At Kidpower, we believe that adults are in charge of keeping kids safe. Here are three strategies that adults can use to prevent bullying from killing more kids:
1. Schools must implement an INTELLIGENT plan of action that requires kids to treat others with respect. If your co-worker tells you to go kill yourself because you don’t deserve to live, he or she’ll most likely get fired. But if your co-worker’s kid tells your kid the same thing, too often nothing happens.
You get what you tolerate, and, despite all the public outcry, what we as a society keep tolerating is bullying. Until we change this, there will almost certainly be more Jamey Rodemeyers and Phoebe Princes.
Unfortunately, blindly implemented “no tolerance” policies can backfire because they often become unfair. Instead, we need to be prepared to take intelligent action, that is realistic about the fact that learning social skills is a process and testing negative uses of power is normal. Rather than labeling all conflict as “bullying”, we need to promote consistent messages about what safety and respect mean – and that unsafe or disrespectful behavior is unacceptable.
2. Parents and teachers must tell kids repeatedly that they have the right to be safe at school, on-line, at home, and at play — and must teach kids to never give up in asking adults for help with safety problems. Kids like Jamey and Phoebe, who lose hope, do so because they are miserable and come to believe that nothing will change.
We need to teach kids how to get help with any safety problem and to be persistent until they get the help they need.
3. Adults must take responsibility for teaching all kids to use their power wisely and respectfully, even if they feel annoyed or irritated with someone. This means we have to “walk our talk” by not acting like bullies ourselves and by stopping bullying behavior with the same commitment that we would stop someone from throwing a rock through a window.
Adults entrusted with the care of young people must supervise what is happening with children and teens, paying attention to small signs of trouble and addressing issues sooner rather than later – and teach kids skills for building positive peer relationships, setting boundaries, moving away from trouble, speaking up when they see a safety problem, and getting help.