Just last week I read an article about a 9-year-old boy bullied for carrying a My Little Pony backpack to school. The administration’s solution was to suggest he leave the backpack home. While they may have been correct in thinking the boy was setting himself up for ridicule, was this not the perfect opportunity to teach students acceptance?
This week I read a clever teacher’s lesson on bullying received an overwhelming response on Facebook. Warm, supportive comments applauding the teacher’s sensitive message to her students were heard from over 104,000 people. While the two apples she used for her lesson looked identical on the outside, the one rejected apple was teased and battered by contemptuous comments and physical abuse leaving the inside permanently bruised. While the children got the message, I can’t help but wonder how long will it prevent bullying? And what must we as the grownups, educators do to put an end to bullying?
We need to teach children to welcome differences and nonconformity, not to tease or fear it. Research suggests we must set rules and policies regarding bullying, build safe environments and educate our schools’ staff. The policy words on paper are a beginning, but consistent vigil awareness must follow. Those colorful anti-bullying posters placed strategically around the schools are encouraging reminders, but they soon blend into the cold cinder block walls on which they are posted. And while sensitivity lessons are encouraging, when bullying actually occurs, not many students are courageous enough to defend the bullied for fear of becoming victims themselves.
We must teach our children to welcome differences and take pride in those differences, not teach them to hide nonconformity as the school did with the little boy and his My Little Pony backpack.
There are some actions we can take to help build stronger, healthier, more accepting students.
Student victims and witnesses of bullying must have an anonymous way to present their feelings in a place where they can be heard without fear of retribution and additional ridicule (i.e. a box, a website).
Rules of tolerance and intolerance should be clearly defined and consequences set for when the rules are broken.
Parents must be continually engaged in the fight to end this abuse. There should be a school action committee comprised of students, teachers and parents where abuses can be heard and appropriately addressed.
In closing I must add, Dr. David Schwartz and others have found that children bullied in elementary school are at increased risk of being depressed when they are 18. It is essential to prevent bullying before it begins. It is our responsibility as parents and educators to protect our innocent children from becoming permanently bruised for simply being themselves.