Bullying is a worldwide phenomenon that detracts from the passion that students put into their education experience, yet resilience is still possible for every student who is bullied. Stacy Roberts has authored the book, Boomer, Be Nice, which is aimed at preventing elementary school level bullying. Today, I had the honor of interviewing Stacy for part one of a three-part series on bullying prevention.
What follows is a guided interview with Stacy.
Jonathan: Could you introduce yourself... and then explain why is bullying such an important issue to you, your community, and the experiences of students?
Stacy: My name is Stacy Roberts and I live in Evans, GA. I have worked with children for many years from the days I worked as a lead teacher in childcare centers to my current role as the Temple Teen President at my church, New Life Worship Center. I live with my husband and four dogs. I love reading, writing, spending time with my family (mom, dad, and two sisters), and working with the youth at church.
Bullying is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I know it is one of the factors leading to children having low self-esteem, hating to go to school, and other more insidious issues. Sometimes it even leads to violence.
I honestly believe that bullying can prevented, but it will always exist in some way. It is important to continue to educate youth on this issue and hold them accountable for their actions. No child should hate going to school because they are being picked on, beat up, and worn down by another child. It hurts me to see children gradually change from being happy and proud of who they are to then going in a shell because they feel they'll be ridiculed for being themselves.
Jonathan: What are some ways that kids can recognize bullying?
Stacy: Before going to the signs of bullying, let's first talk about having a high expectation for all students. As such, one thing I always advise youth to do is treat their peers as they would like to be treated. If they are acting in a way towards another child that they would not want to be treated themselves, they need to take a step back and change their actions. There is also a difference between joking and bullying - and it has to do with how the other person feels about remarks and actions that take place. There is nothing wrong with a joke, but it should never be shared at someone else's expense. This is especially true if the misaimed words are hurtful and cause embarrassment. Some other signs that bullied students show include unexplained injuries, a sudden or dramatic change in behavior, or continuous examples of avoidance, fear, and sadness. Bullying can come from students and even adults - so we all need to be careful about our actions and words and how they are received by others.
Kids should listen to their hearts and instincts. They honestly know and feel when someone is being bullied.
Jonathan: What are some ways kids can prevent bullying?
Stacy: I believe kids can prevent bullying by first being taught by their parents to treat everyone with respect. This is a lesson that should be taught at home and then reiterated by the faculty, principal, assistant principal, and dean at the school. Next, kids need to understand that it is honorable to defend their peers and stand up for what's right. Intervention is a great way to stop bullying - but kids need to make sure their interventions are not forms of bullying as well.
Many kids do not want to get involved for fear of being ridiculed or being the next target of a bully. After all, bullies get a lot of attention. I believe that kids that stand up for what's right should get just as much attention.
Kids should also not be afraid to report bullying. I've heard of teachers telling kids not to be a tattletale or a snitch. Unfortunately, this is another way of telling kids not to report the truth - and what results is that the bully is allowed to continue engaging in their negative behavior(s).
Kids who are being bullied should also stand up to bullies. There is a time and a place for everything. Kids need to know when to pick their battles, stand up to a bully, and report the negative behavior to a responsible adult.
Jonathan: If bullying occurs, what kinds of responses are beneficial when considering different age levels: at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels?
Stacy: I believe at all levels, the bully needs to be addressed. It's important to listen to what these children are telling us through their words and actions. Sometimes, bullying can be stopped by getting to the root of the problem. It's important for both students and adults to talk to all parties involved.
Also, it helps to get parents involved. A lot of parents would not like their child conducting themselves in a negative manner. Adults can ask the bully in a caring way why are they targeting a certain child. In these interviews, it is important to document everything so that if a more serious situation arises, there will be a written trail of what's been going on without room for questions or doubt. Sadly, I think that depending on the level of bullying, there are times when suspension is necessary so that the school atmosphere can be restored, but of course we can try to prevent the problem from getting that far.
At an elementary level, reading and talking about stories like Boomer Be Nice is a great way to open up the discussion of bullying. Fun programs and assemblies that address bullying are great to create bullying awareness. Schools could recognize children who lead in the area of treating others politely and with respect. Also, if a former student that was bullying is behaving better, her or his teachers should acknowledge that as well.
Working on this issue with middle and high school student can be a little bit tougher, but it's just as important. One reason for the higher level of difficulty is that older students might be more adept at saying or doing things are that cruel to their peers. At a result, the issue of bullying is more intensified in these grade levels.
Some kids are afraid or ashamed to speak up. That's why we have to start teaching about character and integrity at a very young age. Lessons such as how to intervene in a respectful way with boldness, compassion, love, treating others as you want to be treated, understanding, and teamwork can be very effective over time. These methods can also help youth grasp the concept of togetherness and how this the idea of unity can truly counteract bullying behaviors.
Overall, we can teach kids to talk it out, know when to defend themselves, report bulling issues, support the parties involved, and to intervene when necessary. Peer mediators are a good way to deal with bullying too.
Jonathan: What is the pivotal point in your book and how would that be important for young people?
Stacy: In Boomer Be Nice, the pivotal point is when Boomer finds himself sad and alone because he has bullied all of his friends on the playground. As a result, everyone leaves him by himself on one side of the playground because they don't want to be around him when he's being mean. Boomer is then advised by his mother to not only apologize, but to make amends for what he did to his friends. Boomer learns the valuable lesson that no one wants to be around a bully. As a result, the transformed-Boomer even likes himself better when he is kind and polite to his friends. Overall, the story shows that everyone and every situation is redeemable.
Lastly, I want to add one more thing. As I said earlier, I don't believe that bullying will ever go away completely. It is sad, but some people will never change - or at least not in the time-frame where we might need to see that change. With this in mind, parents, teachers, counselors, and anyone who interacts with children should teach them to be confident in themselves and who God created them to be.
The truth is that bullies often have low self-esteem and subconsciously want others to feels that way as well. It's like that saying, "Hurt people, hurt people." And the idea of bullying applies to children, as well as to adults.
Some child-bullies are going through a lot at home and are facing issues that we can't even imagine. As a result, these 'traumatized' students come to school and take out their frustrations on who they see as a weaker person. In a way, their poor behaviors might be a coping mechanism for the pain they are facing somewhere else. I'm not giving them an excuse. However, I'm saying that when this happens, it is important that we teach children to live beyond what people say and do to them. That's not always going to be easy and sometimes the bullying is not going to go away.
Jonathan: That's really important, Stacy. It agrees with the courageous author, Nick Vujicic (Stand Strong,You Can Overcome Bullying, 2014), who adds that the "bully's motives don't matter. You do!"
Do you have any closing thoughts for us today?
Stacy: Yes, I often tell the children I work with to know who they are and that their Higher Power made no mistakes when in creating them. After all, if a bully doesn't like another child's hair, skin, body type, teeth, clothes, hobbies, and so forth, then that's their issue (not the child who is being bullied).
I also tell them to not be afraid to stand up for what's right and to never be ashamed of reporting the truth. Finally, I tell them to always treat everyone right because they won't regret acting kind toward others. After all, they might never actually know what people are battling or what they are thinking.
My last thought is this: the issue of bullying can influenced and changed in a positive way in homes, schools, communities, and more. I think that if we work together as a team, this issue of bullying can be helped. By writing the book, Boomer, Be Nice, my goal was to reach children and show them how bullying impacts everyone. If one child can learn this lesson and change how they treat their peers, my goal has been accomplished. In this way, I believe it's beneficial to train children to behave the right way when they are younger, rather than to try to reprogram an adult who is stuck in their ways.
Jonathan: Thank you for your time today.
Stacy: No problem, Jonathan. I hope these responses are helpful.