then they corner and attack.
Cheerleaders actively encourage the attack by verbally egging on the bully, suggesting things to do to the victim, laughing and cheering, and verbally abusing the victim. The perpetrator and cheerleaders feed off of each other and escalate the violence. Cheerleaders can easily cross the line and become co-perpetrators.
A bystander is aware of or actually witnesses the bullying, and the audience stands by and watches the bullying happen. In both cases they do nothing to intervene and help the victim. Their choice allows the violence to continue and, by their silence, they become accomplices.
An ally or defender is a bystander or member of the audience who makes a decision to do something to stop the bullying. It could even be a cheerleader or co-conspirator who has a change of heart and realizes it is wrong. The ally steps in and advocates for the victim by telling the bully to stop, helping the victim get away from the situation, and telling an adult what happened.
Adult and student allies who take positive action to support or defend the victim, and victims who speak up for themselves are the answer to reducing bullying in our schools. Once we know the important role we can play, we can become an ally.