October 22, 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed a PTA meeting last night.
I know. With these words some of my closest friends are now planning an intervention to try and save my social life (I remind those concerned parties that I stayed up until 2 AM this past Saturday at my reunion, so there), but I will let everyone know the intervention is unnecessary. No, I had a wonderful experience with my Special Ed PTA brethren last evening because the speaker was phenomenal, and because I learned some things I feel compelled to share with all of you.
And you thought the selling point was the donuts, didn’t you?
For about an hour last night Deborah Holliday and Stephanie Carraro from BullyAlarm.com came to speak to us, and sitting in the audience as a former educator I assumed I would know it all, that teachers would get their usual bad rap, and nothing much would be accomplished. In my twelve years in the classroom, I’ve seen dozens of these types of presentations on a myriad of topics conducted at both of my schools in VA and DC respectively. Although they were usually presented in an articulate fashion, at the conclusion of each program there were generally very few strategies that I could walk away with and implement in my classroom. And as far as bullying went, we educators kept our ears and eyes open as much as possible, made certain there were consequences for bad behavior, and spent the rest of the time desperately trying to teach our kids something.
But this presentation was different. I actually learned some facts that shocked me last night, such as 60% of all bullies eventually hold some type of criminal record, and more than half of most offences, despite cameras, occur on school busses. I also had a myth dispelled for me that I found particularly chilling. All these years I had mistakenly assumed that bullies were simply lacking in self-esteem, and were choosing to lash out at someone weaker than them so they could improve their own sense of self-worth. Instead, Deborah informed us that a multitude of studies has proven that bullies actually possess an inflated sense of self, have a warrior mentality, and are able to wreak their havoc because they completely dehumanize their targets. Bullies are using their power to overpower. They don’t do it because their home life sucks.
They do it simply because they can.
Deborah went on to tell us that the deleterious effects of bullying not only had negative consequences for the targets, but also for those who witness what’s transpiring and choose to remain silent. She discussed the toxicity of bullying events for all concerned, how it’s not just the recipients of the violence who suffer from truancy, illness, and depression, but those who inadvertently participate in the acts by keeping their silence. She reminded us that bullying takes forms other than traditional physical violence, that emotional intimidation and creating a socially isolating environment for those who are targeted is just as devastating. Finally, she emphasized a point that struck a chord with all who were seated there this past evening. With the advent of technology, texting, the internet, email, and Facebook, home is no longer the haven it once was for our generation. For some of our children, and I extend this label to those who reside in the land of the neurotypical as well, there is literally no longer any sanctuary.
The warning signs were discussed last night, a reminder that unexplained cuts, torn clothing, fear of attending school, frequent loss of money, and a general demeanor of despair cannot be ignored. Deborah outlined a number of things parents can do to help eradicate bullying, such as parents agreeing to take an active role in ferreting out and destroying such actions; reinforcing positive behavior, particularly when a child reports a transgression or encourages others to desist in harassment; and of course, working to create that “safe zone” for their children that includes monitoring all uses of technology. She reminded us, and I heartily concur, that parents share tips with one another, “police” their own neighborhoods, and follow-through on their own zero tolerance parties. We need to create an active partnership with our schools, but demand a safe environment for all, something which every child and adult is entitled to under the law.
One of her final points, and something she and her partner try to drive home to the students and administrators in every school that they visit, is that ultimately a successful eradication of bullying will begin when every child feels comfortable advocating for themselves, and advocating for others. She made a great point that even technology can be used “for good” in this instance, that with all the various media in existence today it is far easier for a child to report an incident anonymously, thus acting as a good citizen without fear of reprisal. It was clear how imperative it is that children feel they have a voice, even if that voice has been previously silenced. Then, and only then, will children who have been targeted and those that watched it happen begin to take back their power.
I listened to parents speak last night, sharing their own tales of children with disabilities who have been terrorized, some completely defenseless, and frequently unable to speak for themselves. We acknowledged that many in our population don’t even know if they’re being harassed, or if the child in front of them is indeed trying to be their friend. It struck me that while many of the techniques Deborah listed were wonderful, they were completely inadequate in our world. It’s impossible to tell your mommy someone’s being mean to you if aren’t aware of the transgression, and are literally unable to talk about it even if you are.
The reality is parents can’t be in school every second of the day, and teachers simply don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. If we’re to rid the nation of this horror, so that incidences like what transpired at Rutgers University and on a bus in Connecticut recently are never to be repeated, we must start with our children, those that can speak up.
They must be instructed to encourage tolerance.
They must be taught to embody compassion.
They must learn to summon the courage to advocate not just for themselves, but for others as well.
This won’t occur because of laws, or a “zero tolerance policy”. This atmosphere of acceptance won’t exist because school administrators say it should. We need to create this community of kindness through training of teachers, educating our students, and policing ourselves as well. We need more programs like this.
We needed them yesterday.
If you are interested in what Deborah and Stephanie are doing, please visit their website, which will be completed soon at www.bullyalarm.com/