Recent research suggests that bullying is quickly becoming a national epidemic. A 2011 nationwide study found that 40 percent of teachers and school staff consider bullying a moderate or major problem in their schools and that 32 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18 report experiencing bullying.
Furthermore, it’s projected that 13 million kids will be bullied in the U.S. this year. Suffice it to say, it’s a topic that has captured the attention of every demographic in America. In fact, this spring three important films about bullying have been released. One of them, a documentary aptly titled “Bully,” chronicles the lives of five children and their families as they struggle to deal with the stark reality of bullying. It is movies like these that have fueled the million-dollar question in schools throughout the country: ”What can be done to stop bullying?”
Well, I think I have an answer.
During my 10 years as a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, I witnessed my fair share of bullying incidents and subsequently spent countless hours lecturing the bully on everything that was wrong with their choices. Unfortunately, whether it was keeping them in for lunch recess or calling their parents to discuss the severity of their actions, my efforts to deter future acts of bullying rarely succeeded. What resulted were more subtle forms of bullying (i.e. name calling or threats), which occurred outside of the classroom and, therefore, out of my immediate control. Herein lies the true paradox of bullying. Much of it is happening outside of adult supervision and the victims are, therefore, left to fend for themselves, which proves to be an extremely difficult task given the complex nature of a bully.
Let’s go back to the million-dollar question I posed earlier: ”What can be done to stop bullying?” Believe it or not, my answer is actually in the form of another question that will reveal a much different approach to the bullying epidemic.
What can be done to empower those who are susceptible to bullying?
Rather than treating the various symptoms (the numerous incidents of bullying) with countless anti-bullying campaigns, the above question causes us to look at the root of the problem and, therefore, aims to empower potential victims with tools and strategies that will ultimately change bullying from the inside-out. I like to call it “bullyproofing.” In my opinion, the only sure fire way to stop bullying is to “bullyproof” our youth so that they feel equipped to navigate through these challenging circumstances.
“How can we do this?” you might ask. In my opinion, we begin the process by addressing some of the pink elephants in the room such as self-esteem and emotional intelligence. These are topics that no one likes to talk about, but the repercussions of silence can sometimes be tragic. Why not give our youth a chance to openly discuss these kinds of topics and create a safe space for vulnerability. Let’s face it; all of us (young or old) could be susceptible to bullying at one time or another in our lifetime. No one is immune. So, let’s begin the “bullyproofing” process together by empowering our youth with critical life skills that will give them hope in what may seem like a hopeless situation.
• Mike Sissel is a former Kyrene teacher who now owns and operates a leadership organization called AZ YELP (Youth Exemplifying Leadership Principles). If you are interested in learning more about his summer leadership workshops, email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org.