On Wednesday, Oct. 26, more than 50 parents, teachers and members of the Greater Boston community gathered at the Kingsley Montessori School to learn more about the problem of bullying and cyber-bullying in schools which has received increased media attention in recent years. As we have come to know, this is a serious issue, yet highly preventable.
According to Nicole Wilson, LSCW, from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) housed at Bridgewater State University, the bullying landscape has changed in a variety of ways. Today’s bullies are not necessarily troubled kids or misfits; they are often popular, earn good grades and are supported by children who “egg” them on. As noted by Wilson, bullying is no longer just a face-to-face phenomena. It now occurs online (cyber-bullying) through the use of technology, such as computers and cell phones. Examples of cyber-bullying include sending hurtful text messages, spreading rumors via social networks or e-mail (reported as the number one problem with cyber-bullying) or creating websites or videos that embarrass or humiliate others.
To help prevent bullying in all its forms, Wilson shared the following helpful tips with parents:
Talk with and listen to your kids about their social lives. Parents are often the last to know when their child is being bullied.
Understand the difference between conflict and bullying. Bullying actions are carried out with the intent to cause harm, make victims afraid, and happen repeatedly. Bullying includes behaviors such as physical and verbal attacks, spreading gossip, excluding someone from a group or stealing. Conflict involves a disagreement; it is a normal part of human interaction. There is no intent to harm.
Make sure your child understands what bullying is. Children are unaware that they are supporting the “system,” often acting as “eggers” or henchmen to bullies. For example, your child may laugh when a bully repeatedly makes fun of a child’s hairstyle. Explain to your child that these types of reactions hurt people and that supporting bullies is unacceptable.
Model kindness and effective communication techniques. Children learn by example. They learn how to handle conflict and situations by what they see. Be wary of how you speak to people. Show them how to handle conflict in a respectful way. Remind them that what they see on television is often not a model of good behavior or how to treat people.
Teach your child about cyber-bullying. Know what your child is doing online. Make sure they understand that social networking sites are really not private and to THINK before they post something. Know what your child is doing with their cell phone. What capabilities does it have? Talk to your cell phone provider about enabling or disabling functions, particularly during the school day.
Help your child develop social skills. According to statistics provided by MARC, kids’ social “coping” skills have diminished drastically (75 percent) over the last decade due to a reduction in free playtime and an increase in emphasis on academics ONLY. Children are spending very little time learning how to interact socially, thereby impacting their ability to develop good social relationships.
Lastly, Wilson reminded parents that schools are required to have a published plan about how they will respond to bullying reports and are required to notify parents if they think a student is involved in a bullying incident. For more information and resources on this important issue, visit MARC’s Web site at www.marccenter.org.
The Community Speaker Series at Kingsley brings local and nationally known experts and educators to the school each year to share their research and experience with the community on a wide array of topics. To learn more about community events hosted by the Kingsley Montessori School, visit www.kingsley.org.