Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Question #3: "Why is Anti-Bullying Such a Political Football?"

October is national Bulling Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we are preparing some answers to Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the issue of bullying. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, you can message us on Facebook.  We can’t answer every question individually, but we can try to get the “gist” of all of the questions and address the issues raised. If you missed the first two entries in the series, the links for them are right here:

 Q3 :Why is Anti-bullying Such a Political Football?

As a social strategy that depends on physical or social strength, there has always been the potential for bullying to have political over-tones. The targets of bullying are chosen because the bully believes that they are acceptable targets for unacceptable treatment. While some bullying happens because the bully has a personal problem with a single individual and justifies their treatment of their victim on those grounds, there is another dynamic where groups of people become viewed as fair game for anybody to mistreat.

In a local areas, children of racial, cultural, religious, economic, social status or sexual minorities can be at higher risk for bullying.  If the children in a neighborhood see that authority figures take an attitude that certain groups are undesirable or suspect, they are more likely to choose them as targets of bullying, less likely to become part of the support network for the victims, and the victims are more likely to internalize the message that they “deserve” this treatment and be unprepared to stand up for themselves.

Anti-bullying programs that  include the message that it is unacceptable to bully someone because they belong to a disadvantaged minority are sometimes accused of being part of a political agenda or strategy, because this issue intersects with other social justice issues.  Thus, political activists on both sides of the social issues are compelled to become involved in the discussion.

However, no anti-bullying educational program can be effective unless it includes material that makes it clear that it is unacceptable to bully anyone. If there are groups of people that are implicitly viewed as acceptable targets for mistreatment, an anti-bullying program must explicitly state that they are not acceptable targets for mistreatment in order to be effective.  Additionally, official policy and implementation of policy must be in line with that message.  Without these actions, an acceptable class of victims and a climate of “open season” can result.

The experience of Jamie Nabozny illustrates this phenomenon very clearly.


The right to believe whatever you believe, and speak to defend those beliefs, is very important. It is fundamental to all other rights. The right of human beings to be safe from malicious harm is also very important and fundamental to all other rights.  If you can't be secure in your person, you can't be secure in anything else.
The job for us as parents, educators, and peers of those affected by bullying is to understand, teach, and strive to model behavior that makes it clear:  you do no honor to your beliefs when you harm another person in their name, and that we do not believe that any sort of violence, harassment, or defamation is supported by appeals to belief or opinion.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Question #2: "Why is it the School's Job to Worry About Bullying?"

October is national Bulling Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we are preparing some answers to Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the issue of bullying. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, you can message us on Facebook.  We can’t answer every question individually, but we can try to get the “gist” of all of the questions and address the issues raised.

 “Why is it the school’s job to worry about bullying?”

Being in an unsafe environment affects the quality of learning for everyone.  Even if your child is not being bullied, the abusive environment caused by bullying is distracting and stressful for everyone. Teacher time and school resources are expended trying to resolve conflicts, rather than teaching. Even if your child is “not one of those kids”, you should be aware that bullying behavior affects his or her learning environment.

Kids that are subjected to bullying in school sometimes also suffer from difficulties outside of the school environment (a disordered home environment, neighborhood violence or crime, etc.) that can make them more vulnerable to abuse from their peers.

For these students, it is absolutely critical for schools to be a safe place to learn and improve themselves. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence ( by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) shows that children who are exposed to violence in multiple areas of their lives are at greater risk for many problems in every area of life. They can develop very serious health, legal, emotional, and academic issues that challenge their ability to be independent and productive individuals.

However, if there is even one place where a child who is experiencing difficulties in every other area of life can abandon their hyper-vigilance, relax, recharge, and focus on visualizing, planning, and pursuing a fulfilling future, their risk of adverse outcomes is reduced.

Schools are obligated to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all students, and the infrastructure is already in place for the delivery of many services and supports for this purpose. Effective anti-bullying policies and procedures that protect all students are just another part of what is already a core mission for our schools.

However, one clear difficulty is that bullying behavior does not happen exclusively within the school’s preview. Bullying tends to follow students back and forth from the school to off-hours activity, and back again through use of the personal cell phones and computers. The schools have limited authority to deal with these activities when the fall-out occurs off-campus. But with the cooperation of parents, students, communities and schools, progress is being made every day in individual districts across the country.

 What are some things that schools can do in order to address bullying?

·         Have a strong, effective, authentic, anti-bullying policy for in-school behavior. “Zero Tolerance” has become an unpopular phrase. We have all seen highly publicized cases of policies that are designed with inflexible, severe, excessive, “one-size-fits-all” punishments. This application of policy takes away any discretion on the part of the staff to tailor the consequences to the behavior, help resolve conflicts, and provide resources for students who need help or support.  These policies are not only ineffective, but they cause parents, students and the community to view the issue of bullying as a joke, and an issue that is best ignored.
       “Zero Tolerance” should  instead be understood to mean that EVERY reported incident will be dealt with in an appropriate way.  It should mean that every case of bullying that is brought to the attention of the administration will be recorded, taken seriously, appropriately addressed, and resolutions recorded. Consequences should be tied to, and appropriate for the infraction.

·         Have a clear policy about the appropriate use of electronic devices on the school grounds or school-sponsored events, and enforce that policy consistently.  This policy should be reviewed and updated as needed to respond to new technologies, and new trends in usage.

·         Invite the public, including students and parents, to be part of the discussion about bullying and create a response to bullying that is supported by the community (and enlist the prevention education programs provided by organizations such as Missing Children Minnesota, or our AMECO partners at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center).

·         Train students, faculty, staff and parents for in-school prevention models such as the peer-support model (where students are educated to act as bystanders and witnesses to support the victims of bullying, to report bullying activity, and/or to send a message of non-acceptance of the bullying behavior).

·         Provide training and resources for conflict resolution, and refer children and parents to resources that can help them cope with the stressors that may contribute to the bullying.

Ultimately, the people who have the most impact on student behavior are peers and parents.

Parents can model respectful behavior toward all people at home, and teach their children (by example, and as part of an ongoing dialogue) that while they might not like someone’s personality, actions, beliefs, or habits, they are expected to treat every person with respect, dignity, and fairness.

Students can affect their environment by not accepting or excusing bullying behavior in their friends, by reaching out for help to appropriately resolve conflicts before the situation escalates, participating in anti-bullying programs or efforts in their school or community, and by reaching out to the victims of bullying to offer support.

You can call Missing Children Minnesota to bring our prevention education programs to the children in your life by calling (612) 334-9449.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why is Bullying Such A Big Deal "All of a Sudden"?

October is national Bully Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we are preparing some answers to Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the issue of bullying. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, you can message us on Facebook, or leave a question in the comments.  We can’t answer every question individually, but we can try to get the “gist” of all of the questions and address the issues raised.

Question One:  Why is Bullying Such a Big Deal “All of a Sudden”?

When bullying is brought up in conversation, a common sentiment is:  “kids will be kids”. We hear people express this as part of a view that bullying is a normal, healthy “rite of passage” that prepares our kids for the difficulties of an adult world.

Another is: “That has nothing to do with my kids.”  If someone’s kids don’t bully, and are not bullied, they don’t have to think about it. They forget that an unsafe or disruptive environment affects their children, even if they are not the perpetrators or victims of bullying. They overlook the fact that bystanders and witnesses participate by providing an audience and tacit support for the bullies if they do not take an active role in stopping it.

Another common sentiment is: “kids are so cruel”, said with a headshake and a helpless shrug. It implies an acceptance that bullying is an unfortunate, but unavoidable reality.

For most of us as children, this was the reality.  Some kids just got picked on and tortured.  If they could change their appearance, behavior or find some other way to avoid it, they might be able to put a stop to the bullying, but otherwise, they just had to outlast it, and wait until the bullies gave up or grew up.

We accepted treatment for our children that we would never accept for adults. Some behaviors that are dismissed as “bullying” in our schools would result in criminal charges, or a civil suit if committed in our adult workplaces.

Unfortunately, the times we are living in make it necessary for us to deal with this increasingly difficult and destructive problem.  For one thing, the social dynamic that used to be limited to just a school, sports team or scout troop environment has become a 24-hour crowd-sourced phenomenon that follows our kids everywhere there is a peer with a cell phone or a computer.

When bullying goes online, the bullying persists even after those who instigate it stop their behavior. The images and “memes” (online jokes, sayings, images or other content that are passed “virally” from person to person on the internet) live on forever. There IS no “outlasting” it. The bullies may move on, but the content they put on the internet is there forever.

Further, a compromising image, personal information about the bullied person such as their home address or phone number, or other identifiable information revealed by others in the process of bullying online can actually endanger our kids.  Having this information distributed on line, or through cell phones, exposes the bullied kids to predators at the same time that it causes depression, insecurity, helplessness, and a desire to flee their circumstances. These feelings can add to their vulnerability.

Exposure to bullying increases the risk of suicide, running away, victimization by predators who are on the lookout for kids in despair, poor academic performance, substance abuse, violence against the victim, as well as violent acting out from the victim.  Pranks involved in bullying can result in the bullies, their victims, or both, becoming involved with the criminal justice system when pranks or retaliation get out of hand.

The stakes have always been high in bullying, but the ability of bullies to “mass produce” abuse through new technology has increased the risk of the worst outcomes for our children.

Bullying has always been a problem, but the problem is reaching critical importance for our schools, our communities, and for all of our kids. We need to teach our children to recognize the signs of bullying, help them develop skills for dealing with bullying, to avoid bullying behavior, and empower children who are by-standers to bullying to step up and speak out.
Missing Children Minnesota has programs to help children make safe choices, as well as a program for internet ettiquette and safety.  Call (612) 334-9449 today to find out how to bring these programs to the children in your community.