Right now in Central Texas, the conversation about bullying is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to do something, anything, everything. [ETA: If you haven’t seen it yet, Alamo City Mom Blogs’ Denise Moore has a great post up today that explains in detail what is happening here.]
Some of the ideas that have been shared are very good. Other suggestions, frankly, aren’t much better than the behavior a group of teens exhibited last week that ended with the death of David Molak.
We need a cultural change, a shift really, in understanding what bullying is and what we can do about it. That needs to begin at the grassroots level.
I’ve brainstormed a list of things communities can do to take action. For this list, I drew upon the research from my book as well as my experience working in community outreach several years ago in Baton Rouge. Is it perfect? Nah. But it’s a start–and I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section.
I want to add that in the wake of any major bullying story, we need to be careful of engaging in a proverbial “witch hunt.” When people get worked up–especially when they don’t have the right information and tools at hand, some bad ideas and action can take place. As a result, individuals who make mistakes may be branded “the bad guy or girl” unfairly, when the label of “bully” is misapplied.
We need to tread carefully.
What I offer here is a way for communities to collectively cool off and ground themselves while promoting community bullyproofing. Pick and choose what works.
- Rather than trying to engage one another through the fog of the Internet and social media, gather key stakeholders (kids, teens, parents, educators, law enforcement, non-profit organizations, arts organizations, counselors/therapists, governmental agencies, civil rights lawyers) in a charrette-style meeting (or series of meetings) to discuss bullying. Remember bullying and relational aggression occur across the lifespan and outside of school systems, too. Decide how much you want to take on at the outset.
- As a group, inventory community assets, strengths, and opportunities for growth in the areas of bullying and harassment.
- Look for opportunities to partner with local, regional, national organizations. Many of them may be eager to help with this process.
- Be sure to give special consideration to groups of people who are especially prone to bullying (minority groups, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, etcetera). Include them in the conversations.
- Create a working definition of what qualifies as bullying–and what doesn’t. There is a lot of “slippage” around the word, which creates confusion. Work to clarify meaning–and then share that definition to get feedback.
- Give special consideration to what “makes” a bully. Often these individuals are or were victims, too, within the community.
- Working with professionals, conduct a survey to determine where kids and teens see the biggest problems exist. Consider doing focus groups, too. Publish the results.
- Create a document that explains federal and state regulations that guide and/or constrain actions by school administrators. This will help families better understand what they can expect a school to do.
- Create a document (or documents) that explains what each group of stakeholders can do to address individual cases of bullying. Clarify at what point law enforcement should be contacted.
- Create a special document that explains how to help a bully redirect his/her aggression effectively. Emphasize helping everyone–bully and victim alike.
- Create document that clarifies the kinds of socio-emotional behaviors that promote positive interaction.
- Create a year-long calendar of anti-bullying events featuring local and national experts. Have the events scattered around town or, in smaller cities, pick an easily accessible location. Try different approaches through different modes of communication: the arts, lectures, performances, and so forth. Be sure to include topics related to socio-emotional skills development and interpersonal communication.
- Develop a social media campaign around the topic. Consider using a location specific hashtag.
- Ensure local library shelves are well-stocked with books on the topic. (I recommend highly the books of Barbara Coloroso.)
- Create brochures and flyers in .pdf format.
- Develop original graphics and .gifs that people may use online to promote the campaign.
- Build a website that showcases all of the above.
- If you have a TEDx Talk program in your city, consider hosting a salon night on the topic and share relevant videos.
- Pull together local parenting bloggers, if available, and have them host a bully prevention blog hop. Instagram and Twitter can be used similarly. [ETA: As my friend Colleen at San Antonio Mom Blogs demonstrates here, bloggers (like journalists) need not wait for the community to ask them to speak out in a formal way.]
- Secure ad space in papers and billboards to promote these efforts.
- Contact local editors to investigate the possibility of a series of articles or news reports.
- Have local celebrities, athletes, and politicians shoot short PSAs to run on your local cable network.
- Working with elected officials add, enhance, streamline, or otherwise tinker with existing laws and regulations. Benchmark with other communities to see what works–and what doesn’t. (Hint: zero tolerance is proving ineffective.)
- Monitor, evaluate, and revise all efforts as needed. Expect interest to fade somewhat. Awareness tends to ebb and flow, but the goal should be to keep making progress to refining understanding.
- Share results in national publications. Remember that in the Information Age, the “boundaries” of community extend across the country and beyond.
Now tell me: what would you add to this list?
Pamela Price is the author of Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families (GHF Press, 2015). She is available to speak to groups of all ages on the broad topic of bullying and what we’re learning about how to address it.