Addressing bullying at its roots

I read a blog post this morning by Dennis Dill about bullying . The topic has been on my mind a lot lately too, so as I began commenting on his blog, I realized I was writing an entire blog post – inappropriate on someone else’s blog, so I brought it over here, to my own space.

I can’t think of a way to put this that doesn’t start out making me sound like a bully enabler, but I’m not. Hang with me for a bit.

Hasn’t bullying always been around? Have the incidents actually increased or are we just talking about it more? Has the Internet increased the occurrences or just allowed the bullies to work behind the scenes? (Because, let me tell you, there are some horror stories from my high school days) I see campaigns to Stop Bullying! everywhere. Of my freshmen students, when asked to choose a generic writing topic for which they would come up with multiple subtopics, three chose bullying, yet none of them claimed to be a victim. Are we talking about it so much that we are creating a sense of it being bigger than what it is?

In many cases, perhaps. But the issue was and is very big and very real for the family and friends of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, the 12-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide last week as a result of online bullying. The article in The Ledger doesn’t stop at reporting Rebecca’s suicide and the details leading up to it. Writer Stephanie Allen spoke with experts in the field who said what I’ve been thinking all along: kids need to know that they are important, they are valued. Perhaps reaction is what has changed so much. Brooks Gibbs, one of Allen’s sources who is an expert on bullying, is pushing lawmakers to create a bill requiring schools to teach what he calls “resilience training.” Bingo. That’s the term I was looking for.

What I propose is this: while we continue to work on the Stop Bullying! end, but perhaps a little less loudly, maybe we should also work on a You Matter aspect, a la Angela Maiers, building students up, both the bullies and the victims and everyone in between, because the whole problem seems to come down to one of self-esteem. Bullies pick on people to make themselves feel more important. Victims are more victimized by bullies when they feel less important. Bullying tactics do not work as well on those who are comfortable with themselves.

For my part, when a child tells me she or he is being bullied, I will listen. I will ask questions. I will try to help that child see the comments or the actions for what they are and what they are not. And in my classes – and for students I have had with whom I still have contact – I will continue to seek in them their special attributes because everyone has something to offer those around them. They just sometimes need the rest of us as mirrors to help them see the value within themselves.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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