Bullying always has been a terrible problem plaguing schools in America and beyond, but it took a tragic epidemic of high-profile victim suicides for anyone to actually care about curbing the issue. Now that people are finally beginning to realize that treating one another like garbage over petty details might not be the best thing for students, parents and school districts alike are formulating various strategies to put an end to the madness. Some are actually incredibly innovative, although some of the more traditional methods boast their own benefits as well.
Infants, come to find out, can be useful for reasons other than producing poo and barf seemingly on command. Toronto-based Roots of Empathy and similar organizations have started introducing babies into classroom settings with the hopes of encouraging students to build compassion. And so far, it's actually yielded results — participants tend to loosen up and pay closer attention to lessons and each other, lessening bullying instances in the process.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Stop Bullying initiative printed up comic books to distribute to kids with the hopes of shedding light on a serious issue. Other schools have run with the concept by asking students to write and draw scenes or stories of their own. Visualizing the realities makes it easier for younger kids to recognize the problem and either intervene or fetch a caring adult.
Similar to the comic book example, some schools have opted to show movies such as The Bullying Project and foster discussions between students, faculty, staff, and parents about the roots and solutions. More resourceful institutions might want to challenge kids — especially teens — to shoot short films of their own. Doing so will not only help bring forward real experiences and perceptions, but offer a sort of creative solace to bullying victims as well.
If babies are unavailable, try establishing (monitored!) programs where students sit down with one another and simply talk. Areas with very diverse demographics could especially benefit from such exchanges, because cultural misunderstandings and stereotypes do often feed into bullying situations. In addition, this structure can also be adapted into a peer counseling service, nurturing a sense of connection and community dissuading brutality.
Younger children with a preference for bright colors and engaging visuals might benefit greatly from learning about the bullying problem via bulletin boards. Kits are available through various vendors, or teachers can put their design skills to good use with something more original. Involving the students themselves in the creation process will only add to the education factor, encouraging them to speak up while speaking out.
iPhone users suffering beneath a bully's grip now have the free A Thin Line app at their disposal — and those who do not own the smartphone enjoy the same perks on the accompanying website. MTV sponsors this digital discussion by allowing kids and teens to share their own experiences with unwanted advances and harassment. For the adults, they post numerous resources and questions to help them combat the serious issue at the authority level.
Pacer's KIDS AGAINST BULLYING program hosts puppet shows in schools as a means of teaching the younger set why bullying is unacceptable. Schools without the funding or resources to bring the initiative to their students can stage their very own performances using what's on hand — or task students with writing their own. Beyond puppetry, the same concept also works when presented as a skit or short play.
Training students to serve as peer counselors and advocates bridges gaps with the faculty and promotes greater understanding in the classroom. Pacer and other anti-bullying organizations burst with excellent suggestions about the best ways to nurture leadership and empathy skills needed to reach out the bullies and the bullied alike. After all, as the next innovation reveals, sometimes the perpetrators need intervention for more than just their behavior problems.
Many — not all — bullies lash out at their peers because of issues at home or within themselves, and the most effective schools realize they need as much (if not more) counseling than their victims. In Charleston, a partnership between Alice Birney Middle School and Medical University of South Carolina has started providing various psychological services for ill-behaved kids. When combined with a rigorous education regimen, their bullying rate decreased as more and more students received the mental help needed to be a more productive citizen.
Another fruitful partnership that quelled the bullying issue understandably involves anti-violence shelters and schools themselves. In Austin, SafePlace, which serves as a shelter for victims of rape, sexual assault, and domestic abuse, and a half-dozen public elementary schools teamed up for a CDC- and University of Texas-sponsored program dubbed Expect Respect. Unlike many other initiatives, it focuses on bullying in its myriad forms, comparing and contrasting instances on and off campus.
No matter how many peers end up with counseling and advocacy training, it's up to adults to properly discipline kids who bully. Any school hoping to curb instances of harassment, even assault, must absolutely ensure that parents, faculty, and staff all understand the signs of a perpetrator and a victim as well as proper intervention techniques. They also must make sure to always be available when witnesses and the bullied both need immediate assistance.
In order to ensure the best possible peer and adult intervention strategies, the best place to turn for advice is the student body itself. Not only will this foster a closer school community by making kids feel appreciated and important, it also means updated information regarding their most pressing concerns. Adults are always inevitably a step or two behind youth culture; putting forth the effort to "get it" will make a world of difference.
The best educations blend the usual academic subjects with lessons in displaying a strong ethical fiber. Unfortunately, that's not found in many schools. Your Environment Inc., one of many programs addressing this disparity, succeeded by incorporating parents and the surrounding community into the mix. Bullying impacts far, far more than just the kids involved, so making sure the neighborhood understands the details ensures a safer space.
Asking students to regularly journal their thoughts and experiences will not make bullying disappear, but it can supplement other activities quite adroitly. Ones not meant for peer editing or sharing will especially grant them a relatively comfortable venue through which they can channel their anxieties. Accomplishing this, however, requires a comfortable classroom where students know they might express themselves without negative repercussions.
Since so many education experts and parents point their fingers at violence on television as one of the many pop culture phenomena responsible for bullying, it seems almost counterintuitive that they'd voluntarily pair off with an organization they often decry. Creative Coalition, National Education Association, and Health Information hooked up with World Wrestling Entertainment for the Be a STAR program, meant to encourage positivity in the classroom and beyond. Developers believe that delineating between the real and the staged will provide a better point of reference for students hoping to use fists over discussions when solving differences.
Not only are creative pursuits excellent strategies for preventing bullying from the top down, it also empowers students to feel more confident and expressive — tools needed to combat verbal, physical, and sexual violence. In Montgomery County, Maryland, in-school and after-school arts programs are intended to nurture positive traits and, in turn, healthier, happier campuses. Because they launched in the 2011-2012 school year, the actual results have yet to start trickling their way through.
Old-fashioned, yes, but still an effective strategy for facilitating discussions about bullying and other serious campus issues. Depending on their needs and resources, schools can either bring in outside presenters or stage their own addressing specific student needs. Just make sure programming doesn't talk down to kids or focus more on "edginess" over education.
Middle schoolers, for better or worse, do look up to high schoolers for advice and insight about trends and attitudes. Some districts have taken advantage of this natural phenomenon by asking older kids to either mentor or produce materials (such as PSAs) for their eventual successors. Instead of turning toward outside sources, they reinforce their own communities by addressing specific problems and channeling any unique cultural quirks.
Start teaching students about the dangers of bullying earlier through catchy tunes, such as this Pacer Center album with contributions by Blue October and other musicians and poets. Music serves as an excellent mnemonic when learning about the alphabet, shapes, numbers, and other subjects, so it makes perfect sense that elementary school students could soak up social lessons the exact same way. Consider this or other compilations or stoke creativity by challenging kids to pen their own jaunty songs about how to not be horrible to one another.
The whole "babies in the classroom" strategy is only one element in a broader movement toward "empathy education." Similar to character education, these lessons emphasize compassion with the goal of lessening bullying through love and mutual understanding. Such teachings either happen in the classroom, through special sessions, or via after-school programs.
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