* Bullying Prevention – Climate Change From the Inside Out *

By Emily Sommers, Courier & Press, Jan. 10, 2017 –

At the beginning of a new school year, bullying prevention initiatives kick off to help students get the year off to a good start.

Bullying is defined as repeated, harmful behavior against someone. Schools have different ways of communicating the message of “no tolerance” for bullying and the school being a “bully-free zone.” This may include a guest speaker at a large school presentation or in-class/small group presentations involving the school counselor, home school advisor or Youth First school social worker.

As a Youth First social worker, I have been a part of both types of presentations as we seek to educate and refresh students on having a safe school. The goal is for students to take away information about the different types of bullying — physical, verbal  and relational.

We also discuss cyberbullying with our middle and high school students, as the use of technology and social media sites is on the rise and starting at an earlier age. According to cyberbullying.org, cyberbullying is “when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.”

We discuss why bullying occurs and how it feels. We want students to know what is really behind the mask of a bully — a hurting person who is trying to gain power in a negative and hurtful way through their actions. We do this to foster compassion.

In the words of Lisa Seif, local private outpatient therapist and community advocate for our youth, bullies are “hurting people who hurt other people with their words and actions.” Bullies are experiencing their own inner conflict, and that is what is referred to as “behind the mask.”

We don’t typically have to spend a lot of time discussing how it feels to be bullied. A show of hands almost always reveals students present have either experienced bullying or witnessed it happening to someone else. Common reactions include fear, embarrassment, sadness, and anger.

 We talk about the “bystander,” who sits back and watches, versus the “upstander,” who takes appropriate action against what is happening to them or a fellow student.  We suggest ways students can take a stand, including confident action/attitude, nonthreatening communication, feelings statements, and simply walking away and not engaging.

Conclusion of bullying prevention presentations will typically include every school having a united front or a no-tolerance zone for bullying.

How can this be achieved? It is important to continue the conversation with students. Give them resources and talk about safe people inside and outside the school including parents, principals, vice-principals, teachers, counselors, home school advisors, Youth First school social workers, and friends who are making good decisions.

Youth and students are listening! They demonstrate insight every time we have this necessary conversation with them.

Parents, please help keep this conversation going throughout the school year.  Your child may need a refresher now that the year is half over. We need your help, as bullying is not isolated to the school community and often takes place outside of school.

Most importantly, bullying prevention is about being a friend to yourself first and establishing the necessary climate change “inside” so it transmits “outside” in the home, school, community  and in friendships and relationships. That means maintaining a healthy balance with the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual parts of ourselves.