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Bullying Prevention

Tuesday, Jun. 19, 2012

Michele Borba, author, speaker, and educator on parenting, character education, and bullying prevention, addressed The Ethics Center's Catholic School Principals Institute yesterday on how to move children from cruelty to compassion.
Borba began by defining bullying as intentional cruelty, where a child picks on someone who is more vulnerable, usually repeatedly.  She cited a 2007 study of middle and high school students, which found that one third had been bullied on campus. As reported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development,
Among high school students, 1 out of 9—about 2.8 million teens—reported that they had been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on during the last school year, while another 1.5 million reported being threatened with physical harm. In the same survey, 900,000 high schoolers reported being cyberbullied—a newer twist on this age-old problem.
Borba went on to describe what she called "heart hardeners," seven factors that diminish a child's empathy, which may lead to bullying:
  1. Experiencing trauma, depression, or stress
  2. Lack of face-to-face interaction. Children who spend more time looking at screens than interacting with others don't learn to read social situations.
  3. Raised in a "me vs. we" environment: Increasing competition and a sense of entitlement produces children who have trouble sharing and empathizing.
  4. Coached in cruelty: Exposure to violent TV and video games encourages some children—15% according to Borba—to be violent themselves.
  5. No nurture: "Kids are hard-wired for empathy, but unless you nurture it, it lies dormant," Borba said. Empathy and kindness must be emphasized.
  6. Poor Examples: Are teachers, coaches, and other adults in children's lives modeling how to be a caring person or are they themselves bullies?
  7. Normalizing bullying: When bullying is accepted in the culture, it becomes pervasive.
To combat these trends, Borba talked with the principals about strategies for combating bullying. Drawing on the work of psychologist Dan Olweus, she outlined essential elements of a successful program:
  • Caring, positive involvement from adults, such as monitoring of behavior by teachers
  • Firm limits on unacceptable behavior
  • Consistent, fair discipline
  • Help for children to improve their behavior
She shared examples of best practices from schools across the country. One program she described asked children to identify the places at school where they did not feel safe. Many respondents cited the school bus stop. In response, the school deployed a group of student "greeters," who met the bus every morning and welcomed their classmates.
One school developed a book club for teachers, giving the staff a common language for discussing character education. Another created Kindness Challenge Days, which asked students to do one kind deed each day for a month and track their progress. Class meetings were another popular approach, allowing children to work together and practice how to disagree respectfully.
More information on Borba's work, including a free download of her "6 R's of Bullying Prevention, is available here.
The Catholic School Principals Institute, a program of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics in collaboration with the Diocese of San Jose, brings educators together to focus on the issues that challenge Catholic school leaders.

Tags: character education