Monday, April 19, 2010

How to respond to bullying in schools

How to respond to bullying in schools.

The community of South Hadley, Massachusetts has been in an uproar ever since a junior in high school, a recent immigrant from Ireland, committed suicide after experiencing brutal bullying and harassment. Now the community is, again, erupting in waves of anger and finger-pointing after revelations that school administrators were well aware of the bullying. Some people want to punish the administrators; others want to punish the school board. (So far there are no reports that the voters want to punish themselves for electing that particular school board.)

Bullying has various motives. The fat kid, who is unpopular, may try to gain some status by taking their lunch money from kids who are a lot smaller than he. The Beauty Queen of the school may bully unpopular kids to assert her power. People bully because they are angry, because they are frightened, or because they are just plain mean. But bullying always is pretty much the same. It inflicts pain, public humiliation, and it is merciless.

This is how some of the students in South Hadley treated Phoebe Prince. This is how the South Hadley community seems to be reacting to the events in their school. They are angry; they are out for blood. They need to see someone suffer. It is startling how similar the behavior of the adults is to that of their children. The parents see malfeasance on the part of school administrators or members of the school board and all they can think of is inflicting pain on them.

It is not terribly surprising that in a community where adults meet crises by pointing fingers and calling for the infliction of pain, children will do the same. Both adults and children are prone to bully.

Other communities take a more positive approach by asking themselves what they can do to prevent bullying in the future. Early childhood specialists have developed programs that encourage three-year-olds to engage in positive and affirmative relations with other three-year-olds. Communities that adopt these programs ask themselves not who is guilty and rush to demand punishment, but ask themselves: “What can we do to change our children?”

Such communities recognize that it is our responsibility to see that our children do not bully and the beginning of that is to look for positive solutions, not to look for the guilty parties and to inflict pain on them.