October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. This movement started about a decade ago by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to help bring awareness to an important issue faced by schools and communities nationwide. Much effort has been made each year to create new resources, tools, and raising awareness around bullying prevention, including cyberbullying. In a world where technology is part of our modern day functioning, and many define themselves by the amount of likes and hearts, it is important for us to address bullying on the physical and virtual playgrounds children and teens hang out in.
In the past, where computers were nonexistent, the importance of messages to be kind and share on the playground, resonate in my mind. I can recall several instances as a young girl where my advocacy came out for people being picked on. It never sat well with me then, and it doesn’t today. It’s a value I keep close to my heart and share with my children; in our house it’s cool to be kind! The hope is that a kind word or gesture just may turn someone’s day around and make a difference. You never know what hard battle someone may be facing. Bullying is a continuous issue faced today where victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. This repeated, unwanted and aggressive behavior can have long-lasting, negative effects on our youth.
As teachers, administrators, mental health professionals, and parents, it is important to know the warning signs and ways to promote wellness in our youth in hopes to prevent bullying from continuing. As we approach this subject in modern society, we face so much more than just being kind on a playground. The advancements in technology, smartphones and social media platforms have made this topic more complex.
Additionally, the tone these days seems more negative than positive, making it hard to promote tolerance, kindness, love, and respect for all. How can we expect our youth to engage in respectful behavior when messages of hate are spread through social media, and teens are using smartphones to sextext to exploit each other?
Here are a few ideas in promoting social wellness messages to our youth in trying to spread the word; it’s cool to be kind!
Start at Home: Do as I say and as I do! This is a message that is so important to make clear in the household. Parents are the initial lines of defense! When we can send clear messages to set the tone of kindness, tolerance, and happiness, it is infectious. If you want your children to behave a certain way, the best way to get results is to say it and model it yourself! Be sure to remind them of the open-door policy so that even when they do have a question, they feel comfortable continuing the conversation. Talk about bullying and the consequences of that behavior on others.
It Takes a Village! Connect with your child or teen’s teacher, administrator, coach, friend’s parents and other family members. When everyone is involved to promote wellness, the feelings of isolation disappear. You will also be more likely to know when something is “off” with your child or teen. Many hands make light work, when more eyes and ears are on your child, you’ll be more likely to know when he or she has a change in behavior, a red flag that something may be up, and a check-in may be in order!
Stay Connected! In a digital era, it is important to know where your child or teen virtually hangs out. There are apps for tracking usage and whereabouts, filters to block negative sites and information such as pornography, and limiting time spent on the phone. Be sure to disconnect them often for a digital detox, and join in on that yourself (remember our first tip above on modeling). When you know where your child is connected, you can keep an eye out for cyber-bullying behaviors.
Get Involved with Your Community! Team up with your child’s school to create an anti-bullying campaign. Many national bully prevention organizations such as Stopbullying.gov, share resources and ways to start your own campaign with your child’s school. It is a great way to promote education on an important topic and a way for you and your child to do something great for the community together.