Tag Archives: Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

How To Tell If Your Child Is Bullying Others (And What To Do About It), via Everyday Feminism:

When I was in middle school, I was bullied pretty badly, resulting in depression and even serious considerations of suicide.

I carried a lot of hurt and anger, and I didn’t deal with that in the healthiest of ways. It pains me to reflect upon how I transferred my hurt from bullying by mistreating younger kids and by being terrible to a few of my friends.

I was displacing my hurt onto others so that I didn’t have to carry it alone.

But despite the ways I treated some of my peers, I was never labeled a “bully.” That’s because I didn’t fit the “bully” profile: My grades were good; I had no history of discipline issues; I was well-loved by my teachers. Yet I was acting in much the same way as those kids who were labeled “bullies.”

In today’s schools, we see the same. Some students are identified as “bullies” or “problem students.” Yet when we’re honest, many of us at different times in our lives have been mean to someone in the regular and sustained way that would constitute bullying.

In truth, the label of “bully” is in no way useful when actually attempting to address the problem of bullying.

To simply label some people “bullies” and some people “victims” with the rest of us as “bystanders,” we never actually deal with the root of why someone is exhibiting bullying behavior. It’s a cop-out.

Bullying is primarily a problem of power, and as such, it tends to have one of two roots: an internalized feeling of superiority in regard to another group or individual or feelings of insecurity and hurt that lead one to lash out at others.

In either case, bullying has a measurable root that we can address. If we’re concerned that our child is being a “bully,” it’s best to start with the question, “Why?”

And in recognizing the roots of bullying behavior, we open the door to actually understanding the nature of bullying, which helps us to understand when our kids may be mistreating others and how to prevent bullying in general.

How to Identify If Your Child Is Demonstrating Bullying Behavior

In designing a comprehensive bullying prevention and intervention program for parents atCivilSchools, we compiled research that identifies seven patterns that could be indicative of bullying behavior in a young person.

(Please note that no single pattern listed below necessarily means your child is demonstrating bullying behavior. These are just a guide for considering whether you should intervene if you’re concerned.)

Sign 1: A Pattern of Abnormally Angry or Aggressive Behavior

Few children or adolescents are angry or aggressive as a status quo, so if you start to see a lot of aggression or anger, it’s coming from somewhere. Plus, if you’re seeing it, there’s a good chance it’s being directed at others in bullying behavior.

Sign 2: A Pattern of Depressed, Sullen, or Sad Behavior

Notably, this is also one of the signs that a student might be experiencing bullying, but when a student falls into a pattern of depression or sadness (as I did when being bullied in middle school), they might choose to pass that burden along to others through mean behavior or bullying.

Sign 3: Regularly Throws a Fit When They Don’t Get Their Way

Any parent knows that children go through a phase of lashing out when things don’t go their way, but if this is persistent, there’s a good chance that they are lashing out at other children to try to control outcomes. Some students fall into a pattern of intimidating other children into going along with their will.

Sign 4: A Vocalized Prejudice Toward Particular Identities or Groups of People

Bullying is a problem of power. When we understand this, we can be on the lookout for language that serves to assert this power by oppressing or hurting other identities.

For instance, if your child talks disparagingly or makes jokes about, say, “the fat kids” or “the nerds” or whatever it might be, there’s a chance they are taking out this expressed disdain through bullying. It seems obvious, but it’s important to intervene whenever we hear this type of language.

Sign 5: Demonstrates a Clear Lack of Empathy

Empathy is a skill that we learn and must develop and maintain. We should not assume that our ability to express empathy is simply innate.

When students regularly demonstrate an inability to put themselves in others’ shoes and consider the impact of their words or actions, that might be a sign that they’re demonstrating bullying behavior.

Sign 6: A Pattern of Discipline Problems

Let me start by saying that this particular sign is fraught because of how our schools dole out “discipline” in tremendously problematic ways. Certain students (such as Black or Latinx students and LGBTQIA+ youth of Color) are more likely to receive harsh discipline for the same infractions as other students (such as White or Cis- and Straight peers respectively). Thus, this consideration ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

However, if you do notice a history of discipline infractions for more than just, say, disrupting class, this is something to investigate further, as it might be a sign that they are demonstrating bullying behavior.

Sign 7: A Preoccupation with Popularity or Social Status

Bullying is rooted in power imbalance within our communities, and popularity is, at its root, a construction of power. Not all people who are “popular” bully others, but a preoccupation with being popular or with achieving higher social status can lend itself to bullying behavior.

All of this begs the question, though: If I suspect that my kid is bullying others, what should I do?

How to Intervene If Your Child Is Bullying Others

A lot of parents who know or suspect that their student is demonstrating bullying behavior feel helpless. They’ve been told that bullying is an endemic problem that will never be solved, and now their kid has been labeled with that terrifying label of “bully.”

Fortunately, there’s a lot that you can do to stop bullying behavior and help your school community create an environment free of bullying.

1. Explain why this particular behavior is unacceptable.

In this conversation, try to be as specific as possible. If your student is bullying others using sexist or ableist language, or targeting another student for their skin color or sexual identity,take the time to explain precisely why this behavior is not acceptable in your family.

Part of this, then, means that you must…

2. Discuss your values with your child.

Explain to them why your family values inclusiveness and diversity. Ask them to name their own values and how they feel like the behavior in question aligns with their values.

It’s important to stress that one of the most important parts of being human is cultivating a set of values and then striving to live up to those values. It can help to talk to them about some of the ways that you fall short of living into your values, as it can provide a model for them to work to be better.

3. Get to the root of the behavior.

As noted above, most bullying behavior stems from a feeling of superiority toward other students and/or a feeling of hurt and insecurity. By trying to understand why your student is acting this way, you can help them work through the feelings or hurts that are leading to them treating others poorly.

In this conversation, you may realize that they’re being bullied or mistreated in another area of their life or that they’ve really internalized some problematic messages about other groups of people that you will want to work on with them.

4. Avoid relying solely on punitive measures.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t offer some sort of punishment or consequence for their behavior, but if we rely solely on punishing away bullying behavior, we won’t ever solve the problem.

Simply put, because of the development of their pre-frontal cortex, young people tend not to make clear connections between a behavior and the punishment or consequence they will receive. Instead, we need to activate consideration of the values you’ve instilled in them over their lives because it will appeal to the more developed parts of the brain that rely on pattern.

Steps You Must Take

Beyond identifying when our child is bullying others and talking to them, there are some simple, concrete steps that we as parents or guardians must take if we want to play our part in ending bullying behavior in our community.

After all, teachers, administrators, and students can only do so much. They need us as parents to take an active role in building more inclusive school environments.

1. Rely on your community.

As you seek to solve this problem, remember that you are not alone. Lots of parents are struggling with this issue, and there are likely a number of people who want to support you and your child in ensuring more inclusive behavior!

Identify people who you can rely on that your student trusts. Is there a teacher that your child really trusts with whom you have a relationship? Is there an aunt or uncle who connects well with your kid? Are there other, mature kids that your child hangs out with who you can engage?

Identify your allies and engage them in helping your child live up to their values. Have that aunt or uncle or teacher reach out to your students and talk to them as well. Activate those youth allies who can help your young person make good decisions. That old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” definitely applies in preventing bullying behavior.

Additionally, most schools want and need parent allies in ending bullying behavior. Reach out to a teacher or administrator or other staff person that you can trust and let them know that you’re aware of some of your child’s behavior. Let them know that you want to work with them to create an inclusive school environment.

2. Have the courage to self-reflect.

One of the toughest issues to overcoming bullying is when parents aren’t willing to do the tough work of self-reflecting about where the behavior might have been learned.

Let’s face it: We don’t always demonstrate well the kind of behavior we want to see in our kids, and bullying behavior is learned. Thus, one of the hardest but most important things we can do is to ask ourselves what we could do to better demonstrate the struggle to live into our values.

Consider whether your language about other people — or even yourself — demonstrates your values. Have we made some off-handed comments about “those people?” How might talking badly about our own bodies impact how our students talk to kids with different body shapes and sizes than themselves?

If we’re going to call upon our children to reflect on their own behavior, we must also be willing to do the same.

Maybe we will come to the conclusion that we are always demonstrating how we want them to treat their peers. More likely, though, we will find ways that we could do a better job of demonstrating the kind of behavior we want to see in our kids.

And that realization can be a powerful one for our own growth and for that of the children we love so dearly.

***

Something that’s easy to forget is that bullying is entirely preventable. Don’t listen to those who tell you, “Bullying has always been around. There’s nothing we can do! Kids will be kids!”

Bullying ends when we work together in community to address the root causes of bullying behavior, and some of the most central stakeholders in that work are the parents of our communities.

By taking ownership for this problem and by being proactive, we can help to ensure that every single student feels fully supported in who they are and that no student has to endure the pain and self-hate that can come from bullying.

We simply must realize the power we have to make this needed change.

Local 12 year old speaks out against bullying

From our newest staff member, Shawna:

“My name is Shawna Austin, and I have recently started working with SAPARS as the new Northern Oxford County Rural Outreach Coordinator. I would like to share my son’s link on Q97.9’s Q Morning Show from Monday, March 17th. He posted a Facebook status about bullying and judging others. I feel as though his courage to speak out at 12 years old, not knowing how his peers would react, is fantastic. I hope for his message to be shared, and that maybe this will help other children his age speak out against bullying, sexual assault, and/or domestic violence.”

12 Year Old Mainer With Wisdom Beyond His Years, via Q97.9 WJBQ:

Evan Burnell

12 year old Evan felt the need to update his Facebook status…what he wrote has stopped people in their tracks.

“I’m in the mood for a much needed status. It’s about people these days. Well let me just start by saying enough is enough. People judge others by the way they look, what they wear, who they hang out with and what gender they like. You people need to stop and think that maybe that kid you said has no style can barely afford clean clothes. That group of “nerds” are the ones that go to college and make millions of dollars because of their ability to keep their nose in a book and read. And that “Homosexual” you make fun of cries himself to sleep every night. Why can’t people be…. people.. not bullies and stuck up little punks who think they’re the best because they have the best clothes and have the coolest most expensive things in the world. People just don’t get it. If people spent more energy on being a positive person and if people actually realized that everybody should be treated equally no matter what then maybe this world would see more love. -Evan”

Evan’s proud mom Shawna shared this with me, I’m sharing it with you hoping you share with someone too….spread the love.

 

Be an active bystander

Remember Isaac. Stand up to bullies., via Bangor Daily News (Maine Focus):

“My name’s Isaac,” the email began. “I just wanted to let you know I love what you guys are doing. I have lots of friends who have been badly bullied and have always tried to help against bullying as much as I can. I myself have been hassled about acting gay (even though I’m straight).”

At MECASA, one of several projects we’ve developed in the last few years is the Backbone Zone, a social marketing campaign designed to encourage bystander intervention. It is geared toward older students, uses the language they use, and incorporates provocative images to get conversations started. We’ve gotten a considerable amount of response, including a community feature on BuzzFeed and requests from all over the world for the posters associated with the campaign.

But none of the responses pulled at our heartstrings like Isaac’s email.

Recently, I traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to present at a national conference about the creation of the Backbone Zone as a social marketing tool. While I was there, I was asked by an audience member, “What do you do about parents who are resistant to your messaging?”

I was prepared for this question. I launched into the importance of using the language students use to reflect it back to them, and how we’ve realized that in order to talk about bullying and sexual harassment, we have to say the words.

I talked about the importance of recognizing that students know when we’re skirting around an issue – so why not just come out, say it, and have a conversation about it? I talked about how having those same conversations with parents who are worried about “certain words” on posters is an important first step.

“No,” she interrupted. “What if parents are the ones using the language?”

I hadn’t really thought of it in that context. Of course I’ve encountered such adults in my own personal and professional life, but all of the resistance we met with regard to the Backbone Zone was from people worried about the use of “certain words” on posters. It wasn’t about whether the adults in question used homophobic and sexist language.

I don’t exactly remember my answer; it was something along the lines of what I’ve written about here before. Then, yesterday while I was cleaning out my email (getting ready for the new year and all), I came across Isaac’s emails from late October.

In one of our back and forth emails, I asked him what he did/does to stop bullying in his school – if there was anything specific that happened, or if it was a general thing he did with his friends on a regular basis. He responded minutes later.

“I always stand up for people if other people are gossiping about them, in my mind gossip can hurt someone more than saying or doing something to their face. And if I ever saw someone being hassled I would just tell the people doing it to lay off, because that type of stuff is just not all right, and it’s not all right to just walk past it and pretend you didn’t see it. People need to realize that it’s okay to stand up to bullies and help other people out.”

Rereading Isaac’s emails, and thinking back to the audience member’s question, I know that there are times in my own life – despite my profession and my belief in being an engaged community member – where I’ve walked by and pretended I didn’t see or hear something. Sometimes it’s easier to walk by than to explain that bullying and sexual harassment can lead to sexual violence perpetration, because there’s so much resistance to that idea. Sometimes I’m tired, it’s been a long day, and launching into that sort of thing is the last thing I feel like doing.

But then again, Isaac is right: It’s not all right to just keep going.

So along with shoveling out my email (keeping Isaac’s messages in my “When You’re Tired Read This” folder) and pretending that I’ll never let my inbox get so out of control again, I’m recommitting myself to standing up to bullies and helping other people out. It’s not just kids – it’s adults, too. And as an adult, it’s up to me to be as engaged as I think young people should be.

Care to join me?

It’s time to change how we talk about bullying

A Problem of Power: Ending Bullying in Schools, via Everyday Feminism:

People cannot stop talking about bullying.

There are endless stories on repeat throughout the major media, and in the past few years, every state in the country has passed laws or policies that are aimed at tackling bullying.

Virtually every school in the country has a “Respect Week” or programming during October, National Bullying Prevention Month.

And these conversations are important. They come from a deep and serious concern for our young people who are hurting.

But they are also grossly ill-conceived.

Part of the trouble with tackling bullying is that there is no “one size fits all”approach, and there never can be one. And so long as we treat bullying as if it’s some general problem that requires general solutions like “respect campaigns,”we ensure that the problem of bullying will persist in our communities.

After all, at its root, bullying behavior is about power.

Far too often, young people tear each other down and target one another for sustained violence, harassment, or neglect in order to feel more powerful, particularly when the person exhibiting bullying behavior is feeling powerless.

Amanda Levitt of Fat Body Politics describes it perfectly:

If we actually started calling bullying what it is and address it as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia, and classism, it would actually give children a better way to deal with the very same power dynamics they will face as adults, while also giving adults more responsibility to challenge the intolerance that is rooted within our society overall.

Identity-Based Bullying

In essence, it’s time we change how we talk about bullying.

In my own work, I use the term Identity-Based Bullying to get at the root of the bullying problem.

Though there are, of course, exceptions, the majority of bullying in American schools cannot simply be explained away with “kids will be kids” or as“adolescent cruelty.”

 It is reflective of the very same problems of power, oppression, and privilege that we see in wider society, only it’s played out in language and behavior that students can better understand.

After all, the patterns we see in bullying behavior reflect many of the issues of oppression and marginalization we see in wider society.

In Gender, Bullying, and Harassment, Elizabeth J. Meyer lays out the impacts of sexual harassment and body policing that young girls experience in school as one method of bullying.

The incredible researchers at GLSEN make it clear that LGBTQ+ students on the whole feel unsafe in school and are harassed and assaulted at alarming rates.

In their chapter “Fat Youth as Common Targets for Bullying” in The Fat Studies Reader, Jacqueline Weinstock and Michelle Kreibiel explain not only how common weight-based bullying actually is, but also how socially accepted it is within school climates.

In one school, students may be targeted for their race, in another for their physical or cognitive ability. In a third, they may be targeted for their religious expression or native language. Still in another, the bullying might relate to gender expression in more subtle ways, with boys who are less athletic teased for their interests and girls who choose not to shave their legs tormented for their bodily expression.

The point, though, is that tackling bullying simply with “respect” and “kindness,” while well-intentioned, simply misses the mark.

Punitive Measures Don’t Work

The most common outcome of the recent wave of anti-bullying legislation, though, has not been funding for trainings or curriculum that teaches students how to intervene when bullying is taking place around them or that gives teachers tools for building more inclusive classroom environments.

More than anything else, these laws hand down harsher consequences to punish bullies.

What these approaches fail to address, though, is that bullying cannot be solved with punitive consequences.

First and foremost, punitive measures, though sometimes warranted, do nothing to prevent further bullying if for no other reason than pre-frontal lobe development in young brains.

If the part of the brain that helps us reason “If I take X action, Y will be my consequence” isn’t fully functioning, then consequence-oriented policy isn’t going to solve the problem of bullying.

Beyond simple biology, though, there are socio-emotional arguments to discourage “zero tolerance” punitive approaches to bullying.

Most students who exhibit bullying behavior are struggling and have been bullied themselves. In fact, among middle school students, the majority of students have participated in bullying behavior at some time.

Norris M. Haynes, Christine Emmons, and Michael Ben-Avie of the Yale University’s Child Study Center even note that excessive punitive measures end up telling students who actually need more support that they are not wanted or welcome in the school community.

This is all to say that if we want to end the problem of bullying, we have to think differently about what solutions look like.

In short, we have to transform the culture and climate of our schools.

Building Cultures of Civility and Inclusion

If we want to end the problem of bullying, we have to do two things: appeal to the rest of the adolescent brain, the part that relies on culture and habit; and address the specific nature of the bullying in our school environments by championing inclusion.

Educational researcher Sheri Bauman of the University of Arizona uses the termclimates of civility to describe the challenge we face in tackling bullying.

If we want to end the problem, we cannot simply pass some laws and wash our hands. We have to do the tough work of changing culture and climate.

Fortunately, there are a few simple things that students, educators, and families can do to build cultures of civility and inclusion that prevent bullying.

1. Recognize That Every School Is Diverse

The first step to tackling the problem of bullying is acknowledging the diversity that exists in our schools.

So often, the conversation about diversity is boiled down to simply race and class(with maybe some gender or sexual orientation discussed marginally).

While these are vitally important aspects of student identity, they are simply part of the portrait of diversity in our communities.

Sometimes I will have schools in, say, rural South Dakota say to me, “We’re not diverse, so we’re not sure how the conversation about identity-based bullying applies to us.”

It leaves me baffled.

Not diverse?

What about student ability? Citizenship experience? Weight and body image? Student interest? Religion? Gender expression? Sexual orientation? Race? Class and wealth?

The other side of the coin of comprehending bullying behavior is understanding the diversity that exists in each and every school.

To paraphrase Gary Howard“Diversity is not a choice. It’s a demographic reality.”

2. Treat Bullying as a Problem of Power

To tackle bullying is to tackle the specific nature of bullying in any given school community.

To do that requires that we understand who is being targeted and what the bullying looks like.

More often than not, this is an exercise in understanding power.

Students without social power are those far more likely to be targeted by others for bullying behavior, whether that’s the social power of the school yard (i.e.: geeks vs. jocks) or the wider social power of identity privilege, power, and oppression.

When we understand who is being targeted, why they are more likely to be targeted in our specific community, and what this bullying looks like, we can begin to solve the problem.

3. Empathize

Empathy is vitally important.

We need to teach our young people how to empathize with others and how to stick up for one another, but we also need to model it.

Supporting those who have been targeted by bullying behavior is obvious(though sometimes it goes undone).

Far less popular, though, is empathy for those who’ve exhibited the bullying behavior.

This is not to say that students shouldn’t face consequences for their actions, butif we don’t get to the bottom of why students are bullying, we won’t solve the problem.

And more often than not, it’s because a student is hurting.

4. Engage the Whole Community

Far too often, schools treat bullying as something “in-house.”

Parent engagement is an afterthought, and the “support staff” of custodial workers, office workers, or security staff is all but ignored.

Training students to be UPstanders instead of bystanders is rare, and teachers aren’t often given the time to design school-wide interventions to tackle the problem.

Shifting culture and climate, though, means bringing everyone on board.

Offer families constructive ways to participate in the conversation. Take the time to train students and discuss bullying prevention in advisory. Offer all staff members opportunities to design and implement proactive and preventive solutions.

Because as the old saying goes, “It takes a village.”

5. Be Proactive, Not Reactive

So long as our approaches to bullying remain reactive, we will never mitigate the problem. We have to create the kinds of environments where students don’t bully.

Doing so responds to the part of the student brain from which they are more likely working, the part that relies on environmental cues and habits, in building critical mass for change.

Nearly every aspect of student experience and achievement can be tied back to inclusiveness.

When students feel safe and included in school, they show up for class. When students feel fully supported in their identity, they engage socially. When students are taught from an early age what it looks like to build inclusive environments, they are more likely to stand up for their peers. When students feel safe and included in school, they achieve at higher levels.

Simply put, we cannot punish bullying into oblivion.

We can, however, create environments where we value respect, empathy, care, and (at a minimum) civility.  And when those things are valued, bullying simply isn’t tolerated.

Ain’t No Easy Answers

When I’m approached by a principal, counselor, student, or parent to offer bullying prevention training or consulting, the client generally falls into one of two categories.

Half want easy answers. They want a simple, ten-step solution to the problem.

I can’t help these folks much.

But the other half?

They understand that bullying is complex and nuanced.

They understand that we cannot just lump people into categories of “bully, bystander, and victim.”

They understand that punitive measures don’t work.

These are the folks who understand the work it takes to shift culture and climate and are committed to that painstaking transformation.

These are the folks who are most likely to realize powerful change in their community.

And this is the group that I hope you fall in.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Have you seen this video yet?

After receiving an e-mail where she was bullied about her weight, Anchorwoman, Jennifer Livingston, gives an amazing response to her bully via YouTube.  She also voices some inspiring words to the countless people who are bullied every single day, which includes: “do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies.”

If you, or someone you know is being bullied – at school, on the Internet, anywhere – please speak up.  You do not deserve to be treated badly, and there are people who want to support you.  If you do not feel safe, or comfortable confiding in someone you know, you can always call one of our advocates at 1-800-871-7741.  You are not alone.