If there is one day that I can go back to and say, “I became a different teacher,” it would be the day my son was born. I would argue that the moment I became a father, my teaching fundamentally changed in a way that allowed me to understand how parents of the children I had been servicing for over a decade struggled with: when to be involved and when to “let it alone.” I can honestly say that I started to see my students as people with needs and that parents put enormous amounts of trust in us to be fair, encouraging, responsible professionals. Oh yes….we should be human as well.
I make this initial point in relationship to the onset of cyber-bullying as a 21st century phenomena that for the first time allows an adolescent to be reached by a bullying behavior in their home. Technology has made bullying behavior pervasive and mobile. The implication here is that without a safe-haven for those victimized by bullies, the teen mind is threatened and faced with limited choices. The teen mind, as it has been studied in the 21st century, thrives on risk-taking while in the midst of identity formation. The sense of “self,” a construct based on one’s interpretation of how others “see me,” emerges along with significant physical changes that can be used by others to draw attention away from their own obvious changes. Here is the heart of adolescent harassment as a behavior rooted in image, self-esteem, and identity. To address bullying behaviors, it seems practical to employ a number of approaches that would involve all of the major relationships connected to this stage of development and embed within secondary schools alliance systems, collaboration, and exploration, rather than systematic approaches that encourage competition and zero-sum experiences. To support this type of shift, the parent role must also be re-examined including their understanding of the teen brain, their knowledge of their own child, and of course, knowledge regarding technology. Teens need their privacy, however, building a trusting environment is a two-way road with all being responsible for their agreements. One recent understanding of the bullying cycle is the theory that a majority of bullies are intelligent enough to identify the people they can easily harass. Confidence and communication are key elements. Eating family meals and allowing for open discussion lays a strong foundation for developing confident young adults.
Here are Essential Tips for Parents to consider if you believe your child is a victim or victimizing another. The general feeling from experts in child psychology is that students in both roles are suffering and need support. Without looking though I am going to make some essential tips for teachers to consider based on experience and understanding of the teen-age mind.
Tip 1: Allow for students to talk more in class. Talking and critical thinking discussion work the frontal lobe, the seat of executive function and verbal abilities. Verbal skills and articulation help build self-efficacy, the holy grail of self-esteem.
Tip 2: Role play, Show video, Blog, or conduct readings focused not on bullying but on empathy….actually with HS students I would bring in 4-5 books from the elementary library and look for examples of “thinking of others.”
Tip 3: Use teachable moments and relevant events to show how dangerous thinking can affect the teenage mind. It is sad when you open the paper and read about a destructive or negative outcome that is related to bullying. But it is an opportunity to send a clear message about the phenomena and learn from others.
Tip 4: Find out as much about the brains of your students and work in class time on building a positive sense of “self.”
Tip 5: Educate your students parents. Blog, send notes, use Facebook or Twitter…..appeal to your student’s parents sense of responsibility and let them know that if they love their children they will be benevolent supervisors who monitor their children’s connectivity and be active guardians of their child’s lives.
The world may be a scary place, but the virtual world conjures a more sinister environment for harassment, exploitation, and defamation. Like many significant changes that have occurred through time, I feel there are strategies and lessons to be used to teach empathy in school, and more importantly, educate parents on the dangers their kids face and the dangers they may present. Since this issue encompasses physical development, cognition, and social development, the programs for ending bullying in all forms must address all three levels of Psychology and developing person.
The tragic death of Jamey Rodemeyer due to bullying behavior and hate has galvanized public sentiments urging lawmakers to begin taking a more policy-driven role in bringing empathy into the classroom. I encourage people to view this video from Jamey and consider his message that has reached over one million people, probably many of them teens.
I encourage people to sign the Stop Bullying Petition, as if anything, it is a symbolic gesture to marginalize a real threat to the well-being of children everywhere.