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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]

References

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 http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-suicide-translation-final-a.pdf.

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 Works: Preventing Bullying in the Classroom

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on February 21, 2015

What do you say to “That’s so gay”? If you are a classroom teacher like me, you are probably all too familiar with this refrain. But how do we respond when we hear a phrase like this thrown about casually? How do we help children understand why such comments are hurtful?

After 13 years in education, I really appreciate quality professional development - every teacher needs frequent opportunities to fill up her bag of tricks. Over the past two years, the best professional development I have received came from Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign.  Their mission is to embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping, and end bullying and name calling.

One of the most useful resources for me was a document called “What Do You Say to ‘That’s So Gay’?” The document outlines exactly how to respond to a phrase we increasingly hear children use in a casual manner.  It gives specific responses that both stop the behavior and educate the child.  In my classroom, it sounded something like this:

Teacher: I heard you said something was really “gay”. Do you know what it means to be gay?

Student: Yes.

Teacher: What do you think it means?

Student: It means when a man loves another man or a woman loves another woman.

Teacher: Is that what you meant when you said it?

Student: No.

Teacher: Sometimes people use the word “gay” to say something is stupid, but in this classroom and in this school, we don’t use someone’s identity as an insult.

As with any strategy, a teacher must find what works best for his personal teaching style. For me, the most effective approach is to explain to students why such comments are hurtful. I teach third grade, and I know that 8 and 9 year-olds are loathe to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Helping them make the connection between their comments and others’ feelings is a great first step toward preventing the behavior.  What I love about this strategy is that it is applicable to many situations, including stereotyping and name calling based on any type of difference.  For example, when I heard my students mocking the way the Chinese language sounds, I explained to them that it hurt my feelings as an Asian person. The behavior immediately stopped.

As teachers, it is important that we not be paralyzed by fear when it comes to addressing hot button topics like race and sexual orientation.  Living in a relatively conservative community, I understand the fear of push-back from community members, parents, and even other staff members.  The best response I have heard, and one that is difficult to argue with, is that our schools are a place where all children and all families are welcome. As stated in the document, ignoring the situation sends the message to students that such remarks are acceptable.  In the Welcoming Schools film What Do You Know? Six to Twelve Year-Olds Talk About Gays and Lesbians, a young man states, “If I get bullied, [teachers] will help me but not in the sense that they’re teaching the other kid not to do it.” Even our students recognize that simply stopping the behavior is not enough; we must educate our children in order to prevent bullying behavior.

A great way to become more comfortable handling difficult situations is simply to practice.  Use staff meetings or training times to role-play.  We teachers can be a facetious bunch, and if you ask us to play our students, we will likely give you our worst. The benefit of practicing the worst case scenario is that it will make most classroom situations seem much easier to handle. Additionally, our colleagues are excellent resources and can come up with alternative responses that may work even better than what is suggested by the experts.

When addressing classroom-wide situations of stereotyping, name-calling, and bullying, I find that read-alouds are an especially effective strategy.  For example, I noticed that when doing partner work, several of my students were repeatedly left out.  I pulled my students to the reading corner and read aloud the book The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig. In this beautifully illustrated book, a young boy with a talent for drawing is ignored by his classmates and even his teacher. His feelings are made clear to the reader because he appears in the pictures as merely an outline. When a new student recognizes his special abilities and befriends him, the boy becomes full of life (and color!). After a class discussion about the power of our words and actions, my students now know that when asked to be someone’s partner, the answer is not only “Yes” but “Yes, I would be delighted to.” For a list of books to engage children, visit here. Remember that your school librarian is also an outstanding resource.

Teachers have an incredibly important job to do.  We are under increasing pressure to get all our students to meet rigorous standards. While this is a worthwhile goal, we also know that a student who feels harassed and unwelcome will not be able to achieve at high levels.  We can use educational interactions with individuals as well as classroom lessons about tolerance and respect to make our classrooms safe places. When we take advantage of the natural empathy students feel for one another, we go a long way toward our ultimate goal of eliminating bullying and raising caring individuals.

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.

Research Roundup, October 29

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 29, 2014

Prevention is Key to Stopping Bullying, Several Experts Say NewsOK

To change the prevalence of bullying in schools, prevention, not intervention, is more effective, research says. “The key to reducing bullying is instilling emotional intelligence in children early, as a preventative measure against becoming a bully or being victimized by one,” emphasizing that anti-bullying versus bullying prevention methods “tends to backfire.” This article highlights emotional intelligence as the “missing link” to prevent bullying.

The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence brookings.edu

The importance of non-cognitive skills to succeed in both school and in life is increasingly becoming a topic of interest in many intersecting realms. In this paper from the Center on Children and Families at Brookings, researchers emphasize the importance of character-skills in life outcomes and policy making. By distributing character strengths by socioeconomic backgrounds, measuring character strengths, and viewing the strengths from a “quality of opportunity perspective,” “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence” breaks down the term “non-cognitive.”

The Economic Impact of School Suspensions The Atlantic

All girls are successful in schools. This is a misconception that vice president of education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, Fatima Goss Graves, would like to clarify. “Much of this is fueled by not having data broken down by race and gender,” indicating that girls of color are then left out of the picture. The reasons behind the 34 percent of African American girls who did not graduate high school on time in 2010 as opposed to 18 percent of white female students “have less to do with student behavior…than with disproportionate and overly punitive disciplinary practices,” argues the authors of the recent report on “Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls.”

[Read more…]

Research Roundup, October 22

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 22, 2014

Getting the Word Out, Part II: How Empowerment and Environment Transform School Climate ASCD

Everyone plays a part in school climate. In the first part of “Getting the Word Out,” equity and engagement were the key topics. In this piece, Sean Slade writes about empowerment and environment. What can educators do to empower students in the classroom? How can principals empower their staff and community? And what can school personnel do to help create a positive environment, both physically and the social-emotional? Read to find out different approaches to empowerment and environment, and the impact school climate contributes to the success of the school.

Things are Improving for LGBT Students, But They’re Still Really Bad Huffington Post

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a survey on Wednesday that illustrated improvement for LGBT students in 2012-2013 compared to the 2010-2011 school year. The survey found that “of the nearly 8,000 students ages 13 to 21 who were surveyed, more than 55 percent reported feeling unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation, down from 64 percent in 2011.” A few of the contributions to this discrimination in schools? Certain school policies, hearing staff make homophobic remarks, and not enough staff intervention.

Small Schools Work in New York NY Times

Smaller, specialized high schools with roughly 100 students per grade and typically in black or Hispanic neighborhoods tend to have a more rigorous curriculum, personalized education, organized around a theme, and “valuable support from community partners.” While research shows that not all schools can or should be small schools, the research group MDRC has conducted a study that found “disadvantaged students who make up a vast majority of the small-school…are also more likely than those in the control group to enroll in college.”

[Read more…]

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