What You Don't Know About Bullying . . .
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
"Jack" was less than four feet tall, weighed about 60 pounds, and was able to frighten a good portion of the 5th grade class. He intimidated his victims in 140 electronic characters or fewer and sent them crying — running into the technology room for help. Jack was a Twitter bully.
What do you do with a cyberbully? What do you do with a student that uses old-fashioned verbal or physical means to harass others? Read on to see what I learned from Jack and a series of fantastic anti-bias and anti-bullying workshops.
New Age Bullies
Twenty-first century tools enabled my little Jack to become a new-age bully, a social media monster who could broadcast nasty words or images to hundreds of kids in seconds. Jack made me realize that with the advent of powerful media like Twitter and Facebook, every school and child-centered institution should make time for emotional/social education including character building and bullying intervention. How would you or your school handle the following new-age scenario?
On the bus to school, two of your students use their cell phones (which are banned in school and on the bus) to text derogatory comments about a girl in an adjacent seat . . . again. The texts are quickly sent to other students' cell phones. (Who passes notes these days?) Raucous laughter and foul whispers rock the bus. By the time you gather your students for morning meeting, a fight has erupted. You . . .
A. Inform students that parents will be called; attempt to mediate the situation; and call for a conflict resolution meeting between the victim and the aggressors as soon as possible.
B. Ask the children what happened and proceed to make a touching and very public show of your support for the victim.
C. Make everyone apologize immediately and return to the day’s agenda.
D. Confiscate all cell phones and ask the aggressors, how they would feel if they were the victim of such inappropriate behavior.
E. Gather bullies or aggressors for an anger management or empathy-building course.
All of the answers above are flawed. They are common mistakes that caregivers make. Instead, keep the following things in mind:
A. According to the experts at StopBullying.gov, bullying is intentional aggressive behavior that occurs repeatedly. It involves an imbalance of power. Reserve conflict meetings for disputes in which both parties have an equal voice. "Bullying is a form of victimization, not conflict. It is no more a conflict than child abuse or domestic violence."
B. In youth, image is everything. Your overwhelming show of public support may give bullies even more teasing material; allow your victim to save face by privately showing your concern.
C. Kids are great at forced apologies; they’ve learned how to say almost anything to avoid further punishment. Allow a cooling off period for genuine reflection and remorse.
D. Studies show bullies often lack empathy. Spend time communicating the seriousness of the offense and the consequences of the offense. Refuse the "just joking" or "kids will be kids" excuses and educate those involved.
E. Treating offenders in an isolated group may backfire; group members often reinforce each other’s negative behaviors. Mix it up!
According to Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association), “for every lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth who is bullied, four straight students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian are bullied.” It is time to reclaim respect for each other. If you’re an educator, constantly and consistently take time to intervene in bullying situations and follow up with support and guidance for those involved. Push everyone in your building (i.e., parents, security guards, the kitchen staff, anyone in the vicinity of children) to complete anti-bias, anti-bullying training and then put their education into action.
As I wrote in a previous post, "With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility":
- Harness the WWW (wild, wild Web). Survey your students on bullying in your community and then begin 21st century family/school discussions with student letters or emails to parents.
- Invite parents to school for a digital "show and tell." Parents listen and learn as students become teachers — guiding parents through the hottest sites and digital gadgets for tweens and teens.
- Check out Common Sense Media for some of the best lessons on using digital media in a safe, smart, and responsible manner. The site has FREE K–12 lessons on everything from cyberbullying to preventing plagiarism. Common Sense Media also offers home connections so students and parents can continue the conversation. NetSmartz and iKeepSafe offer more great content. (Elementary school students will love movies starring iKeepSafe's Faux Paw the Techno Cat.)
For more great Dos and Don’ts of bullying, see the Department of Health's tip sheet Misdirections in Bullying Prevention and Intervention. Also check out the Cyberbullying Research Center, Stan Davis’s Stop Bullying Now, and WiredSafety.org.