A bigger kid takes your lunch money. Your schoolyard enemy pushes you around on the playground. These are the bully stereotypes of the past. The “bullying problem” has morphed through the years into a full-fledged epidemic of nightmare proportions. The Internet and mobile phones have pushed the problem beyond the walls of our schools, haunting the victims and often emotionally crippling them. Over half of adolescents today say they’ve been victims of cyber bullying. About the same number of teens have engaged in it themselves. Eight out of ten LGBT students have been verbally harassed, four in ten have been physically harassed, and six in ten feel unsafe at school.
The statistics are alarming. According to the National Education Association, 160,000 children miss school every day for fear of being attacked or intimidated. The National School Safety Center reports that American schools harbor over 2 million bullies and nearly 3 million victims. 90 percent of fourth through eighth graders report being victims of bullying. 87 percent of school shootings are carried out by a victim seeking revenge, and one in ten student dropouts are due to a bullying problem at school.
As the problem grows, so do the repercussions. Suicide rates are on the rise among children in the U.S. and around the world, and this is largely attributed to bullying. A child victim who avoids such a tragic end will still likely face low self-esteem, fear for his/her safety, anxiety, emotional disorders, and depression.
Fighting such a large and complex monster can be daunting, to say the least. At WhyTry, we’re familiar with all the problems facing youth today, and we’re determined to help.
Here’s how the WhyTry program can impact bully prevention in your school:
The overall approach of WhyTry is to create an environment where students feel free to express themselves. It helps them become comfortable enough to share their experiences as victims of bullying and seek the help they need.
WhyTry has several lessons that focus on specific key concepts, several of which are addressed below. Secondary concepts within these lessons help support the main principle of the lesson while tying in with other lessons. The combination of these lessons helps create a big picture where students can see their world and understand their role within it.
Through the WhyTry program, students become better enabled to understand their emotions and behaviors, as well as the emotions and behaviors of those around them. The personal insight gained in WhyTry can help both victims and bullies. Victims gain a greater understanding of why bullies do what they do, and bullies learn empathy and gain a vision of how their actions affect or hurt others.
The purpose of many of our group learning activities is to help build unity and create a cohesive group. Classrooms and groups that go through these experiences become closer and more supportive of each other. Such support systems can be key to preventing and addressing bullying.
The following is a breakdown of the WhyTry lessons and how they relate to the issue of bullying:
“The Reality Ride” helps bullies see the consequences of their actions. When discussing the actions that get them into trouble, they are invited to point out the consequences of each of these actions. The discussion is typically focused on the personal consequences, but in the case of bullying, there is also a focus on the ways their actions affect others. They are encouraged to put on the shoes of their victim and imagine what it would feel like to be on the other end. (For example: “How would you feel if someone posted embarrassing secrets about you online?”)
When we discuss “Tearing Off Labels,” we address the ways in which negative labels limit our opportunities. We discuss the impacts of a negative label. This gives us another opportunity to teach empathy.
Labeling others (through name calling, for example), is a form of bullying which can be taken to extremes and become very emotionally damaging. Students are encouraged to focus on the positive attributes of themselves and others, and form a pact not to label others negatively. In this group environment, they are able to see the good in themselves and others and act accordingly. When this happens, powerful change is possible.
On the flip side, the bully is also being labeled. In this lesson, we discuss strategies to help them change the behaviors that are earning them their “bully label.” We teach them how to interact with others appropriately.
“Defense Mechanisms” is one of the most powerful lessons to combat bullying. Bullies lose their power when everyone understands defense mechanisms: what they are, why we use them, and how we use them. As the group recognizes emotions and behaviors in themselves and others, the bully’s secret is out.
Through this lesson, bullies recognize their own defense mechanisms and emotions. They are forced to take a hard look at why they do what they do and how they respond to pressure situations. They then can think in advance about positive alternatives to their current response, leading to positive outcomes in real-life situations.
“The Motivation Formula” focuses on the keys to resiliency and dealing with challenges. Struggling students learn how to channel the challenges of life, including bullying, into positive motivation. They learn how to use positive self-talk and self-esteem, and are introduced to the importance of support systems. These can be important resources for victims of bullying.
Bullies can also benefit from this lesson. Remember, there are many reasons students become bullies. Often they are suffering from some form of abuse themselves that they are simply refracting upon others. Through “The Motivation Formula”, they will recognize that they can channel the challenges they are dealing with in a way that doesn’t hurt them or hurt others.
“Climbing Out” is about peer pressure, and focuses on how others influence us in negative ways. One of the biggest challenges in dealing with bullies is the “bystander effect.” Students will support their peers in negative behaviors because they feel pressure to do so, even when they recognize that the behavior is wrong.
This lesson provides opportunities to talk about why bullying occurs. We often use the term “misery loves company” to show that people who have been abused or bullied themselves often turn into bullies, like crabs pulling other crabs with them into a pot.
In “Climbing Out,” we gain insights from both sides of the bullying situation. We often discuss the “climbing out” metaphor in terms of positive peer pressure, allowing an opportunity to teach students how to stand up to a bully as a group. We again discuss positive support systems and how to create them.
“Jumping Hurdles” teaches students specific steps to solve problems for themselves. As these steps are addressed, we can use bullying as a topic of discussion and help them identify how to solve that problem as a group. We begin by identifying the problem: “What is bullying?”
We then create options, applying the skills learned in “Defense Mechanisms.”
The next step is to get help: this is done by creating a united group of students committed to supporting one another and preventing bullying.
We take action: Students are encouraged to talk to a trusted adult, confront the situation, and create a safe environment.
We focus on self-esteem and an attitude of “It will get better.” We believe in the bully’s ability to change.
The last step is to jump back up: “Don’t give up if you are being bullied.” “Don’t give up if you mess up and bully someone else.” They can always try again and do the right thing.
The “Lift the Weight” lesson teaches youth that “bullying is easy, anyone can do it,” but working hard to obey laws and rules of home, school, and society makes us better prepared for the future, and gives us more opportunity, freedom, and self-respect. Ignoring the rules, on the other hand, lessens our opportunities, just like lack of exercise weakens us physically.
“Getting Plugged In” is the most important tool in combatting the bully problem. The principle of support systems is emphasized throughout all the WhyTry lessons for this very reason. Every child needs to understand the power that comes from connecting with other people and how to make these connections. This lesson is key in helping victims of bullying and in keeping potential bullies from engaging in negative behavior.
Contact us to learn more about implementing WhyTry as a bully prevention program in your organization. Together, we’ll create a brighter future for our youth.