Last week, I was away in Alabama when I tuned into CNN’s program on bullying. The progam shared ideas from Dr. Phil, and showed a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) titled “Stop Bullying, Speak Up." These are all solid starts to elevating the collective consciousness about bullying, but in my opinion they just aren’t enough.
Bullying is simply a symptom. It is a “warning sign” that a school system is sick. Akin to a child with Lyme disease that has chronic headaches, if you solely treat the headaches perhaps you’ll make some progress, but the real issue – the underlying problem--isn’t the headaches but the Lyme disease. You must treat the underlying cause in order to create a healthy system (body, school, community).
So much of our current “solutions” are merely treating the symptoms of bullying. New school reporting policies, anti-bullying task forces, screening new students for clinical depression and passing laws are a solid start. My suggestions for going deeper include:
Measure and Promote Positive Schools (communities / cultures) – Is this school one of inclusion? Does it value differences? Are the teachers attentive to student’s problems? Is basic emotional and social health taught to educators? Are we measuring how effective a school is at creating a culture of inclusion, character and meaning? Is there a place for a depressed or abused child to seek confidential help? Are we honoring children’s different capabilities, interests and strengths or seeking to make “cookie-cutter” kids? Is there a no tolerance policy relative to bullies? Are their clear consequences for inflicting abuse on school peers (emotional, physical, mental)? Are we teaching kids the proper use of their personal power? I believe schools need to be measured as to the extent they create "healthy" environments versus the opposite - then we need to reward healthy school systems.
Mandating Emotional Education - No longer can we rely upon parents being the sole educators of a child’s emotional life. The rates of childhood abuse, loss and trauma continue to be high – so it is up to the traditional school systems to not only value teaching the core courses of math and science but also teach emotional health from K-12. Bullies are primarily created through lack of knowledge and poor environments (role models).
Parent Enrichment Classes – Parents don’t get a manual and often parent the way they were parented (which may have included bullying, addiction, abuse) so requiring one annual meeting of parents so that everyone can be on the same page in terms of what raising an emotionally and socially health child means is essential.
Ultimately, we need to shift our focus from “anti-bullying” to the real problem. The real problem being that these ill systems have focused upon getting students to pass tests, grades and get decent academic standings versus educating their hearts. And that children aren’t given any tools of emotional and social health so they do the best they can with what they’ve got – the problem being that so many kids just don’t have a lot.
Curing the bully crisis in America isn’t simple. It is commingled with unfit parents, poor role models, mental health problems in children’s homes and environments along with school systems that focus nearly exclusively on grades versus cultivating kindness. I believe a huge shift needs to occur from stopping bullying to growing healthy kids. At the crux of the recent bully induced suicides are students who weren’t 100% healthy and felt they had nowhere to go – no other options, no other solutions.
There is this old Native American saying that the cure is in the wound. I believe this is true. And let’s not let the wound of Taylor Clementi, Phoebe Prince, Seth Walsch, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas and all the other kids who have taken their lives teach us nothing. It is there choices that call our country, our educational pioneers and everyday parents to stand up and say – enough is enough. There is better way to bring up our kids today.
Maureen Healy is a practicing expert in the field of children's emotional health and parenting. She works with parents and teachers around the globe. More information: www.growinghappykids.com
Maureen's upcoming book, Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness (HCI Books) hits shelves in April of 2012.