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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Bullying – Talk is cheap

April 27, 2012

As an educator who’s been receiving student email from around the world for the past 15 years, I can tell you that kids are desperately seeking adult leadership to deal with school bullying. (See my review of the movie BULLY) The way 6th-8th graders describe it, in often heart-breaking terms, is that there is “no point in talking to teachers or the principal about this, because they do NOTHING.”

At this point, when the problem has been sufficiently identified so that everyone knows exactly what bullying is, any further talk talk talk is the same as doing nothing. Talk is cheap. School assemblies with outside speakers may not be ‘cheap’ but they do allow a school administration that doesn’t prioritize character education in any discernible way to tell distraught parents: “We’re handling it. We had an anti-bullying assembly.”

Piffle.

Even the most inspirational student assembly has no power to change a school culture. Not by its lonesome. Because a school’s culture is a living, breathing entity. Each school day, moment-by-moment, and each night on social media, all individuals within that school community contribute to the culture. If a school is truly serious about challenging the Culture of Cruelty you’ve got to do way more than talk. You need to call a community-wide meeting and give each stake-holder an opportunity to speak – that includes all students, teachers, coaches, administrators, support staff (bus drivers, office personnel, after school program staff, etc.). Conduct a Truth and Reconciliation session. Get real. Express the hurt. The anger. The frustration. Cop to the injustice. Take responsibility for what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do. Apologize. Make amends. Work together to develop strategies for moving forward. Once the strategy for a culture of inclusion is in place, do not fail for one moment to foster it so it can take root and thrive.

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12 Comments »

  1. Yes indeed.

    There was a guest on Anderson Cooper 360 a few months ago who boiled it down handily. Basically he said (and this is in my own words) that having special assemblies/days/talks/etc simply allows administrators to tick “deal with bullying” off their to-do list. It doesn’t accomplish much else however.

    The only thing that will change the situation is when adults in classrooms have the guts to stand up to bullying culture when it’s happening. Every day. Without exception. This means that intolerant behavior or speech is dealt with on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.

    Instead we have teachers who are more worried about their job security, political correctness and uncomfortable politics with parents than they are about the welfare of the children in their charge. It’s sickening.

    Until adults stand up FOR kids and TO kids, nothing will change. Ever.

    Thanks for writing this post. Someday we’ll get it.
    Karri

    Comment by Karri Flatla — April 27, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

  2. Karri, I’m not comfortable labeling all teachers and administrators as being “more worried about job security… than the welfare of their students.” That’s not fair and it’s just not accurate. I will say, as one of the people who comes into schools on a one-time basis to present these anti-bullying assemblies, I couldn’t agree more with your point that one assembly isn’t going to do it. The presentations are excellent as “kick-offs” but rarely do we see students/teachers/admins pick up the ball and run with it… every single day, which is what it takes. And let’s please not underestimate the role of parents in all of this. They are their children’s primary teacher. Effective parenting results in kids who understand that choices have consequences and that core values (instilled at home and reinforced at school) are what you turn to in a peer pressure situation to help you do the right thing.

    Comment by Annie — April 27, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

  3. Teachers do need to step in whenever they see bullying in their classroom on a day to day basis, that’s what I do, I simply say I’ll not have it in my classroom. Often the kids don’t even realise that their behaviour is bullying – we’re just having a laugh, Miss, they say. I also point out why it’s a bad thing. If they heard it every day from every teacher, the message would get across.

    You have to be careful not to make things worse for the victim however and that requires a certain sensitivity. Teachers could do with some guidelines in how to handle this.

    Changing the culture is certainly what’s needed and the best way to do that is to empower the by-standers. There’s more of them than there are bullies and victims, but they need to be able to know that their friends will back them up, and if their greatest fear comes to pass, ie that they will be bullied, they will be able to handle it.

    My approach is to empower the kids to handle it themselves, the victim to handle the abuse, the by-standers to step in and stop it, and even the bullies to feel better about themselves.

    Comment by Tahlia Newland — April 28, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

  4. HI Tahlia, When it comes to challenging the culture of cruelty, you sound like the kind of teacher and colleague that every school needs. Thank you for walking the walk.

    Comment by Annie — April 28, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

  5. I love this article about one way to “tackle” bullying. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/High-school-football-players-fight-bullying-3472442.php

    Comment by Amanda McClure — May 2, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

  6. Great ideas, but what can we do as parents? I feel maybe even more helpless than my son. I bring things up to the administrators and I’m given the “talk” too. I reached a point that I gave up. What’s the use? They just say that it either “didn’t happen” or that “the boys thought that punching a kid (my son) was a game and didn’t realize that they were upsetting him.” When I pointed out that a game usually has 2 sides and if only 1 side is doing the punching, it’s not a game I was told that I had to realize that they were only 12 year olds. REALLY?!? According to the principal bullying doesn’t happen unless the bully fesses up to it. Otherwise any kid could accuse anyone of anything. Perfect logic.

    Comment by Carol — May 14, 2012 @ 7:53 am

  7. hi Carol,
    I’m screaming along with you. REALLY?!? This is beyond unacceptable. Have you gone to the PTA? I’m sure you son is not the only one who has experienced this kind of harassment. These things are rarely isolated incidents. While the school administration is covering its butt, other parents have no invested interest to do so. Bring your complaint to the PTA. If that doesn’t result in any collective pressure on the principal to address this in a REAL way with the parents of the culpable students, then go to the school board. And before you do that, go to http://BullyPolice.org and check out the anti-bullying law in your state. Print it out and bring it your meeting. If the school board blows you off, get in touch with you local newspaper and/or state representative. Keep the press on because you can and because your son and all the other kids whose parents are getting the run-around, will benefit from your efforts. School culture isn’t carved in stone. Don’t give up. Parents have plenty of power in public schools when they know how to use it.

    Comment by Annie — May 14, 2012 @ 8:29 am

  8. I taught elementary and middle school for 28 years. I had very little tolerance for bullies. I would always sit down for a chat with both bully and victim. If that didn’t work, I’d put the two together to accomplish a project meant to help the school, like policing the yard. They would have to learn to work together to finish the task. It was helpful.

    Comment by Michael Thal — May 19, 2012 @ 5:31 pm

  9. As a teacher of 35 years, I really disagree with this comment: “We have teachers who are more worried about their job security, political correctness and uncomfortable politics with parents than they are about the welfare of the children in their charge. It’s sickening.”
    First–do you teach? What are your sources for this statement.
    Second–the reasosn we go into teaching is because we like kids. That’s it. It certainly isn’t the salary. It isn’t for those long summer vacations–which we use for further educatgion or to rest up from 50-60 hour work weeks. It isn’t because teaching is easy–try it sometime. Teachers are the ones DOING the teaching.
    And, very simply, we don’t see much of the bullying. Even as we stand outside our classrooms during the five minutes between classes, it happens in corners and bathrooms and locker rooms.
    And, we aren’t given the resources and the backing. What in the world does this ahve to do with political correctness? Stopping kids from being bullied IS correct in every way. As for the uncomfortable politics with parents–yes, that’s true. I’ve had as many as 180 students, many of those from divorced parents which means I have to deal with 200+ parents. This isn’t easy. All parent, even the parents of bullies, deserve to be treated with respect.

    Comment by Jane Myers Perrine — May 19, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

  10. Please forgive my rant above. If I could delete it, I would. When teachers are put down, I get angry because most teachers do so much with so few resources for so many. My belief is that we have to work together to stop bullying–parents, teachers, administrators, community and students. It’s an incredibly difficult and complex subject that requires cooperation not judging.

    Comment by Jane Myers Perrine — May 20, 2012 @ 11:53 am

  11. Hi Jane, no need to apologize for your strong opinion. I agree with you, that most teachers are working under difficult circumstances. We became teachers because we love children and we want to give them guidance so they are in the best position to make good (personal, social, academic) choices now and in the future. We became teachers because we know that character education is also part of our mission along with whatever other subjects we are contracted to teach. I talk with many educators in my line of work (across the country) and I’ve never had a conversation the included the words “job security”. I agree also that we have to work together (with students, colleagues, parents and administrators) to challenge the culture of cruelty wherever and whenever we encounter it. I’m proud to be on your team, Jane!

    Comment by Annie — May 20, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

  12. Thank you. I’m glad to have found you, someone who is working on so many issues.

    Comment by Jane Myers Perrine — May 21, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

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