As an advocate for bullying prevention, intervention, and reconciliation, I am always seeking out new tools to use when I work with educators, parents and kids. The most helpful resources combine research with practical recommendations for how to implement change. This is exactly the approach taken in the excellent new academic book, Generation Bullied 2.0, edited by sj Miller (yes, sj uses lower-case initials), Leslie David Burns and Tara Star Johnson.
Generation Bullied 2.0 offers a comprehensive look at what behaviors constitute bullying and harassment. Behaviors are broken down into direct bullying and indirect bullying, within the categories of Verbal, Physical, Material, Relational, Hate-motivated and Cyber-digital aggression. Intended first and foremost as a guide for secondary teachers, pre-service teachers, and teacher educators, Generation Bullied 2.0 also speaks to legislators and administrators.
The contributors to the book are those on the front lines in schools-- teacher educators and graduate students from around the country – and their research delves into areas that many people do not discuss, such as whether black ritual insults are harmful or not and how to deal with harassment and bullying targeted specifically at Latino students.
It was my pleasure to speak with sj about the new book. sj's own passion for anti-bullying work originated from the bullying experienced at home. "When I came out as transgender, my father disowned me and has not spoken to me in 26 years." Fortunately for sj, school was a safe haven, and now sj is trying to ensure that schools can serve as a safe place for other kids experiencing trauma at home.
But as sj and I discussed, the harsh reality is that thousands of children are victimized by peers (and even teachers) at school. With the addition of cyber-digital bullying, many children have NO safe haven, because when they go home from school, they continue to be confronted with cruel texts, tweets, and status updates all day and night.
Despite the pain, many kids are reluctant to report, because they have a fear of being labeled tattletales. In some cultures, parents expect kids to deal with victimization rather than “snitch” because that is the culture in which the parents were raised. I asked for sj's thoughts on how we can change this cultural attitude.
“All kids are vulnerable to being bullied; it is not due to the child being weak,” sj explained. “It is incumbent upon parents to be proactive on bullying issues instead of reactive. Some parents don’t want to draw attention to it when their kids are having problems. They think it will pass. But by helping parents understand the long-term consequences of bullying such as Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), it might make them more willing to accept the necessity of reporting. This is not about saving face; it is about saving your children.”
It is not always easy to determine whether behavior is bullying or not, and this ambiguity contributes to the lack of reporting. It goes back to the age old question of whether a behavior is teasing or taunting. Teasing is in good fun, with both parties laughing, whereas taunting is one person laughing at the expense of another’s hurt feelings. sj and I talked about this complexity within the context of black culture among youth today.
“Black on black ritual insulting is really a way of recreating a hierarchy within black culture as a way of preserving face,” said sj. “But at the same time, it can be bullying behavior rooted in power. Kids are saying, ‘I want to be on top; I want to be strong; I want to be right.’ Some kids don’t mind it, usually the ones who are dishing it out as much as they are receiving it. But other kids – especially those who are mostly on the receiving end--find it very hurtful. Sometimes black youth who engage in black ritual roasting are not necessarily aware that they are engaging in bullying. There is a silence around it, too. When you get dissed, you can’t go rat someone out because you lose face.”
But for the kids who aren’t laughing, the sting of the taunts is harmful. Studies have shown that post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression are associated with being bullied. It is a mistake for parents and teachers to dismiss a child’s distress as a temporary issue. Long after the episodes of bullying end, some people are still experiencing negative effects.
sj also shared thoughts about the difficulties of addressing bullying in special education. “There are different levels of disability,” sj noted, “and some kids do not even recognize that they are being bullied. Special ed teachers should be teaching bullying prevention as part of their curriculum. It needs to be embedded within special education courses. And just because a state has an antibullying policy as a model for schools does not mean that schools are implementing the recommendations. Bullying is a systemic issue and much larger than kids in schools. It has to happen at a federal level.”
It is true that changes in legislation do not necessarily lead to changes in mindset. We have seen this particularly with LGBT kids. Even where the law protects them, there are school districts that do not embrace this philosophy, often because the parents at home do not accept LGBT kids.
sj is very well-versed in the hardships that LGBT kids face. “While we can introduce concepts that no human can be valued over another human at school, we can’t change what kids are learning at home. We hope that over time it will make a difference.” Interestingly, sj sees school boards as the biggest challenge to making things better for LGBTQV kids in schools. “I’ve yet to meet principal that won’t support his or her student body; what the principal is always saying is, ‘I agree, but I have to talk to the board.’ The school boards need to be trained. They are often politically minded and not focused on the best interest of the kids.”
School boards are increasingly asked to deal with bullying, and without education on the issues, it is impossible for them to make informed decisions. Generation Bullied 2.0 includes chapters such as “Bullied and Bodies: Addressing Weight Discrimination” and “Cyber-Digital Bullying” – topics that affect kids at every school. The book also provides an excellent description of microaggressions (for example, if you are black and you are walk down the street, a microggression is when nonblack people lock their doors when they see you coming).
sj explained: “Teachers may be enacting microaggressions in classrooms without meaning to. Teachers may be giving power to white culture by studying books by white authors and not discussing race and gender. If you are Hispanic, and you walk into a classroom and you see no evidence of Hispanic culture in your classroom, this affects you. Silence is a microaggression. If you only have pictures of certain types of heroes, you are sending a message about what is privileged.”
sj Miller, Leslie David Burns, Tara Star Johnson, and the other contributors to Generation Bullied 2.0 offer suggestions for classroom activities, schoolwide plans, recommended reading and multimedia resources. “There should be strong components in curricula that pair a social justice component with each lesson, and they need to work in conjunction with each other. In science classes, for example, we should look at how we understand IQ. We want to help kids see the bias that come out of history.”
I’ve already learned more from reading this amazing new book by sj Miller, Leslie David Burns, and Tara Star Johnson, and I recommend it heartily!