We were both afraid to go to school in the morning. Lee would try to find a new route every day so he wouldn't get beaten up, but he usually failed. Rose was so afraid of the constant ridicule that she couldn't eat breakfast and developed a stomach condition. Five minutes of bullying could ruin our day.
Being afraid to go to school every day for years leaves its mark. What kind of adult does this create?
Every year, 13 million kids in America experience bullying. When we grew up in the '80's, there were no resources for us. Today, there's a mature and growing bullying prevention movement.
In the '80's there was a national ad campaign against drunk driving by the Ad Council and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Prior to that, drinking and driving was tacitly accepted. When the campaign launched in 1983, 56% of auto fatalities were alcohol related. By 1993, it was only 44% -- a 26% reduction in drunk driving deaths in ten years. That's a lot of lives saved.
Our vision is to see the same thing happen with bullying: that it's no longer tacitly accepted, and that kids are no longer afraid to go to school.
Teachers write to The BULLY Project daily reporting a strong will to affect change but there remains a huge gap in resources, professional development and time available to them. This must change for both pre-service and working educators. We believe that every kid needs to be given tools to help them process their emotions and relate to each other better. Otherwise we'll continue down the current path, with more and more kids being traumatized.
That's why it's so heartening to see so many organizations, politicians and individuals popping up nationally, offering solid, practical strategies. Tons of people at the grassroots level are coming up with beautiful, creative solutions on their own, whether to protect their child or to save others from what they suffered. We see countless examples of this in our work at The BULLY Project.
We are inspired by the stories of ordinary citizens standing up and pulling their communities together to take on bullying. While there are still a lot of heartbreaking stories, if you Google "bullying," you'll find positive stories of bravery, ingenuity and altruism cropping up every day.
Watching the burgeoning bullying prevention movement gives us hope that one day bullying will be considered unacceptable in our culture. Countless mothers, kids, teachers, bus drivers and advocates are saying "No more!" and doing something about it.
Jeremiah, a student at West High School in Iowa City, was fed up with cyber-bullying and created his own solution. He started anonymously tweeting compliments to his classmates, and sometimes teachers, with the twitter handle @WestHighBros. He'd post things like, "Incredibly smart, incredibly kind, incredibly good at singing ... The list goes on and on. You're incredible in everything you do." With a couple of friends helping him, the whole school eventually joined them in complimenting others. It spread like wildfire, and the principal thanked Jeremiah for completely changing the school's dynamic. Schools across the nation are now following suit, and The Today Show covered their efforts.
It's not just teachers and students who play a key role in bullying, but everyone who comes in contact with students. Rose spoke to a bus driver named Steve who had approached the school board in his community about bullying because he was so upset about how bad it had gotten. He had written the superintendent a passionate, eloquent letter that he shared with us, and brought our Educator's Toolkit, purchased on his own dime, to the next school board meeting. His goal was to create district wide change. It's so inspiring to see so many people, like Steve, making a real difference because they want to see a world in which bullying is no longer the norm.
Our experiences growing up with bullying affected us in some challenging ways, but it also motivated us to work hard to prevent others from living through what we experienced. While resources weren't available then, it gives us relief and joy to see them available today.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which now has broad based support and a healthy rollout of activities nationwide. There are very real solutions that are working every day, like Social and Emotional Learning, and a long list of great organizations helping educators make those connections. But what makes us most hopeful are individuals like Steve the bus driver, or Jeremiah taking this issue into their own hands and creating something positive and powerful like the WestHighBros.
This month, we encourage you to examine how people in your community or school treat each other and bring them together to discuss how to face this. Roll up your sleeves so that together we can change the tide. We can build a new system in which students are happy to go to school, teachers feel equipped to face the challenges that come up in their student's lives, and parents can send their kids to school knowing they'll be treated with kindness. When we achieve that, those kids will grow up to be happier, kinder citizens, better equipped to take on all the other challenges our world faces.
This post is part of a series produced by The BULLY Project in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month. For more information on The BULLY Project, click here.