It's time to tell bullies, enough is enough
Bullying is an epidemic that can be eradicated if both children and adults work together to create a world in which it is simply unacceptable, says guest columnist Susan M. Swearer.
Special to The Times
RECENTLY, the documentary "Bully" opened nationwide after weeks of press coverage, ratings controversies, reviews and well-deserved hype. As a person who has spent years researching the subject of school bullying, I was encouraged by the amount of coverage garnered by the film and the dialogue it seemed to spark.
However, like many important stories, I fear that when the opening-day crowds go home and the theaters move on to the next big thing, the important conversations about bullying will cease. More importantly, we need to translate the bully story into action. It is our responsibility to make sure that we use these stories to create positive action to stop bullying.
For the past 15 years, I have focused much of my academic and clinical work on the psychology of school bullying. Many of us can personally relate to incidents of bullying; after all, we didn't all have a picture-perfect high-school experience.
Yet, with each new class, bullying continues, indicating this behavioral crisis is not being effectively addressed. Bullying is certainly not a new phenomenon but it is taking place in new venues, and damaging behavior that would years ago reach two or three kids now has the potential to reach thousands. We simply must be part of the solution — adults and kids have to work together to create a kinder, braver world.
Through the years, we have uncovered some telling trends about why bullying happens, where bullying happens, and the actions needed to address and prevent it. Experts have found that at least 25 percent of students across the nation are hit, shoved, kicked, gossiped about, intimidated or excluded from social groups whether online or offline. Bullying, a repeated aggressive behavior that is difficult to defend, can be verbal, physical, relational, or can occur electronically.
Now it is time for us to highlight what we can do to stop it, because enough is enough. And, the fact is, it has to start with adults. Adults have to model healthy behavior for youth — if adults don't behave kindly, how do we expect children to behave kindly?
The young minds of our children, not yet fully developed, lack the decision-making ability to turn the tides of this kind of national epidemic on their own. They need leadership and they need guidance. They need us to be examples of how to treat each other and how to step up and help, even when it is difficult. As adults, when we hear someone belittling another person or we see someone being mean, we need to say something.
It isn't that difficult. Armed with education and training, we can all learn how to be kind, how to support one another, and how to be accepting of all individuals.
Take the school-bus environment as an example. Most of us would agree that the school bus can be a nerve-wrecking place for a young person, as it is often a breeding ground for damaging behavior. Recent studies show that more than 50 percent of school-bus drivers believe bullying is a serious problem on their bus. Two-thirds of these drivers say they have received complaints from students about bullying. Teaching school-bus drivers about what to do and giving kids the skills to treat each other kindly will go a long way toward creating a better environment on school buses.
Is this just a problem with the kids? Some school-service providers are saying no, and are proactively adopting Education.com's anti-bullying recommendations to protect students. One example is First Student, the nation's largest provider of school-bus transportation, driving 6 million students to and from school each day, including those who ride the 372 school buses First Student drives for Seattle Public Schools.
The company recognized that it had the opportunity to make a difference. It recently launched a "See Something, Do Something" campaign for all of its drivers. This campaign includes extensive training and empowers drivers and attendants to establish an environment of trust and respect on the bus, recognize signs of bullying, and take immediate action. On the school bus, just like in the classroom, in the hallway and in our homes, the right behavior has to start with the adults.
I am often asked, "Can we end this epidemic?" My answer is all must hold themselves accountable for treating everyone with kindness and respect and commit to intervene when they see bullying take place. Both victims and bullies need to feel they have a support network of other kids and adults. Effective intervention can change the conditions fueling the bullying.
Here is the big idea: Let's take both a top-down and bottom-up approach to bullying. Don't only leave this issue for the kids to work out. Let's set the example as parents, teachers, neighbors and mentors and make it a priority to return civility to our schools, and kids will model these behaviors. We are individually and collectively responsible for creating a world where bullying isn't acceptable. Right now is the perfect time to do so.
So whether you have seen the movie "Bully" yet or not, let's not let this opportunity pass us by. We have a unique window here to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of students. Don't let the topic of bullying become yesterday's news.Susan M. Swearer is a professor in The University of Nebraska — Lincoln's Department of Educational Psychology and co-director of The Bullying Research Network.