* Teach Tolerance to Combat Bullying

By Joan Carie, LCSW, LCAC, Courier & Press, June 6, 2017 –

It is not uncommon these days to hear stories about bullying in schools.  Most schools have a zero tolerance policy for bully behaviors.  When addressing the problem of school bullying, it may be helpful to look deeper into what drives this type of behavior.

A quick look into our history finds that America is known as the great melting pot, encompassing a worldwide blend of cultural traditions and founded on freedoms and tolerance of differences.  If we focus on the positives of this rich diversity, we come to view our differences as opportunities to discover new ideas and values that can enhance our lives.

If, however, we focus on differences from the perspective of no value for cultural diversity and a “my way or the highway” attitude, then we have become narrowly focused; our ability to have tolerance and empathy for differences significantly decreases.  When empathy and tolerance are lacking, we are living in a perfect environment to foster bullying.

These intolerances have serious implications for our youth.  The American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said, “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”

Children 3-6 are able to stereotype groups of people and can recognize blatant discrimination.  Children 6-10 become increasingly aware of others’ prejudices and can recognize the more subtle forms of discrimination, and by the teens years, these prejudices become internalized to eventually become part of the adult psyche.

Perhaps if we focus on tolerance, loving kindness and compassion in our own lives and live as examples to our children, we can reduce intolerance and bullying in our schools.

Some ways to foster tolerance with our children include:

  1. Teach love first.  Show examples of loving others despite the existence of differences.  Reach out a helping hand to others even if they are different.
  2. Be familiar with and acknowledge the values and biases you have.  It is important to evaluate ourselves in terms of our own beliefs and the differences we struggle with tolerating.
  3. Exposure to differences throughout childhood teaches children they do not have to agree with others in order to respect others.
  4. Allow children to explore other cultures and different viewpoints.  This can teach children an appreciation and respect for others while allowing them the freedom to express their own views and values.
  5. When intolerance rears its ugly head, including through media and social interactions, take the opportunity to challenge it.  We can teach our children to not endorse or participate in jokes that promote stereotyping, belittling or degrading others.

When children are confident and secure with themselves, they don’t feel threatened by differences.  To the contrary, they are comfortable and able to engage with others in spite of the differences that exist.

When looking at the bigger picture, if we can shift our focus to celebrating our differences we may take a huge step toward combating an ever-increasing concern, school bullying.

* 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.