Bullying. Everyone’s talking about it. But what are we doing about it?
Recently I saw Anderson Cooper’s special, Bullying: It Stops Here and was so moved. Bullying is an issue that hits home deeply for me. Each day an estimated 160,000 students in the US refuse to go to school because of the anxiety caused by peer aggression, leading to even worse consequences as the problems persist. My heart goes out to these kids. I know that one of the reasons why I’m so dedicated to creating a positive place for children to have a sense of belonging is because it’s something I needed in my youth.
I was bullied when I was a kid. So badly, in fact, that I had to switch to a different school. Although I’ll never know exactly why I was the target of so much aggression, the experience has given me a lot of compassion for the underdogs in this world. What I went through was terrible, but it was also in an era before texting, cell phones, video cameras, Facebook, FormSpring, twitter, and YouTube. I just can’t imagine how it must feel to be the victim of 24 hour cyber-bullying for the whole world to see. As a youth, the advice I got from adults around me was “ignore them and they’ll stop.” While in reality, it only made it worse. And as we’re seeing in the growing number of bullying-related suicides, ignoring the problem just creates even more of a problem.
But how do we address and change this problem? Dr. Phil McGraw gives teachers, administrators, legislators, and parents an “A” for their good intentions but gives them a poor grade for execution. He says, “We’re going at this from the wrong point of view: Bullies vs. Victims. Both need help. Both need intervention. We need to put social skills training in the school day curriculum. We need to teach the teachers. It’s just as important as math, reading, science, and history.”
In this “social combat” zone, where the war is for school supremacy and bullies are the pack leaders, over 81% of incidents never get reported. And out of 77% of the incidents, no bystanders intervened. Since bystanders collectively form the majority, the role of the “peer intervener” is crucial to create change. So how do we encourage intervening to become the social norm? It takes courage to step up and speak up. But studies show that if you’re friends with someone who intervenes, then you’re more likely to do so yourself.
I saw this terrific TED video on How to Start a Movement. Not only is it charmingly entertaining, it brilliantly illustrates group dynamics. I think something like this might help kids apply these principals to change their peer environment and demonstrate the positive power of groups.
Bullying is more than a school issue where “kids are just being kids.” It’s become a Civil Rights issue. And it’s up to us, the adults, to intervene. There are some great movements already started. There are some great leaders. And great supporters. Please lead by joining. Get informed. Stand up. Take the pledge. We must do our part… ‘cuz we’re all in this together to create a happier, healthier world for our kids.