Stop bullying? Really

by Jeremy Dias

Guess what? The best research from universities and ministries of education has made it clear: a presentation on bullying does not work. All those slides? The graphs and statistics? Zzzzzz.

Kids tune out—and fast. After all, why should they care? Think back to your own Grade 10 math class. What do you remember? What did you learn? Tick tick tick. You’re probably drawing a blank.

The teacher had her baby a month early, in May. You remember that. Your best friend moved away between first and second semester. You remember that. Why? These human experiences touch our lives. They serve as exercises in challenging our humanity and our experience of the world. There’s science to prove we can better recall stuff that has an emotional impact. Trigonometry? Ah … no.

So, how can we make an impact in bullying education? Bullying is not so simple. It is a complex social behavior that takes many forms. For some, it is online; for others it’s in person. Sometimes it is homophobia or transphobia; other times it’s sexism or racism. Always, it is an experience that touches our humanity.

Successful anti-bullying programs are the ones that engage students in a conversation about one or two clear topics. It is important to invest time in understanding why people say something such as “You run like a girl.” Take the time to break down why people say it, how this form of bullying is sexist and where that sexism comes from. After all, young people do not stop saying it because they are told to do so; they choose not to say it because they understand why.

Programs that give youth opportunities to engage and lead the dialogue work even better. Youth love learning from their peers. The experience becomes not only relevant, but also empowering. They think, “If they could do it, I can do it too.”

Clubs offer great ways to increase that engagement. More and more, anti-bullying clubs, gay-straight alliances and rainbow clubs are offered in schools where students and teachers are working together to raise awareness of topics that don’t always get discussed.

Another change teachers are leading is the inclusion of diversity, respect and human rights in curriculum. This change is not simply about exploring these issues in social science classes, but also about including community in every subject, including math, science, history and art. If you talk about how 90 countries still criminalize homosexuality or 51 countries persecute Christians, and point out there is still slavery in your geography class, students walk away understanding that a slur contributes to oppression in their world.

But the most important lessons start at home. Young people see the adults in their lives as role models. You might be a parent, a teacher, a friend, a neighbor or a relative, but undoubtedly they see how you treat them and how you treat others. Bullying happens among adults. Making jokes about a friend might seem funny at the time, but role modeling the behavior you don’t want to see in your children makes your messages of respect less credible.

So, what next?

Once you finish reading, go online, go through the paper, go to a library and learn about the stories and experiences of those who might need your support. Not only will you realize why it’s important not to use words such as “retarded,” you will also understand how it feels to have your identity challenged and degraded. And that will help stop bullying. Really.

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