Thick textbooks should be placed under every student’s desk to be used as self-defense during school shootings according to a recent candidate for state superintendent of schools in the Midwest. This was a real news item just a few years ago! The problem is most school violence does not take the form of school shootings. In fact, thick text books don’t provide much protection from the impact of harmful words and other actions which seem to be at the core of so much school violence.
Schools have been and will continue to focus on establishing a positive school climate and to help young people develop social emotional competencies. Addressing bullying is one of those difficult issues because there is a real misunderstanding about bullying and normal conflicts.
Young people and adults use words to tease, joke and play around with each other all the time – which by the way can be very healthy in positive relationships. Sometimes, however, the teasing and joking can cross the line and lead to real conflicts.
Does bullying differ from other types of conflict between children? Bullying can be distinguished from other kinds of conflict between children in a number of ways, but most obviously by: (1) the repetitive nature of bullying (it isn’t usually a one-time event), and (2) the power imbalance between the children.
So, what causes bullying? Typically, no one thing causes a child to bully others. However, there individual, family, peer-group, school,and community factors can increase the likelihood some children may be more likely to bully others.
Individual risks include: an impulsive, hot-headed, dominant personality, lacking empathy; difficulty conforming to rules; and a positive attitude toward violence. Family risk factors include: a lack of warmth and involvement on the part of parents, overly-permissive parenting, a lack of parental supervision, and harsh discipline (e.g., physical punishment).
Peer risk factors include having friends who bully others or who have positive attitudes toward violence. And finally, bullying is more likely to take place in schools in which there are indifferent or accepting attitudes towards bullying on the part of students and staff and where there is a lack of adequate supervision.
Without accurate information, young people and schools can often mistake normal conflicts and bullying. One of the first things our STARS Specialists and Kids on the Block Puppeteers do is to help students understand the difference between bullying and normal conflicts and when the line is crossed. This important information is also provided through intensive training for bullying prevention and intervention for school personnel. Together we can make a difference and help stop emotional bullying because it is a top concern for our youth.