By: Elizabeth Dehn
Minnesota School of Business
December 7, 2014
Although most can agree that bullying exists in all schools in America, the consensus about eradication and education past this behavior is a bit more split. Some feel that bullying is a regular course of behavior for kids and immature humans. They feel that there is a natural tendency of childhood to tease and poke fun at what is different. Others believe that these behaviors are life and death and can be destructive cultural patterns with deep roots. Is there a way to eliminate any blind-spot on school grounds or is it more productive to focus on teaching children how to navigate them? Through interviewing an elementary school principal and nurse and a 5th grade girl, I explore the underworks and perceptions by the parties who are most affected by these behaviors, the students and their leaders (the teachers, administration & supportive staff). I conclude that this is not an issue of epic sensitivity and rather is an ethical epidemic that will only be changed effectively by those who are modeling the behaviors and educating the offenders. Support must be given to all parties involved in a way that does not judge, condemn or punish. Instead it must hold the strong peer groups and the students accountable for their actions and have a planned strategy for restitution and rehabilitation for repeat offenders while empowering students to take reasonable actions that will diffuse the situation or at least separate the parties involved.
Bullying in America’s Schools: Epic Sensitivity or Ethical Epidemic?
Bullying and other abusive behaviors to peers are likely as old as civilization and man himself. Bully the verb means to “treat abusively, or affect by means of force or coercion.”
(Merriam-Webster) This is a social
issue that knows no bounds and has devastating effects on individuals. From www.stopbullying.gov the research
supports that bullying effects not only the individual who has been bullied but
also the individual who is bullying and others, including bystanders and even
family members of the parties effected.
This behavior clearly affects the parties involved and any witnesses and therefore is a social issue and problem to address. Per that site, “Bullying can affect everyone—those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide.”
(U.S. Department of Health &
This social problem must be addressed in a way that allows for the curiosity
associated with those who are different, the strategy involved must embrace the
diversity and prove its benefits to the evolution of the community.
The way to stop this behavior is to educate and support behavior that transcends this child-like reaction of name calling and witty yet abusive remarks. Instead our culture needs to cultivate better ethics and a higher sense of accountability and support from peer groups to ensure the support is there for growth.
The Interviews: Principal, School Nurse, and Fifth Grader
When I interviewed the principal and school nurse at the same school that I interviewed the fifth-grade girl. I asked similar questions in hopes of finding where the inconsistencies in perception were most obvious.
For one, the administration thinks it is way more ‘under control’ than the student body, who thinks the policies are just in place to make parents think good things are happening at school. The principal when asked, felt that the policies for talking to the students and supporting better choices were effective in deterring repeat offenses when it came to bullying. In addition, the principal was keen to make sure and say that he felt it was a result of the policies being re-iterated by the teachers and other staff of the schools.
When the principal asked if he felt he was doing everything he could to deter and deal with bullying incidents, he was quick to say yes he did feel he was. On my other interview, I learned about effective group overlap and repeat offenders. The school nurse seemed to think that there were more repeat offenders than rookies-of-the-day so to speak. When I persisted about the possibly repetitive nature of the victims and offenders lists and asked about cross-over, she had no choice but to admit that there are trends that cannot be ignored. She went on to say that in her years at the school in question some who tended towards bullying behavior as kindergarteners still behave in that way as pre-teen fifth graders.
Whether you have heard about new initiatives and laws regarding bullying in schools or not, I caution you to consider your own childhood. Did you know the blind spots and/or open opportunities that existed in your educational environment? If you were so inclined to act inappropriately then of course you would choose this window. This is a prevailing theme in much of my research as well. Many articles state that although there are initiatives and community activities to raise awareness, these behaviors are still pervasive and the bullies just speak under their breath instead.
Many Solutions Offered
So although in black and white and according to the teaching staff, the issue is addressed and diminishing, I suggest another end-route has been created so that the bullies can strike where they lack consequences. Blind spots are a good example but the internet is a better one. Cyber-bullying exists even for grade-school kids that share comments on an online game. Is the lack of accountability at the heart of this epidemic? Could a good dose of accountability and support for peer-modeling of ethics be what this social issue really needs? How do you hold children accountable in a way that does not judge or condemn their behavior and instead supports their growth past the ignorance?
A local organization has formed to be advocates of bullied children with the goal of stopping the cycle of violence. www.youthfrontiers.org is run by the Pacer center and has an amazing list of initiatives, resources, and links for parents who want to get help or find ways to get involved in this social issue. One of the most amazing concepts I have found on this issue, as expressed to me by the fifth grader I interviewed, is the ICI method.
This method is described on a pdf I found by Youth Frontiers and taught via Kindness Retreats for local schoolchildren. Per the article, “ICI: Three Steps to Being a Hero: ICI stands for ‘Interrupt-Compliment-Invite Away.’
This is a technique for students to safely disrupt bullying situations without putting themselves in harm’s way. First the student interrupts the situation by calling the victim’s name (students should not engage the bully at any time); next, the student compliments the victim; finally, the student invites the victim away from the bullying situation to a safe place.”
(Youth Frontiers Inc., 2011).
This is genius-level diffusion strategy in my opinion. I feel that the implementation and support of this strategy by peer groups would go a long way to disrupt the cycle of verbal and physical abuse in our American schools. This is the strategy that the fifth grader I interviewed believes would also be effective, if as she put it, “kids really did that when someone is bullying.”
The Roles Involved
The nerdy, dorky or ‘different’ students were those who were bullied when I was growing up yet I now think it is a bit different today. The fifth-grader that I interviewed said that if you considered yourself a nerd or did exceptionally well in school that made you popular, not a target. She also explained to me that the majority of the children she sees bullied are different in appearance, culture, behavior or any combination of the three. I asked her a list of questions regarding the incidents, whose responsibility it is to ensure the educational environment, and what she thought should be done by whom. Her answers were a bit different than I anticipated. She felt that bullying would be around as long as students who were different were present. When asked about responsibility and authority over the issue, she stated that it was the teachers and ultimately the principal that should be responsible for working on a resolution.
Whether you think that kids are over-sensitive these days or that bullying is as old as man, you must consider that there is a more productive way for our youth to socialize and interact.
I think that starting with Generation X & Y it was more about status and materials for peer relationships and that trend has snowballed into this digital age our Millennials will eventually lead. I feel we could do so much more adding accountability and support systems that focused on breaking the cycle through peer-support and education. There is another organization called www.bystanderrevolution.org which is adding an opportunity and a tone of accountability to those who are standing by when this behavior happens. ByStanderRevolution focuses on “Simple acts of kindness, courage, and inclusion anyone can use to take the power out of bullying.”
My unique approach to this problem involves this diffusion by bystanders and supportive behavior modeling from peer-groups but it goes one step further to make it easy for the victim to be heard. I feel that anonymous tip lines and a way to submit a complaint anonymously regarding bullying would go a long way in protecting the victim yet making sure there was a way to hold the perpetrator accountable without exposing the victim to further hassle from the bully.
Whether we can end bullying in our schools once-and-for-all or not, we must do more to cultivate accountability and support anonymity so that victims can feel comfortable coming forward. We must also cultivate practices in peer-groups that are similar to the ICI method described in this paper and intend to diffuse and stop these situations before they escalate. I feel that much more should be done to hold the children accountable.
· Step 1: Announce New Strategy and call on suggestions from students, teachers & parents.
· Step 2: Compile suggestions and the objectives described here (accountability, peer support, diffusion, education)
· Step 3: Announce Anonymous tip line and email address and new policy for dealing with accusations of bullying. This process should be known by all at school and include meeting with both parents and an authority figure with the school where the student is asked about peer relationships and given the opportunity to get appropriate support for the situation. It should also include a process for false accusations.
· Step 4: Implement new policy and test-run for a set period of time (3-6 months to one school year.)
· Step 5: Compile data relating to invested resources, incidents that occurred, and suggestions from the school staff and students as to how they felt the newly implemented process worked toward providing the most comfortable educational environment for all students.
· Step 6: Re-design plan if needed and re-launch with new initiatives, plans and timeline for evaluation.
There is a reason to re-evaluate the plan and success of any plan to support decreasing a social issue and concern that is affecting the community. The most startling statistics that I found were from 2007 and the Stanford Medicine website, “Nine out of 10 elementary students have been bullied by their peers, according to a simple questionnaire developed by researchers at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the Stanford University School of Medicine. What's more, nearly six in 10 children surveyed in the preliminary study reported participating in some type of bullying themselves in the past year.”
(Conger, 2007)The one thing that I
know for sure is that a child that feels safe at school learns much more than
one that is scared to go there.
ByStander Revolution. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved Dec 1, 2014, from http://www.bystanderrevolution.org/about
Conger, K. (2007, Apr). School Bullying Affects Majority of Elementary Students Stanford/Packard Researchers Find. Stanford Medical: News Center. Retrieved Dec 1, 2014, from http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2007/04/school-bullying-affects-majority-of-elementary-students-stanfordpackard-researchers-find.html
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Definition of Bully. Retrieved Dec 2, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bully
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Effects of Bullying. stopbullying.gov. Retrieved Dec 1, 204, from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/effects/index.html
Youth Frontiers Inc. (2011). Youth Frontiers Kindness Retreat Primer. Retrieved Dec 1, 2014, from http://www.youthfrontiers.org/downloads/KindnessRetreatPrimer.pdf