I grieve for the loss of two young lives recently due to bullycide (suicide because of bullying). This should never happen.
I have been a school counselor my entire adult life and have written my doctoral dissertation on bully behavior, so I would like to share some of my experience. First of all, I do not like the word “bully” because it is so subjective.
When I would address a classroom of students and ask “who here has been bullied” almost every hand would rise. However, when I asked the same group of students “who here has ever been a bully, no one would raise their hand.
No one defines himself or herself as a bully. That is why I prefer to talk about bully behavior. It is easier to understand. Simply put, did you say or do something that was unkind?
I have seen for myself that bullying is a systemic problem and requires a systemic solution. That means everyone — administration, teachers, parents and most importantly students —must all be on the same page, creating a culture in the school that lives and breathes “we will treat each other with kindness and respect.” If you cannot say something nice, be quiet.
Bully behavior is a very subversive activity and I can say for a fact the only ones who can truly stop it are the students, because they are the ones who know what is going on and who is doing it.
Unless the culture ensures the students they will be safe, they will continue to use adolescent ways to “protect” themselves.
Bully behavior change boils down to a safety issue. Do students feel safe at school? If not, that must change and can only change if everyone from the top down insists that we will not tolereate being disrespectful to one another.
I have witnessed firsthand the change in the student body when they get this message and know that all the adults around them have their backs. In the younger grades, we have taught kindness to students by providing positive reinforcement (rewards) for acts of kindness.
In older students, they are given leadership roles to decide what kind of school they wish to attend and how to model the behavior they wish to see.
If students feel safe and know that the administration, teachers and parents will support them, when they see something they will say something.
Which means as a school counselor I cannot count the number of times students have told me they had friends who were talking about suicide. They turned the difficult situations over to the adults who had the knowledge and resources to do something about it before it was too late.
This is all up to the kids. We adults are raising the next generation — do we want them to grow up feeling afraid and thinking that problems are solved with physical or verbal violence or do we want to teach them how to problem solve, how to communicate face to face when you have a disagreement, how to use resources when the problem is out of control?
It takes a village to raise children and we all have a responsibility to model for our youth what kindness and respect look like.
Dr. Deb Behnke, EdD,