While research shows that the United States has an average rate of bullying compared to the rest of the world, advocates are working all the time to limit the devastating effects of bullying. The National Education Association (NEA) has organized the initiative Bully Free School Climate in order to raise awareness about the ways that everyone can contribute to a better learning environment. October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and whether or not you are a parent it may be a good chance to take a moment to inquire how you could help improve social climate.
School climate is the fabric of emotion on which the interchanges of youth and adults pass throughout the days of the school year. School climate is a microcosm of the culture at large, and oftentimes national stress echoes in America’s schools. However, schools can do much to help students feel safe, even insulated from the stress of the day. To this end the NEA made the goals to:
(1) pinpoint the various components of school climate and their relevance to youth violence and bullying prevention;
(2) discuss ways to measure school climate;
(3) provide concrete ways to improve school climate through school-wide programs and interventions. (Bradshaw and O’Brennan)
At a summit to discuss how school climate can help end bullying. The aim “was to bring together researchers, policy makers, practitioners, and other key education stakeholders who share the National Education Association’s (NEA) commitment to keeping students safe and supported” (Bradshaw and O’Brennan). Understanding the interconnected nature of culture, school, and legislation, the NEA brought to the table educators, policy makers, community members, and the evolving tapestry of stakeholders.
Understanding bullying means seeing to the heart of the issue, and not succumbing to easy answers. Advocates emphasize,the relationship between bullying and suicide is complex. Many media reports oversimplify this relationship, insinuating or directly stating that bullying can cause suicide. The facts tell a different story. In particular, it is not accurate and potentially dangerous to present bullying as the “cause” or “reason” for suicide, mediabully-cide
The media’s slant plays a major role in how cultural occurrences are understood, and the polarized sensationalism with which they warp news into reality show like entertainment is detrimental to the psychological health of those who are being bullied. For example, if the media presents bullying as if it is a one way ticket to suicide those children who are being bullied but did not frame it in a suicidal mindset may begin to do so. That is much more likely where parents are concerned. As such, having an informed and compassionate discussion about the causes of bullying is a prerequisite to addressing it.
However, how bullying is dealt with in schools is firstly in the hands of those who are being bullied. These children hold the keys to making positive change, but to do so they must respond proactively to being bullied. The steps to follow if you are being bullied may be as simple as:
• Report any bullying to your parents, teachers and guidance counselors immediately.
• Violence is not the answer! It will only make matters worse.
• Try to discourage bullies. If possible try to talk it out and request them to stop.
• Write down what happened, who was involved, and when and where it occurred.
• Find support in the classroom, home and community by talking about your experiences.
• Don’t be a bystander! If you see someone being bullied, tell a school official right away! (Sikh Coalition)
School climate plays a large role in how permissive and aggressive bullying is collectively allowed to get. Cultivating a positive school climate will engender fewer instances of violence which will contribute to higher academic performance.
When analyzing the quality of school climate a few questions can help direct investments:
• Do current school climates make students feel safe, allowing them to thrive academically and socially?
• Are youth comfortable speaking up if they are being bullied?
• Are members of the community engaged and are the media aware of best practices when it comes to reporting bullying stories? (Gorscak)
Cultivating awareness that bullying is not acceptable is the first step towards planting the seeds of and safe school culture. Working with the NEA, the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention (FPBP) have created many tools for dealing with bullying:
• FPBP will be using the hashtag #StopBullying365 to collect stories of how individuals and communities are taking action in bullying prevention.
• KnowBullying. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) new mobile app provides parents, caretakers, and teachers with important bullying prevention information, and can help get the conversation started between parents/caregivers and children about bullying in as little as 15 minutes a day.
• Internet Safety Two-Part Webinar Series – On October 30, 2014 from 2-3pm EDT, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention National Training and Technical Assistance Center will host the first of a two-part webinar series.
• Media Guidelines for Bullying Prevention. Media coverage of social issues has a big impact on how communities understand and address problems. Research and expert opinion suggest that certain trends in media coverage of bullying have the potential to do harm. This guidance offers help to journalists, bloggers, the entertainment creative community, and others who are developing content about bullying to engage in responsible reporting on this important topic. (Gorscak)
One of the strongest resources against bullying is for those who see it happen to do something to make it stop immediately. When bullies feel they can get away with their aggression (especially when they know people are watching) they are empowered to even greater,
violence. If even a few people stood up for bullied youths when they saw it occurring the rates would plummet as the bully began to fear repercussions from the crowd.
However, research shows that in the majority of cases the schools take no action when bullying occurs. In one way this is understandable because of how frequent these interventions would become. However, such violence will only grow if the administration ignore it. The rise of electronic bullying emphasizes the need to teach students ethics of Internet use, and to enforce them. Enforcement through removing youth’s cell phones would have an immediate effect, and the route to ending bullying can be nurtured everyday.
Bullying can scar a child for a lifetime as the world appears hostile and unwelcome, their love of school killed by the threat of violence. During this delicate developmental period it is important that youths feel supported by their families, the school climate, and the culture at large. The worst thing for a school/individual to do is pretend that bullying does not happen, which is a free pass for the aggressor. Stopping bullying starts with you. If you see something, say something. The more people who follow through with this the less bullies will feel they can vent their own frustrations onto those they perceive as weaker than themselves. It is possible for school climate to improve to the degree that it offers a refuge to students as it nourishes their love for learning.
1: Image retrieved from: http://www.sikhcoalition.org/our-programs/community-development/junior-sikh-coalition/youth-resources
2: Image retrieved from: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/bullying2awarenesspostsubmissionfacebook-131122094511-phpapp01/95/stop-bullying-campaign-27-638.jpg?cb=1385113975
Bradshaw, Catherine P., and Lindsey M. O’Brennan. “The Importance of School Climate.” Nea.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/63900.htm
Gorscak, Katie. “Working Together to Provide Resources to Prevent Bullying This Month and Every Month.” Stopbullying.gov, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.stopbullying.gov/blog/2014/10/01/working-together-provide-resources-prevent-bullying-month-and-every-month
Sikh Coalition. “What to do if you are bullied.” Sikhcolalition.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.sikhcoalition.org/images/documents/youthbrochurenyprint.pdf
Stop Bullying. “Facts About Bullying.” Stopbullying.gov, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.stopbullying.gov/news/media/facts/