October is national bullying prevention month, a time to draw attention to an issue that has become prevalent in today’s society. Statistics show 35 percent of kids have been threatened online, and nearly one in five have experienced bullying more than once, according to the national anti-bullying organization Stomp Out Bullying. There are long term effects as well. A bully is six times more likely to be incarcerated by the age of 24, reports the American Society for the Positive Care of Children.
That is why a few years ago, Crossroads developed the Speak Up Anti-Bullying Program for our female residents, local schools and community groups. The program was made possible through a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Rochester Women’s Fund. We knew that the schools already had programs and supports in place to address anti-bullying, bullying and bully prevention, but we wanted to do more.
We implemented the program with all of the kids on our campus and community-based programs, and also shared Speak Up with area schools so that students and teachers could have additional tools to reduce bullying behavior. The program used the best of specially developed hands-on activities to empower youth to take action against bullying. These experiential education activities differentiated Speak Up from other anti-bullying efforts.
What we learned was astounding as we listened to the kids. They often didn’t know that the words coming out of their mouths were hurtful. They thought they were just “teasing” and that there was no harm intended. Other times they knew they were excluding a peer and being hurtful, but they were afraid to act in a different way for fear of being the next one to receive the same treatment. The majority were confused about societal norms. What is a racial slur versus the kind of thing you hear all the time in music and on TV? What are you supposed to do when you try to tell your parents or an adult and later kids either they don’t take you seriously, or worse, they do? In this situation kids would know you told, making you feel more on the outside than ever.
Teaching youth how to prevent and address bullying is vital to creating and maintaining a safe and supportive environment. Talk with your children about their experiences with bullying this month and encourage them to help put a stop to bullying by treating others with kindness and respect. Make sure they know what is acceptable behavior versus what is inappropriate behavior among their peers. Model for them how to talk and act with respect. Let them know the norms in your family. Get to know your local school, its policies and be a part of anti-bullying efforts. Keeping the lines of communication open will go a long way toward preventing bullying.