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.

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