In every age and every grade, students commit a certain level of unkindness and insensitive behavior. It’s up to parents, schools and communities to model and encourage positive interpersonal behavior, regardless of whether kids naturally get along. As much as we would like to think that students in Jewish day schools internalize Torah values that would prevent bullying, kids will naturally act like, well, kids. It’s cliche, but, indeed, it takes a village.
Bullying, however, is different
It’s important that everyone working with children and teens understands appropriate boundaries on what is bullying and imparts them upon the young people we guide. Bullying differs from normal conflict between students with one important factor: the intent to harm. Normal conflict arises when students are testing limits and learning social cues. Bullying occurs when a student intends to harm another student physically, verbally or emotionally.
The National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice states that 20% of students age 12-18 experience bullying, and yet only a fraction of those students notify an adult.
Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” This leaves a lasting impact for both the kids being bullied and the bully him or herself.
In his work, No Place for Bullying, author and principal James Dillon writes that with bullying “the reality is that no one is to blame, yet everyone is responsible.”
In honor of October’s National Bullying Prevention Month, check out 5 tips to help prevent bullying year round:
1) Reduce conditions that contribute to bullying
Bullying often occurs in areas with little supervision. This makes it incredibly important to have increased adult supervision and to have adults be on the lookout for bullying behavior during recess, open gym or in the hall between classes. Each Jewish day school environment varie, and it’s important for staff to assess situations can trigger bullying to better target prevention efforts.
2) Establish a Positive School Culture
Culture starts at the top in any organization, including Jewish day schools. Schools with positive programming to promote values like kindness and communication are better equipped to deal with students who do not act according to school values. These values should be communicated to teachers, students and parents regularly, and everyone should understand school rules pertaining to bullying. Teachers, who are most likely to witness or first hear about any issues, should be equipped with the skills to assess bullying behaviors and have an action plan to react appropriately. When it comes to professional development training, include anti-bullying training can help teachers identify behaviors and learn how to intervene effectively when necessary.
3) Encourage Communication
Research suggests that children look to parents and caregivers for advice in challenging situations. However, it’s not unusual for teachers and school faculty members who work on building positive relationships with students to hear about challenges in school. According to the “Stop Bullying” government initiative, asking students open ended questions and then narrowing the focus could be an effective way to encourage students to open up about potential bullying.
4) Empower kids to understand and help prevent bullying
By encouraging positive social behaviors at school assemblies and events, the school can increase awareness of bullying. Teach students what bullying looks like with relatable examples and help them learn how to stand up to it safely. Make sure that all students know the action plan for what to do if they are being bullied or know someone being bullied. Another way to empower students is to help kids take part in activities they enjoy. This can help build confidence that can help protect kids from bullying.
5) Respond immediately
By not responding immediately to bullying, teachers and administration can inadvertently send the message that your school does not take bullying seriously, possibly causing the behavior to spread. When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.