Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harassment & Bullying

I woke up this morning thinking that I'd write another entry focused on all the positive things happening in the Middle School here at PDS. After reading my previous posts, however, I realized that I haven't written anything about the disciplinary challenges that exist in middle schools throughout the United States. Its easy to talk about all of the wonderful things about middle school kids and teachers at PDS, but, as Dr. Creeden has said on numerous occasions, its much harder to talk about the difficult challenges that exist.

Ms. Coleman & I had the good fortune of talking to all 7th and 8th grade students about the 5 types of harassment (Physical, Verbal, Sexual, Verbal, Cyber), and we spoke with the 6th graders last week. We also answered questions, and provided students with information about confronting a situation of harassment or bullying, and the consequences for those who bully others. The 20 minutes went by in the blink of an eye, and the students probably could have asked more relevant questions for another 30 minutes.

In my opinion, the engagement of the students is due in large part to the fact that we've all been on the receiving end of harassment and/or bullying at some point in our lives. I truly believe that PDS is a special community where people are made to feel welcome on a daily basis, but I think it would be naive to say that harassment and bullying doesn't take place at our school. I'm driven to believe that 99% of the time the intention isn't malicious, but intent doesn't matter when it comes to harassment...its how that joke, name, laugh, rolled eyes, etc. is taken by the other person/people involved. If you are reading this, you can probably bring these types of situations to mind in an instant, even if it took place 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast a few hours ago, but being called "Big Butt Boyer" in 6th grade [almost 20 years ago] is something that I'll always remember:) I can laugh about it now, but, quite honestly, it wasn't funny then. In fact, according to researchers at the Journal of Clinical Psychology, bullied children "are much more likely than their peers to be depressed, lonely, and anxious; have low self-esteem, feel unwell...and think about suicide..."

I'm a very optimistic person, but my non-statistic or research-driven gut feeling about bullying is that its more prevalent than its ever been. I hope that I'm wrong. I've arrived at this decision because I think technology continually provides powerful tools for young people to bully/harass each other in seconds. For those of us who know 11-15 year-old kids, you'll often hear "impulsive" and "act before thinking," as key descriptors of their behavior. Its so easy to send a mean text message, say something provocative during an IM session, or to post demeaning information on Facebook or Myspace.

I don't want to sound so "gloom and doom," but this is a serious issue that requires consistent vigilance. At the same time, it leads us back to one of the things that makes PDS special. Schools with small classes where students are known personally by faculty & staff, and have a parent community that plays a proactive role in their child's life stand a much better chance of preventing harassment and bullying. We can and will continually encourage students to make good decisions and think about the consequences of bad decisions. Harassment & bullying is a serious and complex issue, but, as we pointed out in the presentation to students, two of the golden rules from Kindergarten put 99% of these problems to rest: "Keep your hands to yourself" and "Treat others as you would like to be treated." We CAN create a bully-free zone at PDS.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment,


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