October is Anti-Bullying Month, and I invited NEA member Rob Lundien, a school counselor at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, MO, to talk about bullying. Rob is active with the American School Counselors Association and the Missouri Association for College Admissions Counselors.
At the high school where I work, I’ve counseled students on both sides of the bullying equation: those who have been teased, ostracized, cyberbullied, and more, and also the students doing the bullying. In most cases, we can address the issues.
An important part of a counselor’s role is to create a safe environment where bullied students can be heard. Listening to these students allows us to better determine their social and emotional needs. We also work closely with students who are accused of bullying. This is important for several reasons. First, we want bullies to understand the impact that their actions and words have on others. Second, we want to ensure that bullies do not simply shift their abusive behaviors from one student to the next.
October is Anti-Bullying Month. As a teacher and counselor for the past 22 years, I believe this month is a great opportunity for educators to recommit to the crusade against bullying. Whatever our role, we must remind students that we are their allies and advocates.
We are here to protect them and keep them safe. We know that students with health, speech, or language impairments, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and emotional and behavior disorders are especially susceptible to bullying. Around the nation, many schools are also seeing an increase in bullying directed at LGBTQ students, students of color, and immigrant students.
And contrary to what many of us may think, the impact of bullying persists even after school years are over. A study a few years ago found that people who were bullied as students are more likely to have anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts as adults.
No matter what our job titles are in the schools, we can pay closer attention to how students are interacting with each other. If we see something, we must do something, and NEA offers a wealth of resources to help. We must also teach and encourage our students who witness bullying behaviors, the bystanders, to take an active role in intervening and helping to stop these situations.
Many states have passed anti-bullying laws or created guidelines for districts. Missouri passed an anti-bullying law in 2016. But according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), anti-bullying programs should include specific protections based on race, gender, ethnicity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression. Few anti-bullying policies combine all of these. Progress is being made to curtail bullying in school, but there’s always room for improvement.
The truth is, there is a lot of bullying going on in the “real world” outside of our schools. Just look at your Twitter feed, check Facebook, or tune in to the news. We’re hearing a lot of name-calling, insults, disparagement, and belittling. Students hear and see it, too.
They often take their cues about what is permissible from watching what adults get away with. Whether we are using our words to denigrate or uplift, students are listening closely. That is why hurtful, damaging words from people in positions of power, trust, and authority—our leaders—matter so much.
Even though I haven’t had any students specifically blame their bullying behaviors on a political leader or related authority figure, the reality is that we are all soaking up the discourse around us. It seeps into our everyday lives, and I believe it has some effect on how students treat each other.
Educators are of course key people in fostering a positive school climate and dealing with bullying, whatever form it takes. That’s why we work so hard to build relationships and connect with each of our students – we want to understand their worries and concerns. Whatever insights we gain allow us to help them through a crisis, as well as discover their passions and unlock their potential.
But I believe that everyone has a responsibility that’s just as important: to monitor our own words and actions.
What are we saying to and about each other? How do we behave when a driver cuts us off and then gives us a rude hand gesture? What’s our reaction to the person at the store who brings a cartload of groceries to the 14-items-or-less lane, inconveniencing everybody else? Are we yelling or cursing at the screen when someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum, whose opinions we disagree with, starts talking?
Is the bullying behavior we’re hearing and seeing in our everyday lives causing some of us to react with bully-like behaviors?
Since it is Anti-Bullying Month, I’m going to ask myself questions like that, and I challenge everyone to do the same. Let’s take a look at ourselves in the mirror, and let’s all pledge to be kind to one another and “Make America Nice Again.”