This blog was originally posted on The Leadership Program’s website on Thursday, October 3, 2019. It has been reposted with permission from Breakfast Club Blogger, Erika Petrelli.
October is Bullying Awareness and Prevention Month. This is a really important topic for me—it stirs the deepest depths of my heart—and so I was asking the kids at dinner the other night about ways that they thought they could stop bullying. My son jumped in with “Well, don’t punch people!” My daughter said, “Well, you just kill them with kindness.” “Them, who?” I asked. “The bully,” she responded, “because it confuses them and throws them off course.”
I think not punching people and being kind are two excellent places to start.
I later asked both my kids to type up their answers to these questions, that I typed on a blank word document: “Why is it important to stop bullying?” and “Why is kindness important?”
My son, who is eight and in third grade, wrote this: “Because a lot of kids are getting bullied including me. It’s important to show kindness because of that. Bullying is more words the physical activity. For example, “idiot” and “you suck.” But when you say those words, you’re not thinking of the person that you’re saying it to and how it makes them feel. Afterwards… they don’t apologize. But that doesn’t mean you should get yourself into trouble by bullying back. Instead, you should put the past behind and focus on the present.”
My daughter, who is eleven and in sixth grade, wrote this: “It is important to stop bullying because every 40 seconds somebody dies from suicide. Would someone really want to be the reason of a death? I mean yes, some people would but a lot of the time people bully without realizing it. It is important to be kind afterwards being bullied because if you are nice, then the bully feels powerless and embarrassed. Luckily, if you are nice, then you’re kind of crushing them without being mean so they wouldn’t commit suicide either.”
And all I’ve been thinking since then is “oh, wow.”
Because my kids are eleven and eight. And I don’t think we always think about bullying as seriously and often as we should, honestly, if it doesn’t show up in an overt and perfectly labeled “Look Here At This Very Obvious Bullying Situation” kind of way.
But earlier this year an eleven-year-old boy in Pennsylvania committed suicide and an eight-year-old boy in Ohio committed suicide. And just a few days ago a sixteen-year-old boy in Tennessee committed suicide. Each of them took their own lives after being bullied. And those are just a few examples among too many others. Too many. A June article from The LA Times cites suicide as now the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 – 30.
There are so many ways that we each think about, feel about, and respond to the subject of bullying. And there are so many different ways to experience it and be affected by it. So we need to talk about it. And keep talking about it.
At least one in four young people in America report that they have been a victim of bullying. Whether in person or online, the effects of bullying can be traumatic, and they can be fatal. Each of us can play a part in decreasing the prevalence of bullying behaviors in our homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.
Educators have a unique and profound opportunity to influence and positively impact this. At The Leadership Program, our Bullying Prevention approach is called “Empowering Upstanders.” For lesson plans and project ideas, you can find our curriculum book on Amazon.
But anyone who interacts with young people– whether educators or parents or coaches or community leaders or uncles or celebrities or bus drivers or writers or, you know, humans– has a chance to lend their voice to the conversation on bullying prevention, and a quick search online will offer you countless opportunities to take action. You can start with a stroll through these sites: Pacer Center, Stomp Out Bullying, Stop Bullying, Cyber Smile, The Bully Project, among others. Just pick one, and start.
If this all feels like too much, or if you’re not sure what on earth you could do to make any sort of difference, or if you don’t think you know anyone who is feeling affected by bullying, or if you don’t know where to find any children… Please, just do one thing, for anyone.
Even if your one thing is the smallest thing—even if your one thing is actually looking into the eyes of anyone who talks to you today. Even if your one thing is asking someone how they are, and stopping to listen to their answer. Even if your one thing is smiling and saying hello. Even if your one thing is saying “Hey, I like your sweater” or “What are you listening to?”
Just do ONE thing today.
Your one thing might just mean everything to someone who is being victimized and struggling to find hope or a path forward.
Your one thing might be the one thing that makes all the difference in the world.
What will be your one thing today?
Breakfast was leftover mac and cheese and a hot tea.