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Tag: violence

Towards safer schools: How teachers and families can work together

In light of figures showing that there were almost 70 serious incidents in state schools in the NSW Hunter Central Coast region in the last half of 2011 – some of them violent, such as students fighting and fashioning their own weapons – a lot of parents are asking what schools can do to create safer environments. The Newcastle Herald asked me to submit an Opinion piece on this topic; I thought I’d share my thoughts with you here too.

I visit hundreds of schools every year, and I have seen some highly successful strategies. Strong peer-support programs, where older children buddy up with younger ones and look out for them, are effective. Schools can celebrate difference by hosting multicultural days, gender-awareness programs and anti-homophobia initiatives. Police youth liaison officers are happy to come to schools to discuss bullying and violence, and this can be empowering and healing.

There is a disturbing trend of children just watching, or videoing, serious incidents in the school ground – yet when bystanders speak out, bullies often back down. So schools need to do everything they can to support bystanders and encourage them to say enough is enough.

Most important of all, children need a whole-school culture that makes it clear that violence, discrimination and bullying will not be tolerated. Ever. A student is more likely to hurt someone at school if he or she feels that racists and bullies are not disciplined, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The buck does not stop at the principal’s desk, though. The same research also showed that families are just as important as teachers in preventing violence at school. Children who are in the midst of family troubles or aren’t getting enough supervision at home may be more prone to violence. The type of supervision is also crucial, for children whose parents discipline them with harsh punishments are more likely to attack someone at school.

Children cannot be what they cannot see. This means that if we want our kids to resolve conflict without physical intimidation and threats, we need to do the same. All of us, parents and teachers, cannot merely point the finger at violent students: we need to own the environments that foster aggression.

For young people, conflict tends to erupt into violence if they haven’t learned positive ways to solve problems with others. Yet conflict resolution is something parents seldom explicitly teach kids. Of course, it is the standard we set – the choices we make when dealing with conflict in our own lives – that will always be the primary way our children learn. But we can also be proactive.

I’m not suggesting that parents lecture kids on the right and wrong ways to deal with conflict. But I am suggesting that we have an ongoing, open conversation with our kids about the feelings that arise when we are in conflict, and the strategies we can use to move forward without violence or intimidation.

Try sharing these 10 Steps to Conflict Resolution with the young people in your life. They are very effective for the girls I work with and apply equally to boys (and adults!).

The 10 Steps to Conflict Resolution

1. Plan ahead. Think about what you want to say to the person who’s upset you, so you don’t say something you’ll regret.

2. Don’t put on a show. An audience will only escalate things. A one-on-one conversation is preferable.

3. Home in on how you feel. Use ‘I’ language – e.g. ‘I felt hurt that you talked about me’ – rather than ‘you’ language – e.g. ‘You can’t be trusted.’

4. Admit your mistakes and apologise. If you’re even partly at fault, defuse the situation with a simple ‘I was wrong, I’m sorry.’

5. Be specific. Clearly articulate only what upset you on this occasion. Do not dig up old wounds.

6. Offer time. Offer the other person time to think, so that they don’t speak or act impulsively.

7. Be calm. Learn some simple breathing and visualisation activities to help you stay chilled.

8. Assert yourself. Speak firmly and clearly, and be assertive rather than aggressive.

9. Expect to be heard. You deserve the other person’s attention, but if you’ve picked a bad time to talk, offer another time.

10. End on a positive. If your relationship ends over this conflict, it doesn’t mean you must automatically treat the other person as your enemy. You might not be friends, but you can still be friendly.

You can find a more detailed version of these steps in my books, The Butterfly Effect (for parents) and The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo (for teen girls). (With thanks to Courtney Macavint and Andrea Vander Plimyn’s respect rules.)

 

Bullying: It’s time to focus on solutions

Australia made a step in the right direction last week with the first-ever National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. Kerri-anne Kennerly took a huge personal interest in the cause and pushed to discuss bullying at length on her show.

I went along with my beautiful, brave and articulate 16-year-old step-daughter, Jazmine, who spoke about her experiences of being bullied, as did another teen, James. Tess Nelson spoke for her son, Dakota.

Kudos must go to Kerri-anne for extending the story to more than 9 minutes, which for breakfast TV is a double segment. The piece raised awareness of the seriousness of bullying and it gave voice to the experiences of the victims of bullying, which I think is very important.

But ever since the segment finished, I have been bursting to take the discussion further. In this post, I want to go beyond the “what, where and why” and discuss the issue that will really make a difference to kids’ lives: how to stop bullying.

What schools can do

We all need a whole-school culture that makes it clear bullying will not be tolerated. Steps that I have seen work in schools include:

  • strong peer-support programs, where older children buddy up with younger ones and look out for them
  • a zero-tolerance approach to any bullying incident
  • celebrations of difference, such as school multicultural days, gender awareness programs, anti-homophobia initiatives
  • getting the local police youth liaison officer in to discuss the topic with students, which the police are more than happy to do.

Bystanders, take a stand

I think the National Day of Action organisers got it right when they chose to focus this year on encouraging bystanders to do more to stop bullying. Let’s consider the video that recently did the rounds on YouTube of a NSW teen boy throwing another boy to the ground in retaliation for bullying. The teen had been subjected to bullying for years and tried to turn the other cheek—until on this day, in his own words, he “snapped”.

I was disturbed that many in the media portrayed the bullied boy as a hero for fighting back. A Current Affair noted that he had “finally stood up for himself”, as though up until then he’d been somehow morally weak and that the only true way to stand up for yourself is to use physical force.

I empathise with the boy who had been bullied, victimised and assaulted repeatedly before retaliating. But I think if we want to use the word “hero”, we should look at the girl at the end of the video. After the assaults, a friend of the bully comes forward to retaliate against the assault on the bully. The girl walks over and stands between them and assertively tells the bully’s friend to back off.

One of the things that alarmed me in that video was the number of bystanders doing nothing or, worse still, filming the violence. The standard we walk past is the standard we set. That girl was amazing. The fact that she came forward to stop the violence in a nonviolent way is to be celebrated—and encouraged in all schools.

Teachers are of course responsible for doing everything they can to stop bullying—but the reality is that in 85% of cases, bullying takes place when there are no adults around. That’s why it is so important to create a school culture in which bullying is not tolerated and bystanders are encouraged to step up and say “It’s not on!”

Get real about bullying

Even today there are still some people who think bullying is just harmless name calling. Bullying takes numerous serious forms:

  • verbal—name calling, teasing, verbal abuse, humiliation, sarcasm, insults, threats
  • physical—punching, kicking, scratching, tripping, spitting
  • social—ignoring, excluding, alienating, making inappropriate gestures
  • psychological—spreading rumours, glaring, hiding or damaging possessions, malicious texts, email messages or Facebook comments, inappropriate use of camera phones.

All are very damaging.

Know the signs

I interviewed the Police Youth Liaison Officer at Castle Hill in Sydney, Senior Constable Rob Patterson, to find out more about bullying. He told me that his number one piece of advice to kids who are being bullied is: “Tell someone, and if they don’t listen, tell someone else.”

That this advice is even necessary highlights the sad fact that few children who are being bullied actually tell an adult about it. In fact, the father of the boy in the video who retaliated against bullying told A Current Affair: “I didn’t realise how much trouble he was actually in until I’d seen that video . . . you poor little bloke, how many years did you put up with this sort of treatment?”

That means it’s important for teachers and parents to be aware of the signs, such as:

  • refusing to go to school
  • a drop in academic performance
  • changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
  • bruises, scratches and other injuries
  • changes in personality, e.g., becoming withdrawn or angry.

Call bullying what it really is

Senior Constable Patterson noted that the police and legal system tend not to use the term “bullying”, because it softens people’s perception of offences that may be very serious. The police call bullies’ offences what they really are, using terms such as “assault”, “intimidation” and “online harassment”. If we also begin using the correct terms for these offences, we will begin to acknowledge the serious impacts that bullying has on victims and send a clearer signal to bullies that their actions won’t be tolerated any more.

What parents can do

If you notice signs that your child might be the victim of bullying, raise your concerns sensitively with them. Most important of all, listen and get all the facts, then work with the school to try and resolve the situation.

If you feel that the school isn’t doing enough, go to the police. Senior Constable Patterson noted that the police usually contact the school as a first step and this may spur the school to take further action.

“Don’t forget that it is a criminal offence to make another person scared for their safety and the police can—and do—get involved. Daily,” Senior Constable Patterson told me. However, he stressed that it is important to have evidence, as one of the most common reasons that a school fails to take legal action is that they don’t have proof of the offence. In the absence of evidence, he recommends that parents encourage their children to ask witnesses of the bullying to write down what they saw.

Court action is not the only police solution. They may first seek another way of resolving the bullying—for instance, a talk with the police is often enough of a warning to a bully that they need to stop.

Ultimately, if you’ve tried everything, you’re not satisfied that your child is safe from bullying and they are still miserable—move schools! Many kids thrive with a fresh start.

Set a good example

All the anti-bullying campaigns in the world won’t make a difference if children are surrounded by examples of adult discrimination and bullying. This means it is important to remember to never make negative comments about other people’s race, gender, sexuality, weight, appearance, name, accent, voice and so on.

Bullies need us, too

I also want to emphasise another reason for putting a stop to bullying: the need to improve outcomes for the bullies themselves. There is ample research to show that bullies are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol and engage in criminal behaviour. They have a one in four chance of having a criminal record by the age of 30. Bullies need intervention by schools, parents and the community to help them curb their aggression.

Helpful resources

Lady Gaga’s Toxic Mess

Lots of girls love Lady Gaga. Her music’s catchy, for one thing. Then there’s all the fashion and theatrics. And the controversy. Her videos have always been ultra-sexy with an undertone of menace, but her latest clip, Telephone, has gone way beyond acceptable for kids. Even for me as an adult, watching the full uncensored version, which is easily accessed by anyone on YouTube, was stomach churning.

For those who haven’t seen it and don’t want to give Lady Gaga any more oxygen by watching it, the idea is: Lady Gaga gets thrown in a sadomasochistic-porn-fantasy version of a women’s prison; there is violence, sexual intimidation, graphic tongue kissing, cigarettes, and barely any clothes. Then her lover Beyonce bails her out so they can go on a killing spree, murdering multiple people, most of them strangers, by poisoning them. They look like they’re having a great time. They drive off into the sunset. Think “Thelma and Louise” but drained of all meaning and instead filled with product placement for mobile phones, sunglasses and other branded gear you may soon be expecting teen girls to start asking for.

What a toxic mess of hypersexuality, consumerism and violence.

Some see Lady Gaga as a talented artist whose work is ironic and leans toward the Quentin Tarantino side of things. But as Jim Schumacher and Debbie Bookchin write in their excellent Huffington Post blog:

What if glitzy Lady Gaga is exactly what she appears to be: The latest manifestation of a culture industry that pushes the boundaries of civility and sexuality to the extreme in order to make a buck? And worse, pushes it on our kids long before they want or need to be presented with some middle-aged ad executive’s personal sadomasochistic sexual fantasies?

Who decreed that the highest bidder (read: the product sponsors who pay for such videos and media moguls who stand to profit) should be allowed to impose violent sexual conditioning on our kids?

Why isn’t anyone debating whether the hyper-sexualization of teenage girls and hyper-materialism that claims to be critiquing fame and consumerism, even while shoving it down our throats, is doing us any good as a society?

I am proud to step forward and do just that. I don’t think this is doing us any good as a society, and I think it’s bad for girls to see this stuff at the time when they are busy forming their own identity and ideas about relationships and sexuality. I hope that you, too, will join me by discussing the images in Lady Gaga’s videos with your daughters and students. We can’t censor what kids watch, but we can help them deconstruct it and consider it from all angles.

The other thing we can do is let marketers know that it’s unacceptable for them to push their products on girls by using hypersexual, violent, adult imagery. Virgin Mobile is the most notable product placement. If you agree with me after watching the Lady Gaga video and would like to let Virgin know how you feel, their email address is team@virginmobile.com.au, and their postal address is Locked Bag 17, ROYAL EXCHANGE NSW 1225.

Those who argue that this is a big fuss over nothing and girls aren’t influenced by hypersexual videos clearly haven’t seen this video of an 8-year-old girl on Brazil’s version of “Australia’s Got Talent”. She sings and dances just like Lady Gaga, complete with sexy moves she can’t (or shouldn’t) possibly understand the meaning of at her age:

 

butterfly-effectLady Gaga is not the only culprit, of course. When I wrote about this in my book, The Butterfly Effect, I noted the misogynistic and violent lyrics of rapper Eminem, and the hypersexual videos of The Pussycat Dolls and The Veronicas. But don’t get me wrong, there are also amazing female singers and girl bands that are all about power and strength. As well as helping our girls make sense of the too-adult, too-sexy images of many music videos, we can offer up examples of women who are producing music and videos that send a much more empowering message. So I want to end on a positive note by sharing with you the wonderful female artist India Arie. Girls at Enlighten Education’s workshops light up when we play her songs, which are not just great music but also the perfect antidote to the messages of so many other video clips. The girls (and I!) love her song Video (“I’m not the average girl from your video; My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes”) and the simply sublime Beautiful Flower, whose lyrics always bring a tear to my eye and make me think of all those beautiful girls Enlighten Education has worked with (“You’re beautiful like a flower, more valuable than a diamond”):

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