2019-01-10 / Opinion

How to Reduce Bullying in Our Local Schools

To the Editor:

Recent news of bullying in our local schools begs us to do more than just talk about policies. It begs us to find real, actual solutions to prevent further harm. Based on the recent NTW article in the Dec. 20 edition titled “Bullying: A Key Issue For Newport Schools,” which focused primarily on school response, I’d like to highlight a few key points for consideration if we wish to drive real change as a community.

Policies aren’t the answer.

The article mentions the efforts of school leaders to inform the community of its “zero tolerance” policy. Policies are great. They encourage teachers and adults to be alert, proactive, and responsive. They hold students accountable. They ensure that families and communities are informed. However, policies and rules don’t stop bullying. They don’t deter or prevent behavioral issues, nor do they guarantee any action or response. Instead, we need to take a more holistic and sustainable approach by offering education and skills training for both the students and the adults who serve them.

The primary focus should be on the students.

Bullying is caused by student behavior – so we need to address the behavior. Change comes from the ground up. In order to effectively reduce bullying, we need to shift the focus onto the students. Sadly, the incidents locally are not unique. Research tells us that stress, social pressures, self-esteem issues, and depression are at all-time highs. Students everywhere are deeply struggling. This is why schools must research, prioritize, and fund educational and skills-training programs. These teach students the core skills needed to reduce harmful behaviors, e.g. resilience, personal leadership, compassion, healthy relationships, social skills, emotional management, and healthy coping techniques.

Educators need more education.

There is no uniformity in how educators (and adults) discuss, understand, or respond to the social issues that youth face. Research tells us that many are unable to recognize red flags, while those who do, rarely know how to respond (even when policies exist). Further, minimization and false belief systems continue to perpetuate harm. Several are referenced in the above-mentioned article. It’s in phrases like, “kids will be kids,” or “when someone hits you, it’s because they like you.” Additionally, we should never use the word “bullying” to describe an act of physical violence or assault (like an attack with a bat). These areas – a lack of education, disempowered teachers, and a reduced sense of responsibility – all contribute to the ongoing issue. If we cannot prevent harmful student behavior, we must ensure that adults who serve them are equipped with the knowledge and skills to intervene and offer help.

So ask for more… The common response of any school district is to look at its policies, but I implore the members of our community to ask for more. At the very least, we must focus on the emotional well-being of our students. Not only will this prevent harm, but it will positively alter the course of their entire lives – and that’s something that each student, victim and bully alike, needs and deserves.

Ashley Bendiksen
Youth Speaker and Prevention
Educator, Newport

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