As reported in separate stories by Yadira Betances and Margo Sullivan in the New Hampshire Eagle Tribune, some middle schools are effectively implementing anti-bullying, anti-abuse programs. The recent suicides of four teenage girls may stimulate a sense of urgency. There are some differences in the programs to stop bullies, but both have the seven elements crucial to success. 1. The programs specify what acceptable and not acceptable behavior is General statements about respect and empathy are not enough. These programs give graphic examples of many forms of harassment, bullying and abuse. The unacceptable violence ranges from prejudicial put-downs and personally demeaning or mocking comments, to repeated acts of supposedly accidental tripping and shoving, to physical attacks. The programs point out that bullies may act any where – on the school bus, by the lockers, in the lunchroom, in the playground and in classes. In successful programs, the specific list of unacceptable behaviors evolves as new incidents arise.
2. Children are taught specifically what to do if they’re bullied or if they see someone being bullied Critical to the programs’ success is that kids stick up for other kids. The kids always know who the habitual bullies are. The principal, teachers and staff must also. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse.
3. The programs involve everyone School board members speak out against bullying and review and support the programs. Principals and teachers are involved. Administrative staff and bus drivers are trained and supported. The adults set the tone: No bullying allowed. The adults are proactive, not merely reactive.
Most heartening is the involvement of the students. Kids lead the way in promoting the programs within their schools and in presenting it to other schools. Education is on an emotional level that’s age and grade appropriate. Fifth graders learn differently than seventh graders do. Most kids are excited to know they’re important participants in the programs and they know they’ll be listened to, supported and protected by the adults.
Parental support is critical; especially a core group of parents dedicated to supporting the principal and teachers.
The programs and policies are public; everyone who works at the schools, every kid and every parent knows what the ground rules are.
4. Consequences are clear and action immediate Programs fail if repeat bullies are allowed to continue bullying during lengthy therapy and education processes. The first task of the adults is to make the schools safe. That often involves isolating or removing bullies rapidly. Rehabilitating or converting habitual bullies takes second place.
5. Administrators, school principals and teachers are courageous Their moments of truth are when they have to face irate and bullying parents who defend their little terrorists by threatening to sue the principal and school for harassment. That’s like in the Harry Potter series, when Lucius Malfoy protects his vicious son, Draco.
In order to survive those moments, principals need to have good documentation, staff needs to pool written reports and school district administrators need to back the program. A good lawyer helps make staff’s efforts legal.
Critical to the programs’ success is a vocal group of parents supporting the principal’s actions.
6. Individual training of kids takes place at home Teach children not to bully to get what they want or to make themselves feel better. Also teach them how to respond successfully to bullies; from learning to use verbal skills to learning how to fight back physically if necessary. Face it; some bullies won’t stop until you beat them up. Physical consequences for repeated physical actions are a good lesson for them as they grow up. A child’s effective self-defense sends a different message to bullies than does any repeated beatings they might have gotten at home.
Successful self-defense also increases a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence, and is good preparation for the world children will face as adults.
7. All steps are done at the same time There is no one cause of bullying – like bad parents or uncaring teachers or cowardly principals or rotten kids – so programs won’t succeed if they focus on only one aspect of the problem. Successful programs get everyone involved to stop behavior that affects everyone. They work at the individual level, the classroom level, the school level and the district level.