Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kids and Bullying

Kids Deserve Same Protection From Bullying as Adults

This post is about a different kind of sustainability... Kids are settling back into their school routine with a mixture of anxiety and excitement --- new classes and teachers; meeting old friends and making new acquaintances, wondering what’s for lunch and who will sign-up for what after school activities. Unfortunately too many children are anxious about bullying. Bullying is a real threat where one in three children will experience bullying at some point in their school career.

To highlight this issue, I recommended writing an op-ed as part of the comprehensive marketing program proposed to Parents Place as part of my Stanford Alumni volunteer work.

The piece was written with the bullying prevention leader. This essay compares school bullying to workplace bullying and recommends using the same approaches that have been successful in reducing workplace harassment. An effective bullying prevention program not only deters bullying, but teaches kids better interpersonal skills which will enhance future workplace and other adult relationships.

Opinion: Kids deserve same protection from bullying as adults
By Claudia Girrbach and Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet
Special to the Mercury News
Publication: San Jose Mercury News (California)
Date: Sunday, September 20 2009

Thanks to anti-harassment laws, dramatic shifts in cultural attitudes and employer education programs, we've come a long way in combating bullying behavior in the workplace.Yet there's one class of citizens who must still contend with frequent, persistent and mean-spirited bullying in their workplace: our children.
By the time students graduate from high school, one in two will have witnessed bullying.

One in three will have been a target.

Every day, in schoolyards and classrooms, on buses and playgrounds, our youngsters are heckled, ridiculed and abused by their peers. Now that we live in the digital age, bullying also occurs over the Internet.

Although laws to protect kids from bullying are on the books in many school districts including those in California knowledge about what constitutes bullying and how best to intervene is inconsistent. Many still have difficulty distinguishing between teasing and bullying and assume that unless there is bodily harm involved, "boys will be boys" and "girls are too nice" to bully. By its nature, Internet bullying is often invisible to adults.

Bullying occurs when there is 1) an imbalance of power including greater physical strength or social dominance, 2) an intent to harm physically but also psychologically and 3) the threat of ongoing abuse. When a group of boys repeatedly roughhouses a smaller, younger boy and calls him names, that's bullying. When a group of "popular" girls continues to snub the "new girl " whispering behind her back that's bullying, too. Setting up an online "slam-book" and inviting others to make cruel and negative comments about the target is an example of cyberbullying.

Within schools with simplistic or inconsistent programs to deal with bullying, targets often remain silent while friends and bystanders do nothing to intervene. Kids who want to report it to authorities fear being branded a snitch. Should a child be brave enough to speak up, adults may discount the grievance and advise the target to toughen up.

As a result, the bully receives the tacit message that his or her conduct is acceptable. The target grows angrier, more frightened and isolated, while the bystander feels powerless. All students are less able to learn in such a contentious atmosphere. Studies by the U.S. Department of Education show that a hostile environment is a major contributor to poor achievement.

Comprehensive bullying prevention programs should start in elementary school. At Parents Place, a family resource center of Jewish Family and Children's Services, we have created a bullying prevention program that involves the entire school community students, teachers, administrators, parents, and all staff. School support staff form a critical link, including bus drivers, crossing guards, playground supervisors, cafeteria workers and maintenance staff. They interact with students in less structured settings, where most of the bullying occurs. In fact, classrooms are the least common site for bullying, less than 25 percent on average.

Education of the entire community is essential. Specific examples are useful to help kids and adults identify different types of bullying. Role playing allows the community to practice new skills and positive ways to interact. A confidential reporting process also is essential so that teachers and administrators are accountable for timely follow-up of incidents.

Harassment prevention programs work. Adults no longer have to contend with bullying at work. Why should our kids?

GLORIA MOSKOWITZ-SWEET is coordinator of the Parents Place Community Education Center and has taught social work at San Jose State University for 20 years, with a focus on children and families.

CLAUDIA GIRRBACH is a senior director at Gap Inc. and a Stanford ACT volunteer at Parents Place. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.

A leader for a teacher's group read this op-ed and contacted Parents Place to request training on recognizing and preventing bullying. The focus of training is for instructional assistants. With over six million students enrolled in California schools, the opportunity for impact is enormous.

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