Friday, March 11, 2011

What Parents and Schools Can Do About Bullying - Our Report from the White House Conference on Bullying

We were lucky enough to be invited to the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention yesterday and spent the entire day surrounded by brilliant minds addressing this issue. We'll break up our report on the day's events into a few posts as SO much material was covered.

A panel of experts participated in this session which was moderated by Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett. The panelists were: Susan Swearer-Napalitano (from the University of Nebraska), Justin Patchin (from the University of Wisconsin), Catherine Bradshaw (from Johns Hopkins University), and George Sugai (from the University of Connecticut). They shared the following about what parents and schools can do about bullying:
  • Although there is lots of press about the misuse of technologies such as texting and social networking, the good news is that the overwhelming majority of teens and tweens use technology in positive, healthy ways. So don't just focus on the negatives or "blame" technology.
  • We need to change the overall climate in our schools to prevent bullying. This means we need to: 1) actively supervise our kids both in person and online; 2) vocally and publicly acknowledge those kids who work to prevent bullying; and 3) change the dialogue about bullying from "this what happens to occur at school" to "bullying has an enormous negative impact on learning." Professor Sugai quoted research that found that schools with strong anti-bullying climates also had stronger academic achievement.
  • Professor Bradshaw urged that anti-bullying programs have two-tiers: one for the victims, and one for the bullies. Her work found that bullies have underlying causes for their negative behavior including violence at home, developmental delays, and others. 
  • Valerie Jarrett asked the panel for ideas on how to make it safe to report bullying so that students wouldn't be so hesitant to report bullying (this was another theme from the conference; more on this later). Professor Patchin counseled that action upon such reports be swift; otherwise all parties are bogged down in an interminably long process and that dampens participation. (Perhaps schools should have an anonymous Bullying Tip line?) His research also found that only 15% of bullying cases are actually reported. Professor Sugai added that anti-bullying programs must be simple and safe in addition to swift - the reporting process should be straightforward and easy to understand and use. Finally, it is not enough to have a bullying reporting process - a bullying prevention program is essential to heading off problems before they escalate.
  • Professor Patchin warned that a knee-jerk reaction to cyberbullying is to remove the technology - parents and schools respond by banning social networks and mobile phones. But doing so won't stop the bullying since his research found that cyberbullies and real-life bullies are the same people - so the bullying will continue. Rather, he pleaded for parents to learn the technologies their kids use and be able to help their kids navigate them safely. This means learning about privacy controls on Facebook (see our tips!), monitoring where kids are going online (lots of companies can help with this), etc.
  • Anti-bullying programs need to extend beyond the classroom to the hallways, to the bus aisles, to the libraries, to cafeterias - every part of the school. The effort must be holistic in its application to include teachers, all school staff, coaches, etc.
More quotes and takeaways to come!

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