Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stop Bullying Before It Starts

There are bullies everywhere; on the road, in the workplace, in the marriage, in cyberspace and schools. It is a problem that must be addressed where it is most prevalent---in grades 6-10. It falls upon the educators and parents alike to initiate clear rules of behavior that defines, discourages and deflects the bully from targeting other children. Bullying is never acceptable, in whatever form it takes.

The Where
School classrooms and the playground are the most likely places where a child is to be bullied. It is the primary arena where teachers, principals, crossing guards and supervisors can effectively intervene.

The How
Boys are more likely to use physical force, while girls are more likely to engage in spreading gossip, taunting or shunning. Today, we have the added onus of the cyber-bully, using the computer and cell phone to post pictures and text on the web, anonymously.

Prevention: Recognize the Problem
Aggressive behavior cannot be ignored, or shrugged off as something that children must learn to deal with---bullying is never a normal experience for children.

There is a difference between conflict resolution and bullying; and that must be clearly defined, stated and enforced by teachers, cafeteria workers, crossing guards, playground supervisors, students themselves and parents.

Prevention: Raise Awareness
Awareness of the problem can be highlighted in the classroom by the teachers openly discussing the effects that bullying has on others. The act of isolating a target, making a child vulnerable to taunts, physical and emotional abuse has to be clearly stated and outlined as unacceptable behavior.

Often, students stand by, not knowing how to help another child who is being attacked verbally or physically, and both the target and stand-by suffer from anxiety, fear and insecurity. This has severe consequences on concentration and feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.

Prevention: Role Playing
Another way of helping children to understand the effects of harassment is by role playing: having the student act as the target, and reverse the role and be the bully. This can be done in the classroom with the teacher participating in the discussion and redirecting the aggressive behavior towards resolving a conflict, or as a written assignment.

Children can be told it is okay ignore the jibes, walk away, say “NO!”, or get adult intervention for a physical threat. Adults must be available and understand it is important for a child to have protection against the bully. The school administration must have and enforce a policy against all forms of bullying, even having students sign pledges that they will not participate or tolerate bullies.

Prevention: Work with Parents
We are responsible for our children, all our children, who will be adults having to deal with the negative and positive experiences of childhood. We must empower our children, giving them the social and work skills they need to live productive lives, and we can start at home.

Parents must monitor sibling behavior and must not allow older children to dominate the younger or weaker brother or sister. Also, it is the parents’ and teachers’ responsibility to make it clear that using the computer or cell phone to post text or pictures to intimidate another child is morally wrong and socially unacceptable.

Parents and educators make a difference in the life of a child. We cannot ignore the suffering of a child who is bullied by another. We must work together to ensure that each child has a safe environment at home and at school.

The Weigh of Words

The Weigh of Words

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
—Lord Byron, English poet, Don Juan, 1819

History cites the first written language about 3100 BCE in Sumer (located in present day Iraq). We have words to live by, words to capture your attention, to break your heart, to make your day. As a writer, I live with words and am conscious of the impact of words. Thoughts are nebulous until the words are realized on paper; then the thought becomes viable, something that can be as sharp as a razor or as comforting as a blanket.
The human heart, fist- shaped, weighs between nine to eleven ounces, yet can feel like a two-ton rock sinking to the bottom of the soul; the human brain, our complex, neurological computer, weighs on the average about three pounds, yet can be as empty as a blank screen. It is words that give the human organs weight that cannot be quantified, but always qualified.
Words have the power to transform lives, heal, destroy and shape civilizations. Philosophers, poets, scribes, all writers throughout history, have left us words to live by, words to instruct the students, to teach children the ways of the tribe, even the how-to manuals of our daily lives. The power of word is greater than any machine, for a machine may move a mountain only if the operator knows how to use it. If the scale records a loss of ten pounds, I am ecstatic, light-hearted; but if I have gained, I feel heavy-hearted. Love can make me light-headed, but a lover’s rejection can lay heavy on my mind. The written words of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Christ, Buddha, Marx, Sarte, Lord Byron, Sappho, Coleridge, Neruda, Emily Dickenson, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Ellison, Dickens, to name just a very few great minds, have had immeasurable influence on our personal and political lives. The Bible, Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Machiavelli’s The Prince, The Constitution of the United States, have changed the course of history and molded civilizations.
Climbing down that epic ladder onto my own lawn, I am painfully aware of how my words affect others. A careless, critical, remark can sever a tenuous link between mother and daughter; a sharp rebuke has shattered a friendship, and perhaps most damaging of all is silence, the lack of words, the shunning of another, when wordless becomes a brick wall. On the opposite side of that is that joyful silence, stunned by beauty or an act so full of love that it leaves one speechless. My heart can sing, my brain can rhapsodize eloquently, or my heart can whisper listen, listen. I save and re-read cards I get all year, savoring the kind words of friends and family. I understand why people have always kept letters stashed away, because one cannot just throw out those precious jewels that are words written from one special person to another. Everyday I hope that it is my best I give, my words kinder than I may have thought yesterday, just in case someone takes it to heart and carries that careless remark like a stone weight. And perhaps, one drop of ink can make me think.

Bullying Resources Online

Want to know more about bullying and prevention techniques? Below are a few sites I found most helpful while I was doing research on bullying for my Bully Dogs series.