Bullying Prevention Awareness: A Time for Learning About Tolerance

The month is almost over and I just realized that October is bullying prevention awareness month. What an important topic! Now that I have a child in school, this topic has become much more a topic of conversation in our home. If my son's school is any indication, schools are more proactive about this topic than ever before. They discuss the definition of bullying and how to report it, and of course how to prevent it.

This is not to say that schools can prevent all bullying. We know it still happens. One recent study included more than 15,000 U.S. students in grades 6 through 10. 

- 17 percent of students reported having been bullied "sometimes" or more often during the school year. 

- Approximately 19 percent said they bullied others "sometimes" or more often and 

- 6 percent reported both bullying others and being a victim of bullying.

Furthermore, with the prevalence of kids' access to technology, bullying can now take place online or via phones as well.

I think most parents and schools now understand that bullying is not just "kids being kids." It can have serious consequences and long-term affects on both the kids being bullied and the bully too.

Through research we are learning more about these effects. Kids who are bullied are:

- more likely to experience depression, anxiety, sadness, changes in eating or sleeping

- more likely to have health complaints

- more likely to have decreased academic achievement

Although we don't often think of how bullying affects the bully, these consequences can be serious and sad as well. Bullies are more likely to:

- abuse alcohol or drugs later in life

- get into fights, vandalize property or drop out of school

- engage in early sexual activity

- have criminal convictions as adults

- be abusive toward partners, spouses or children later in life

While many school discuss ways to prevent bullying, much of this role really comes back to parents. We must discuss these issues with our kids and help give them the tools to know how to handle a situation if it arises.

We know from research that much of bullying stems from intolerance of others who are different. The reasons can be varied, but kids that are bullied are almost always seen as "different" from other kids. This is why teaching tolerance is key.

One of my favorite authors, Dr. Michele Borba, has recently written a great article on this topic. She helps us understand that our modeling of tolerant behavior is really the best source of learning for our kids. Kids are not born intolerant of differences; they must learn it along the way somewhere. We can ensure they learn empathy, tolerance and sensitivity instead.
"Children who grow to become tolerant are generally raised in families where there are three conditions: strong parental love and warmth, consistent discipline and clear models of moral behavior. It’s when those needs are not met that prejudice develops."
 The great news is that these same three conditions are some of the same characteristics of healthy families when looking at a wide range of outcomes. Whether it is your child's schoolwork, behavior, or empathy, much same parenting practices apply.

In the divisive atmosphere in which we live, the lessons of how to create an atmosphere where bullying is not an option is really the lesson of how we can all listen to one another and be tolerant of our differences.

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