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Bullying Behaviors Impact Students’ Mental Health

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on February 22, 2015

What is the relationship between bullying and youth mental health issues?  Who is impacted by bullying behaviors in the school community? Several studies including a recent report, The Relationship between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What It Means for Schools by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provide insight about the bullying dynamic, the school climate context and student mental health. These findings are helpful for educators in guiding their student mental health and bullying prevention and intervention efforts.

Bullying occurs within a school and community context and impacts the perception and behaviors of all students.  Students’ perceptions about their school experience influence their social and emotional health and development. Here are some findings about middle schools:

  • As middle school students’ positive perceptions of their school climate declined so did their psychological and behavioral adjustments.
  • Middle school climate is correlated to students’ mental health, specifically depression, which can impact students’ academics, behaviors and social-emotional development.
  • Middle school boys who held more positive perceptions of their school climate tended to have fewer externalizing behaviors -- aggressive, delinquent behavior.
  • Middle school youth with high levels of self-criticism did not show expected increases in internalizing (anxiety, stress, depression, worry, negative thinking) and externalizing problems (aggressive, delinquent behavior) when they perceived school climate in a positive light.

Bullying impacts the whole school community. It has long-lasting and serious negative effects on the mental health and overall well-being of not only the victim, but also the bully, the bully-victim (an individual who bullies and is bullied), and the bystanders.  Here’s a summary of key findings from the CDC report on bullying, mental health, and suicide:

All students are impacted.  All students may experiencenegative outcomes of bullying including depression, anxiety, involvement in interpersonal or sexual violence, poor social functioning and substance abuse.

Bystanders feel helpless. Any involvement with bullying behavior may significantly contribute to students’ feelings of helplessness and decreased sense of connectedness and support from responsible adults.

Both bully and victim are at-risk for suicide. Youth who report frequently bullying others and youth who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.

Bully-victim is at highest risk.  Youth who report both bullying others and being bullied are at the highest risk for suicide-related behavior of any group that reports involvement with bullying.

What we don’t know about bullying and suicide.  We don’t know if bullying is a direct cause of suicide-related behavior. The CDC report says that it is “correct to say that involvement in bullying, along with other risk factors, increases the chance that a young person will engage in suicide-related behaviors” (CDC, p 3.)

What we do know about bullying and suicide.  Suicide-related behavior is complicated and rarely the result of a single cause of trauma or stress. Individuals who engage in suicide-related behavior often experience overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.  Youth who are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior are dealing with a complex interaction of multiple relationships (peer, family, or romantic), mental health, and school stressors. Suicide-related behavior and bullying behavior are closely related. Youth who report any involvement with bullying are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than youth who do not report any involvement with bullying behavior. That being said, we do know that most kids who are involved in bullying do NOT engage in suicide-related behavior.  We know enough about the relationship between bullying and suicide-related behavior to recommend focusing on prevention efforts.

For more information on what schools can do click here.

Suicide-related behaviors include:

Suicide: Death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with any intent to die.

Suicide attempt: A non-fatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt may or may not result in injury.

Suicidal ideation: Thinking about, considering, or planning for suicide.
(CDC, n.d., p.3)

Submitted by:

Lucy A. Vezzuto, Ph.D.
L.A. Vezzuto, Ph.D. & Associates
215 Marketview
Irvine, CA 92602
[email protected]


Brand, S., Felner, R., Shim, M., Seitsinger, A., & Dumas, T. (2003). Middle school improvement and reform: development and validation of a school-level assessment of climate, cultural pluralism, and school safety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95 (3), 570-588.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. (n.d.)  The relationship between bullying and suicide: what we know and what it means for schools. Retrieved from

Kuperminic, G. P., Leadbeater, B. J., Emmons, C., & Blatt, S. J. (1997). Perceived school climate and difficulties in the social adjustment of middle school students. Applied Developmental Science, 1, 76-88.

Kuperminic, G. P., Leadbeater, B. J., & Blatt, S. J. (2001). School social climate and individual differences in vulnerability to psychopathology among middle school students. Journal of School Psychology, 39, (2), 141-159.

Way, N., Reddy, R., & Rhodes, J. (2007). Students’ perceptions of school climate during the middle school years: Associations with trajectories of psychological and behavioral adjustment. American Journal of Community Psychology, 40(3), 194-213.


What is Peer Meditation?

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on February 20, 2015

What is Peer Mediation?

Mediationis a way of helping individuals or groups resolve conflicts by talking with each other instead of fighting or walking away.

A peer mediator (or a team of peer mediators) works with individuals or groups who are in conflict.  The peer mediator is trained to listen and to help resolve the conflict.  The peer mediator does not tell the people what to do.  The peer mediator has no power to enforce a solution, and the peer mediator must never take sides.

The goal of mediation is to help people in the conflict create a solution that works for both of them – a win/win solution – even if they both have to compromise a little bit on what they want.

Mediation Session #1


  • Students will learn the importance of note-taking and reflective listening.
  • Students will learn how to take notes.


Note Taking and Reflective Listening - Demonstration

Brainstorm – Why take notes / What is important to note?

Practice in Pairs

Game – President


  • Demonstration of Note Taking and Reflective Listening: Working with a co-teacher or a student you have prepared in advance, demonstrate note taking by asking for a story – about what happened last weekend, or another event/idea, and taking simple, shorthand notes. Repeat back the story, to show that you have gotten all the details correct.
  • Brainstorm: Why take notes?  Why is it important to repeat back what you have heard? Show the students your notes and ask how you were able to repeat the whole story by just having down a few simple notes. Brainstorm important things to note and what things can be left off.  Important things to have down could include:



One or two word descriptions of important issues

Feelings – how parties feel about one another and any conflicts 

 Needs – a party suggests something needed from the other party.

Offers – a party suggests, even in passing, that they would be willing to do to resolve the conflict.

  • Practice in Pairs:  Break the group up into pairs, and ask one member of the pair to talk about the funniest thing that has ever happened to them, while the other person takes notes.  After 2-3 minutes, ask the person taking notes to repeat back what they have heard, and check how accurate their listening has been.  Then switch, and repeat the process.

Mediation Session 2


  • Students will learn the importance of active listening and begin to practice listening actively.


Game – Dragon’s Gold

Active Listening - Demonstration of poor listening

Brainstorm – Why important, what makes active listening?  

Practice – Concentric Circles


  • Game: Dragon’s Gold.  The group forms a circle with one person at the center.  Beneath the person at the center of the circle is a flag or piece of cloth or paper which represents the dragon’s treasure.  The dragon’s job is to guard the treasure, while the people in the circle must get the treasure away from her/him.  They must sneak into the circle, one at a time, without the dragon noticing.  If the dragon touches them or if the teacher sees more than one person at once trying to get the treasure, anyone inside the circle is frozen. This person must stay in the same position until someone is successful with taking the treasure.  The person that succeeds becomes the new dragon.
  • Demonstration of poor listening:  In front of the class, ask your co-teacher (or a prepared student) about his or her weekend.  As they tell you in detail, do everything to demonstrate poor listening.  Don’t make eye contact.  Don’t look at them.  Use distant body language, lean away from them, look around and out the window, act bored, interrupt them and talk to someone else, etc.
  • Pause the demonstration and ask the class what just happened.  Try to name everything which showed you weren’t interested.  Ask your co-teacher or student how it felt not being listened to, and let the class know that, perhaps, the most important part of mediation is active listening. People have conflicts when they don’t feel they are heard.  If you make people feel like they are heard, that’s progress to understanding one another.
  • Brainstorm a list of things that show you are listening well.  Be sure this list includes:

Eye contact

Leaning towards the person

Asking clarifying questions

Repeating what the other person says to make sure you understand

 “Open” and interested body language

  • Concentric Circles– divide the class into two groups and have one group form a circle facing outwards, while the other group forms a larger circle facing inwards so that everyone in the circle has a partner.  

Ask the inside circle to tell their partners about their families, while the outside circle practices active listening.  After one minute, tell them to switch roles, with the outside circle talking and the inside circle listening.

Rotate the inside circle to the left, and repeat the exercise asking about their favorite thing to do on the weekend.

Rotate the outside circle to the left, and repeat the exercise asking about the thing they are most proud.

Debrief the activity.  Ask for one interesting thing the students learned about different people in the group, ask how it felt to be listened to, and ask what people did well and what needs improvement.

Anti-Bullying Support Systems at Home and at School

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on February 20, 2015

Anti-Bullying Support Systems at Home and at School

By Amy Williams @AmyKWilliams1


What do you think of when you hear the word TOMATO?

Most people envision spaghetti sauce, pico de gallo, BLT’s, or toppings for a salad. However, our family has come to loathe the garden staple. We didn’t start out despising this summertime treat--in fact we usually anticipated it.

That was until this past summer, when bullying found it’s way into our child’s life and left us reeling from pain and hurt.

Bullying Happened To Us

Sixth grade had just begun: the year was fresh and full of promise. Our 12 year old son eagerly signed up to play football in a recreational league. As we signed the permission slips, we were completely unaware of the misery we had just invited into our child’s life.

Somewhere between the school and practice fields, our son found himself the target of a bully. It started when a pile of rotten tomatoes was discovered in a ditch along the route the team walked to the field. Every afternoon, boys would smash the decayed globs into our son’s face and taunt him with cruel words.

Over and over this happened.

Then it escalated to pelting our son with walnuts. When the bully grew tired of that method, he began tossing our child’s cleats onto the roof of the concession stand.

Soon our son didn’t want to play football. He began having terrible stomach aches and cried that he couldn’t go to school. His grades began to drop and we received emails from concerned teachers about his changing personality.

We knew something was happening, but our son kept quiet, protecting his tormentors.

Finally, it was our turn to drive the carpool, and we noticed our son walking to the van barefoot and holding back tears. After the other boys had been delivered, our son finally erupted into spasms of tears and wails.

His admission finally made sense. He had been displaying a lot of the typical signs of being bullied:

●       Disrupted sleep schedules

●       Lack of interest in his hobbies and pastimes

●       Worried emails from teachers

●       Declining grades

●       Sickness

Gaps Between Home And School

We had been clueless to his suffering until that afternoon.

The next morning, we made a few calls to his teachers and coaches. Immediately, the teachers and administration took our situation seriously. They paid extra attention during class, transition times, and lunch.

All of the intervention was wonderful, except that there was no way to extend this beyond the brick walls of the school.

Suddenly, the world outside of home and school became frightening for our tween. We couldn’t be with him 24 hours a day. Our child had to deal with his bully at practice, Scouts, church, and even the swimming pool!

What were we supposed to do?

Steps Schools Can Take to Address Reports of Bullying

Fortunately, our family felt supported and encouraged by the school administration. We know this isn’t always the situation. Here are some ways schools can be part of the support system needed:

Listen to Students: When students experiencing bullying encounter an administration that either tries to brush of or delegitimize their claims, the problem can become exponentially worse. One of the primary effects of bullying at school on children is making them feel unsafe at school. When school administrators are doing nothing to address an unsafe atmosphere, students can feel like they have no escape.

Address the Problem: Schools often avoid involvement with reports of bullying due to fear of running into bigger problems down the line, whether with the bully's parents or other school administrators. However, when failure to act can further jeopardize students' safety, steps should be taken immediately in almost all cases. This can take the form of anything from observing how the bully talks to the child, to questioning the bully him or herself.

Communicate with Parents: While addressing bullying itself should be a priority, communicating with parents of both bullied children and bullies is an important step to preventing bullying as well. This will ensure that proper steps can be taken at home to make sure children feel safe and supported.

Watch for Signs of Bullying: Students shouldn't feel like they're always being scrutinized, however they should feel that, if they were to be bullied, they would have the proper administrative recourse. Stopping bullying before it escalates is the best step to take in preventing bullying.

8 Tips For Mindful Parents

If a parent feels their child is being bullied, here are 8 strategies to help stop the situation from developing into a more serious problem:

●       Seek peer and mentor support. Look into a program that pairs a child with a mentor. Pairs spend quality time together to give a child extra encouragement.

●       Start a bullying awareness group in your community.Host a guest speaker or raise awareness with groups like Stand For The Silent.

●       Join online anti-bullying communities. Groups offer emotional support and practical resources for families dealing with bullying situations

●       Document acts of harassment. Be proactive-save evidence in case you seek intervention from the authorities.

●       Be present. An adult presence can be a great deterrent to bullying. Volunteer at events and listen to your child. Let them know you have their back.

●       This will pass.  Reassure children the situation will get better.

●       Model good social skills and positive interactions. Children are watching and emulating what they see. Demonstrate kindness.

●       Monitor a child’s cell phone and Internet activity. Cyberbullying is quickly becoming the favored method to attack a victim. Keep children safe and track their Social Media pages, texts, and friend lists.

Strengthening Anti-Bullying Support

Ultimately, after a lot of deliberation, we decided to contact the aggressor’s parents. This might not work for everyone, but we knew the family and felt it was the best solution. After conferring with each other and a lot of discussion with both boys, the bullying finally tapered off.

It’s easy to overlook bullying, especially when children hide the truth from parents. We need to be aware that bullying prevention starts at home. Something as simple as taking an extra minute to reinforce positive social skills can make a big impact in the life of all children.

Society needs to be vigilant and strengthen anti-bullying support so life doesn’t surprise others with rotten tomatoes.

Social Media Threats Case Heard By Supreme Court - Implications for Schools

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on December 04, 2014

Social Media Threats Case Heard By Supreme Court - Implications for Schools


The Elonis v. United States case is bringing increased attention to the already complicated question of how to deal with school threats made on social media. The case, which is before the Supreme Court, involves a 27-year-old man who made threatening comments on Facebook about shooting up an elementary school. The specific question before the Court is whether, when someone is prosecuted for making threatening statements, the government should be required to prove that that person intended his words to be taken as a threat. The crux of the issue is whether one should have to prove a subjective element (that the speaker intended his words to be taken as a threat) or merely an objective element (that a reasonable listener would have understood the words as a threat -- a much lower burden). Proponents of free speech argue that "proof of subjective intent is required to ensure that protected speech is not chilled by the fear of criminal prosecution" (ACLU).

How the Supreme Court decides this case will have broad implications for how school administrators address threats made by students on social media outlets and impact how youth are treated when accused of such conduct.

Regardless of what standard of proof the Court deems appropriate, however, any standard that allows us to criminalize youth for their behavior on social media will likely do more harm than good. For this reason, although working to protect free speech is vitally important, when it comes to this kind of behavior by youth, arguing over whether the objective or subjective standard is appropriate misses the true issue at hand: how can we best prevent this type of behavior from occurring and work to remedy its harm as effectively as possible. 

Countless studies and data show that criminalizing cyber-bullying will not decrease bullying and will instead cause a less satisfactory school climate for all students, as well as significant harm to those students labeled "bullies," including perpetuating the school-to-prison-pipeline[1] (for a more detailed discussion of the issue of criminalizing cyber-bullying, see: New York's Cyber-Bullying Law Struck Down Similarly, the answer to dealing with school threats on social media should not be to put kids in jail. Instead, we should be focusing on prevention.

NSCC has been supporting prevention efforts specific to such social media concerns through our school climate measurement work and the creation of a new dimension that provides schools with data on the perceptions about social media behavior from key stakeholder groups - parents, students, staff - directly. In this way, we are able to support a more meaningful dialogue within the school community about how social media is being used - positively or negatively - and what can be done to promote online behavior that reinforces their core values and codes of conduct in all areas of school life. Ultimately, when schools are equipped with the right information, they can be more effective in prevention efforts related to mean, cruel or potentially harmful behaviors before they manifest as negative actions that require a more serious response from the administration or other officials. 

If the Supreme Court finds that an objective standard is proper in Elonis, it would make it easier to focus on punishment rather than prevention. This is the wrong approach. Our efforts should be spent working to prevent and remedy the underlying behavior instead of making it easier to criminalize the behavior and providing more opportunity to further crowd the school-to-prison-pipeline.

[1] R. Skiba, A. Cohn, & A. Canter, Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies, in  HELPING  CHILDREN AT  HOME AND SCHOOL  II: HANDOUTS FOR  FAMILIES AND  EDUCATORS, S4:103-S4:106 (A. Canter, L. Paige, et al., eds. 2004); National Association of School Psychologists, Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies: A Fact Sheet for Educators and Policymakers , NASP ONLINE, (last accessed April 24, 2014); American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations , AMERICAN  PSYCHOLOGIST, Vol. 63, No. 9, 852–862 (Dec. 2008) (hereinafter “Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?” ).


Research Roundup Dec 1,2014

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on December 01, 2014

Bringing Education to African Girls   New York Times

Ms. Cotton was award the World Innovation Summit Education Prize for her role as founder of Camfed, an organization that has helped millions of young girls in sub-Saharan Africa. Through direct sponsorship to young women’s education, Camfed works to ensur girls remain in school. “Besides financially supporting students, the organization trains teachers, mentors and community activists. It has also created a 25,000-member network of Camfed graduates who use their own experiences to teach and advise their communities, something the organization calls a “virtuous cycle.”


What It Takes to Fix American Education The Daily Beast

“We’re spending way too much time focusing on who is ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ debates over education, and not enough on implementing proven solutions.” Jonah Edelman writes how education reform is not a quick fix, but a process that involves many long term changes. He believes students, teachers, and parents should all have a voice in the discussion. 


Sacramento City Schools Focus on Emotional Learning The Sacramento Bee

The school district of Sacramento is adding social learning to their curriculum for all grade levels. A teacher says, “The aim, is to move students toward responsible decision-making and making ethical and constructive choices about themselves and their social behavior.” Another questions, “It’s about what kind of future generation we are creating within our current set of students and what kind of world do we want to model for them? Social and emotional learning is at the heart of education. It has got to be. Otherwise we’re lost.”


IU Partnership Helps High School Students Learn Art of Film-making, Produce Movies The Republic

Susanne Schwibs, an experimental film professor at IU and Noel Koontz, a film literature teacher at academy decided to bring their classes together through service learning. “"When (IU students) learn and try to teach techniques to the high school students, they get a deeper understanding of what they themselves are doing," Schwibs said."Film-making is collaborative," Koontz said. He continues, "bringing the learners together helps to mimic the film-making process, and it gives his class a chance to try different kinds of techniques to create a narrative hands-on.”


Education policy lags behind research findings Boston Globe

There is new development in literature on how children develop skills that are crucial to academic and life-long success, and the development of the brain. The NIH study of a Chicago preschool program found that by age 24, children who participated in the program had lower rates of depression, violent crime and incarceration, and were more likely to attend four-year colleges and to have health insurance than children who did not participate in the preschool program. Learning requires that children be able to pay attention, be patient, persist, persevere, face their mistakes, and remain focused when frustrated. Each of these skills is rooted in the ability of children to understand, control and manage their own emotions.

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