Friday, September 28, 2012

Identifying, Intervening, Surviving, and Preventing Bullying – A Series: Bullying Prevention Programs and Resources

The main goal of this bullying blog series has been to educate and empower parents, students and school staff about bullying and cyberbullying. The series provided a variety of posts ranging from prevention tools to intervention techniques with the goal of educating parents, victims, bystanders and school staff to become empowered to take action.

The series included specific information such as definitions, types, signs, who bullies and why, who they target, how and why adults need to intervene and more. We have tried to explain how bullying is hurting so many children today and what adults need to know to act appropriately in response.

However, there is only so much information that can be presented in a blog over 5 weeks. Thus, to continue educating and empowering our readers, we thought it was appropriate to provide you with additional resources.

There are literally thousands of bullying websites and programs available, however we chose to present only a handful of the best-known and most educational sites that provide superb material, videos and even activities for parents, children and educators.

Here are some of the best, and best-known, bullying websites and resources:

The official government bullying website with general information, research and policy information, as well as videos and a help section.

PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center unites, engages and educates communities to address and prevent bullying through creative, relevant and interactive digital resources for parents, schools, youth and teens.

A place created by and for teens, where middle and high school students can find ways to address bullying, take action, be heard and join an important cause.

A creative, innovative and educational site designed by and for elementary school students to learn about bullying prevention, engage in activities and be inspired to take action.

Team Up To Stop Bullying provides a trusted place for students, children, victims, parents, educators, schools and communities to find bullying solutions. The site provides resources, advice and solution options for students, victims, parents and schools who are coping with a bullying issue.

The Bully Project highlights solutions that both address immediate needs and lead to systemic change. Starting with the film’s STOP BULLYING. SPEAK UP! call to action, The Bully Project will catalyze audience awareness to action with a series of tools and programs supported by regional and national partners. The Bully Project is a collaborative effort that brings together partner organizations that share a commitment to ending bullying and ultimately transforming society.

Provides a step-by-step guide with a wide variety of options to allow families to tailor their own solution to stop bullying. The site includes white papers, family contracts, reporting forms and more.

A national antibullying program designed to reshape attitudes…change behaviors…and end bullying.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
(OBPP) is the most researched and best–known bullying prevention program available today.

Our hope is that you will continue your learning and take an active role in helping kids regarding bullying intervention and prevention long after this blog series ends next week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Identifying, Intervening, Surviving, and Preventing Bullying – A Series: Bully Bystanders - How and Why Other Students Should Intervene

Imagine if there was a simple solution to bullying. Maybe there is. In 85% of bullying incidents at schools, there are other children around, bystanders, watching and not acting. Now imagine if in those instances those bystanders did act. In 57% of cases when bystanders get involved, the bullying stops within 10 seconds. In other words, bystanders could most likely stop at least half of bullying incidents just by intervening when they see bullying occur.

Yet we know in most cases bystanders don’t act. Why?  
  • Students may or may not know what bullying is
  • They may fear also becoming a victim of the bully, now or in the future
  •  They may believe no one will help and the situation will only get worse
  • Their own friends may pressure them not to do anything to help the victim
  •  They may think it’s none of their business
  • They may think their actions will make it worse for the victim
  • They may not like the victim
  • They may think acting is somehow tattling on the bully who may be a friend or part of the “in” crowd
  • They may fear their own social status will be compromised by intervening
  • They may actually approve of bullying

There is also a social phenomenon known as the bystander effect. When there is a group of people watching something bad or someone being harmed, there is a diffusion of responsibility and each individual simply thinks someone else will intervene or report the issue, car crash, bullying incident, etc. Often then, no one acts.

So how do we get students to be active rather than passive bystanders?  First, schools must be involved as well as students. Schools need to create the right type of environment for students to be positive and active bystanders.

Positive bystander intervention programs for schools typically include the following tasks:
  • Creating and nurturing a caring school climate
  •  Teaching students to recognize bullying incidents
  • Teaching students to distinguish between tattling and reporting
  • Teaching students how to report
  • Teaching students to develop empathy for victims
  • Empowering students to act with positive conflict resolution skills

Regardless of whether a school has a bystander intervention program, students can still get involved! There are many things children can do to be active and involved when witnessing bullying incidents rather than being passive bystanders.

Remember the following steps if you witness bullying occur:

1. Determine if the behavior is truly bullying. First determine if the behavior 
    you are witnessing is bullying or if two students are simply teasing one   
    another or arguing. (If you determine you are witnessing two students 
    fighting, teasing or arguing, you may decide it would be better to let them 
    work it out or to go find a teacher or other adult to intervene).

2. If it is bullying, determine your response.
  • Intervene while the bullying is occurring and stand up for the victim. Remember that in over half the incidents when someone does this, the bullying stops within 10 seconds. If you feel you have the courage to do this, it is often the best choice.
  • Reach out to the victim later. Be a support person or friend. Often students are victimized because they are socially isolated and have few if any friends. If you support them and strategize with them, this alone may cause the bully to leave them alone. Or it may give the victim the courage to stand up for themselves or to tell their parents or another school staff person.
  • Talk to the bully. If the bully is someone you know and you feel safe doing this, it may be an option for you to say, “you know bullying is wrong and you really should stop,” or “I will have to report it to get you some help.”
  •  Ignore the incident and encourage others to move away as well. Often if there is no audience, there is no bullying. So if you can break up the audience and move them away, sometimes you can stop the bullying incident.

Remember these tips regarding intervening when you see bullying:
  • No one deserves to be hurt – physically or mentally. Most people have heard the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me," but it really isn’t true. Social and emotional bullying are just as bad as physical incidents. All bullying is wrong and school should be a safe place for everyone. We should all remember the golden rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and intervene to stop bullying when we see it occurring.
  • Remember that telling someone is not tattling! Toddlers tattle, while kids and teens report poor choices to get people help, and because it's the right thing to do. Remember too that the bully is often striking out at others because they need help for their emotions or unmet needs. Reporting their behavior is not only getting help for the victim, but for the bully as well.
  • Silence may be desired in the classrooms, but not about bullying! It takes everyone working together to stop bullying. You have to find the courage to speak up, either to the bully, the victim, to school staff, or better yet, to all three! 

Stay tuned for the next post which will list some fantastic resources for parents and schools as well as some of my favorite websites for kids and teens. These resources will help you if you are a victim or a bystander, or just want to be better prepared to intervene if you ever need to!


Friday, September 21, 2012

Identifying, Intervening, Surviving, and Preventing Bullying – A Series: Why Adults Need to Intervene and How to Act Effectively

The simple truth is adults need to intervene because it’s too important not to. We know children don’t often report bullying, we know based on statistics how frequently bullying is happening, and we know the consequences are too great to allow it to continue unchecked. Bullying is no longer simply a case of playground harassment or whispering behind each other’s backs.

Bullying is now recognized as a significant contributor to youth violence, including homicide, suicide, and “bullycide”, the label now applied to children who commit suicide to escape being bullied. The term “bullycide” was coined by authors Neil Marr and Tim Field in their book Bullycide: Death at Playtime, which explores stories of children who have committed suicide as a result of having been bullied.

While there is no formal system for tracking suicides related to bullying, suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in adolescents. There are many other consequences of bullying that make adult intervention essential:
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Physical illness such as headaches, stomach aches
  • School absenteeism and subsequently poor academic performance
  • Possible violent behavior in retaliation

In other words, the consequences suffered by victims, both in the short term and long term, are too great to ignore. We can no longer hope the situation will get better on it’s own when a child is being bullied. Recall that a previous post informed us that children won’t often tell us they are being bullied so we must be alert to the signs.

In fact, there is a lot of things happening in children’s lives that they might not tell us, including about their own online behavior, even being a victim of cyberbullying. According to a McAfee study, “teens are hiding porn, cheating at school, hacking into others’ social media accounts, sharing sexy photos and cyberbullying” by closing windows when parents enter the room, deleting items on the computer and phone and clearing their web browsers. So parents have to be alert to signs that their children are doing things online and in this case, being victimized online.

The “why” intervene is the easy part… the “how” to intervene gets a little more complicated. Whether dealing with bullying or cyberbullying, there are definite steps adults and children can take to intervene appropriately.

  • Remember school is a place to learn social skills and about social relationships as well as academics. In other words, some social behavior such as teasing and whispering or choosing one friend over another is actually good for children to experience. We may naturally want to protect our children from hurt feelings and suffering, but we need to ask ourselves first and foremost, “is the behavior my child describing actually bullying?” If it’s not, it’s a great time to have a conversation with your child about social skills, relationships, and treating people right. If it is, then it is time to act accordingly.
  • Talk to your child. Ask questions and listen! Find out the details and document the events and any evidence and witnesses. Help your child research and practice strategies to deal with bullies effectively. Ignoring the bully or allowing the bullying to continue will not make it stop. Learning social skills and resistance strategies and telling safe adults who will act are important actions your child needs to understand. Teaching your child to be his or her own advocate is the best strategy for their own success now and in the future.
  • Become a partner with the school. If your child finds they cannot handle the bullying on their own or if the bullying causes physical injuries, the school must become involved. Many times the initial contact with a school about potential bullying is adversarial but your child will benefit more by reaching out to the school in an inquiring and positive manner, rather than using an accusatory and negative approach. Explain to the school the situation as you know it and the strategies you have already tried to stop the behavior. Ask for a meeting with the administration and brainstorm solutions and next steps together. Included in those steps needs to be identifying safe adults that your child can go to if the bullying continues or escalates, and the assurance that retaliation by both the original bully and/or his or her friends for reporting will not be tolerated.
  • If the school doesn’t respond appropriately seek additional help from the district and, if needed, law enforcement. If you find these steps do not solve the problem, reach out to additional contacts within the school district such as student support services, office of safe schools or even the superintendent’s office if needed. Additionally, if the bullying involves a physical assault and documented injuries, seek medical care and contact law enforcement.
  • Seek counseling and other sources of support for your child. Many times bullies target kids who are socially isolated and don’t have a lot of friends or support. If your child has been bullied for a while their self-esteem might be low and they may have difficulty making friends. Seek the advice of a counselor with experience in this area who can help your child learn to feel better about themselves as well as learn how to function better in social environments. You can also seek out peer support for them through clubs and groups.
  • Lastly, if your child is being cyberbullied you will need to take additional steps to ensure their safety.

Of course schools need to be involved as well. Schools are bound by the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act to report and intervene in bullying situations, but they need to do more than that. They need to be alert to signs of pre-bullying behavior, teasing and harassment. They also need to teach kids empathy and good social skills in an effort to prevent bullying. Helping peers relate better is a skill that will not only prevent bullying but will serve children well throughout their lives. And of course good old-fashioned supervision is also necessary. We know most bullying occurs in places where supervision is low and social interaction is high, such as playgrounds, cafeterias and bathrooms, so schools need to increase supervision in these areas.

Speak Up Be Safe™ includes, as a part of an overall comprehensive prevention program for children, counselors, teachers and parents, bullying prevention education. If your school doesn’t have our program, it’s time to encourage them to get it.

Adults aren’t the only ones who can intervene and help stop bullying. In our next post we will address “bystanders,” or children who watch bullying take place or ignore it to some extent, and how they can help stop bullying. We will also discuss what communities can do to help prevent bullying, so stay tuned to find out more.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Identifying, Intervening, Surviving, and Preventing Bullying – A Series: Why Children Become Bullies and Why They Target Certain Kids

Have you ever wondered why some children become bullies and why they target certain kids?  Is the “why” really that important?  Do we care why a bully bullies or why a particular child is targeted?  We should! It makes sense that if we know why, we stand a much better chance of not only stopping the behavior, but also preventing it in the first place.

Bullies may be kids that are always in trouble. However, often they are good kids that are doing bad things. And why do bullies target certain kids? Bullies often pick on kids because they are somehow different; they are too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, don’t have enough money and therefore don’t wear the “right” clothes, they aren’t athletic enough, aren’t cool enough, etc. But sometimes it makes no sense why a particular child is bullied. Bullies also target bright, funny and attractive kids; kids that aren’t so different from others.

One of the most frequently cited reasons that bullies strike out at other children is because they are insecure and it makes them feel better about themselves, so it’s not about the child being bullied but more about the bully. In some cases that may be true, but not always. 

There are a variety of reasons that children may engage in bullying:
  1. They need power and control – These children need to be the leader, need to dominate their peer group and want other children to look up to them. They may come from a home where they witness abuse or dominance by one parent over another, or they themselves may be the victim of abuse or harsh, punitive behavior by a parent.
  2. They lack empathy for others – Some children are naturally more empathetic toward others, toward animals, etc. while others may need to be taught this skill as they are maturing.  If parents and other adults fail to teach this skill, this may be a contributing cause to bullying behavior.
  3. They possess feelings of entitlement – These children feel like the world owes them something.  They may come from a home where they are given everything they want, where consequences for poor behavior are minimal and they begin to believe they are more valued than most others. This child may also begin to internalize the belief that they can do anything they want and get away with it, including bullying.
  4. They desire to be popular – These children want to be the most popular kid in school; they want everyone to know them, like them and want to be their friend. They may come from a home where parents value their children being the “popular kid” or running with the “in-crowd” and therefore feel tremendous pressure to satisfy their parents.
  5. They possess feelings of jealousy or inadequacy / low self-esteem – These bullies target children and pick on them because of jealousy. Sometimes their bullying is targeted toward peers who they perceive as better than them or peers that have something they want.  Their behavior is often an attempt to make themselves feel better.

Once we understand who the bully is, it is much easier to understand why they target certain children. Most often it’s not that the victim has major differences, they just happen to be someone who is serving a purpose for the bullies own needs and feelings. It’s almost as if they are the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, through no fault of their own. 

Research has shown however that many victims of bullying do tend to possess certain common traits:
  1. They are socially withdrawn or isolate themselves from peers at school
  2. They are sensitive or become easily distressed or moody
  3. They seem anxious or tend to worry a lot

If a bully needs someone easy to overpower and control, it makes sense that children with these traits would make an ideal target.  It would be much easier to dominate someone who is withdrawn, usually alone, sensitive and/or anxious, than someone who is outgoing, surrounded by friends and confident.

Research also shows that children who have difficulty with the following social tasks are more likely to be victimized by bullies:
  1. The inability to read the nonverbal social cues of their peers – For example they don’t notice a peer who rolls their eyes at them.
  2. Difficulty understanding social meanings of behaviors – For example a peer that is tapping their feet or turning their head to hurry them along when they are telling them a story.
  3.  Problems developing solutions for social conflict – For example a child who doesn’t have the social skills to resolve issues with other children and constantly tattles or uses ineffective solutions. 

Understanding why children bully and why they target certain peers for bullying is the first step to truly being able to stop bullying.  For both primary and secondary prevention, working with both the bullies and the victims, is an effective strategy.

For bullies, or children displaying the traits that may lead to bullying behavior, early intervention is essential. This would include teaching them empathy and helping them learn that feelings of jealousy, entitlement and power/control can have potentially negative consequences from an early age.

For children displaying the traits that bullies tend to target, teaching them how to not isolate themselves and function better socially is important. Teaching them skills such as how to better read social cues, understand their meaning, solve social conflicts and develop a network of supportive people may also help prevent bullying.

Helping children with these essential social skills is both important for us as individual parents and for schools in general if we hope to stop bullying and prevent bullying behavior in the future.  Speak Up Be Safe™ (SUBS) is the Monique Burr Foundation for Children’s bullying and child abuse prevention program. In SUBS we offer some of these bullying prevention strategies to children and schools. Our goal is to implement SUBS in every 1st through 5th grade Florida elementary class.

Stay tuned for our next few posts where we discuss the importance of adult intervention and how we as a community can come together with everyone having a role in bullying intervention and prevention.