Sometimes it’s hard to know what to think about the bullying epidemic. Nearly every day there’s a shocking story about the harm bullying can do to kids and teens. Yet the media frenzy can leave us feeling jaded. Like a story where every sentence ends with an exclamation mark, the overexposure of the issue can dull the emphasis to none.
So what’s the most important thing schools can do to punctuate the prevention and elimination of bullying? And how do you know if the schools in your community are doing it?
Here are a few ideas that could make a more significant impact on the problem:
1. Year-round programs.
For bullying programs to work, they need to be ongoing, says Joann Sebastian Morris, a National Education Association senior policy analyst. Year-round practices should be in place in the schools and all areas where youth socialize and congregate. These need not be penciled-in events on the calendar. (Not that an awareness week is a bad thing; it just can't be the only thing.) The ultimate goal must be to create a sweeping change in the climate of schools. Students need to feel safe, valued and surrounded by adults they trust.
2. An emphasis on citizenship.
Kids and teens need to know they are emotionally, socially and physically secure. And this can happen if they’re taught “character education”— what many adults remember on their grade school report cards as “citizenship” or “deportment,” according to Stuart Twemlow, co-author of the book “Preventing Bullying and School Violence.”
It's common belief among many national education organizations that if teachers teach students to have respect for each other and take responsibility for their own behavior, and remind them that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect (including staff and administrators), this will bring about the climate change schools need so desperately.
3. Community programs.
But there must be buy-in from everyone on this—from school administrators on down to teachers, students, parents and community leaders. This is where Kiwanis clubs, Key Clubs, Builders Clubs and K-Kids clubs come in. (Learn more about Kiwanis International’s philosophy on bullying and find resources at Kiwanis.org/bullyprevention
4. A tiered approach
The ideal solution would be for schools to use a three-tiered approach of support for school discipline, according to an article put out by the National Education Association, which cited a 2011 report by Child Trends. The approach should:
- clearly define and teach behavioral expectations,
- reward positive behavior
- use a continuum of potential consequences for misbehavior.
And the approach should use student data to determine disciplinary decisions. Here’s the gist: The solution lies in targeted behavioral supports for at-risk students, character education and social-emotional learning programs along with school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports. What should you do?
If all these solutions sound great—but a little ambitious, take heart. There are a couple of ways you can get involved at your level: Ask questions.
If you aren't familiar with your schools' programs, ask. Check with administrators to learn what bully-prevention efforts are in place, and, perhaps more importantly, inquire about what ongoing practices are used to foster a sense of civility and safety for students and staff. Find out the number of bully-related incidents your school addresses annually. If the school isn't doing everything they can to change attitudes and the school climate, be politely persistent with your concerns. Let them know you're not going away until the problem does.
Get involved with Kiwanis.
If you aren't already involved with Kiwanis and its programs for youth, get involved. Find out more about Kiwanis programs for bullying at Kiwanis.org/bullyprevention
You and your family can be part of the solution for the greater good of your community and its kids.