National Bullying Prevention month came to an end this week, but the social and psychological costs endured by kids on a daily basis will continue throughout the year. Reportedly, 1 out of every 4 kids are bullied during school hours, and as many as 160,000 kids stay home from school each day because they’re afraid.
It’s believed that most victims can’t emotionally deal with the social isolation which comes with being bullied. Likewise, many bystanders don’t feel they can socially “afford” to help, lest they become associated with the victim, and become bullied themselves. In her NY Times op-ed, senior youth researcher at Microsoft Corporation, danah boyd further observed: “Owning up to victimhood requires <kids> to recognize themselves as a victim — or perpetrator — which requires a serious emotional, psychological, and social support, an infrastructure unavailable to many teenagers.”
What’s really interesting here, is the potential Generation Z bystanders have to offer that infrastructure of social support. By way of example, students at Riverview High School (RHS) in New Brunswick, Canada put together a Facebook anti-bullying group page – which earned over 350 supporters in just an hour and a half. Outraged at the bullying abuse suffered by one of their classmates, these GenZ kids organized a rally in just 24 hours which boasted over 250 attendees.
Common opinion right now is that we need to teach kids to move from an “innocent bystander” to an “active defender” as a bullying prevention measure – which is good because Generation Z adolescents and teens are characteristically not afraid to use their voice. More to the point, at a recent KooDooZ Town Hall event entitled “The Power of Youth Voice – Solving The Problem of Cyberbullying” our teen panel unanimously articulated the importance of giving kids the lead on tackling the challenge of bullying, cyber-bullying and teen dating violence. (See prezi presentation here)
There’s a gap between adult and youth perspective as to the “ownership” of this problem. Kids see it distinctly as a youth issue, whereas adults feel they have to teach the kids how to cope. While anti-bullying prevention programs provided in our schools are essential, they’re not enough to eradicate the problem entirely. What will help though, is giving youth meaningful opportunities to engage with this issue themselves and take control. Once this happens, I believe we will see 1) increased levels of youth engagement in the prevention of bullying abuse and 2) more young people prepared for their role as active defenders, capable of true social support. (NOTE: In the RHS student’s initiative to make their high school a bully-free zone, one student wrote: “It’s clear our school’s anti-bullying polices aren’t working as well as we’d like. This is NOT a hate on anybody group, this is a change group.”)
Due to their interconnectedness with social technologies, school administrators and parents have to recognize that this new generation of thinkers has a unique ability to pivot, react and mobilize faster than do most adults. Frustrated by in-action to overcome this challenge, I think we’ll start seeing more and more kids design their own bullying prevention and awareness campaigns. Below are a few recent examples in North America alone:
THROUGH WRITING & MUSIC:
- MAKINLEE BLACK 9-year old writer with a published work called “The Lonely Kid.” MaKinlee wrote this book to raise awareness of the bullying that occurs and hopes her efforts will help deter kids from bullying others.
- KYLIE MORGAN 16-year old singer/song-writer dedicated a song: “It Matters What We Do” to Phoebe Prince who tragically took her life after being bullied by classmates. In the first 3 days of the song’s rough-cut, there were 76,000 views. Kylie’s efforts to raise awareness to the issue of teen bullying earned her the opportunity to become a key-spokesperson for PACER’s Teens Against Bullying a non-profit dedicated to the same cause.
- MICHAEL & MARIS 13-year old and 14-year old singers released a song: “The Same” and have donated half the song’s proceeds toPACER’s Teens Against Bullying.
- TRISTAN MCINTOSH 11-year old singer whose song “You Can’t Take That Away From Me” speaks to kids about the importance of recognizing personality and character over popularity and appearance.
- CODY SIMPSON 14-year old up and coming singer who has used his new celebrity status to speak out about bullying at his concerts. He has become the face of “Defeat the Label,” an anti-bullying organization.
THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA:
- EMILY-ANNE 17-year old who founded her non-profit WeStopHate.com after being bullied by her peers in middle school with constant gossip and rumors. Additionally, Emily’s YouTube and Facebook page offer to support victims, and invite listeners who agree to the following: 1) don’t make fun of people who are different from you, 2) think positive – not negative thoughts – about yourself, and 3) pick friends who make you happy, not stressed.
- SCARLETT AIKEN, REBECCA CHAPMAN, CHEYENNE RISNER At 16-years old these three friends founded “Now!NotNever,” a social media campaign with online tools to help victims of bullying.
- JULIA KORDON 13-year old speaker/anti-bullying advocate who joined the fight against bullying last November by creating a Facebook page for a girl in North Dakota who committed suicide as a direct result of being bullied. She gained momentum to continue her efforts and created an organization called “The Bullying Ends Now.” Today she travels to schools to talk to students about bullying.
- KATELYN SWANEY 15-year old combating cyber-bullying on Facebook. She came across a Facebook page categorizing people in her local town as “Nots.” She openly commented on her disapproval of the page and made comments of what she liked about each of the people declared a “Not.” She has also been in contact with Facebook to take down the page.
- ASHLEY CRAIG 14-year old student in Wantage, NJ who started “Students Against Being Bullied” at her school. Her motivation to develop this group came from her personal experience with bullying and from a classmate who opened up to her about contemplating suicide as a result of being bullied. This program initiates a three-tier system including a texting system that serves as a report line, a peer support group, and a safe-haven classroom before school hours.
THROUGH LEADERSHIP & BY EXAMPLE:
- TYLER PAGE 14-year old Tyler Page launched his non-profit, “Kids Helping Kids” to help others kids in need. Together with his mother, Tyler runs a leadership academy purposed to teach other students how to help one another. Most recently, the leadership academy has adopted Rachel’s Challenge as part of their curriculum which teaches social / emotional education that is both colorblind and culturally relevant.
- PAIGE LOGAN High school student inspired to make a difference after personal experience being bullied in middle school. Now, she is one of fifteen members of the Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council and continues to be an activist in the fight against bullying.
- DAVID CYRUS a high school student who developed the idea for a group “United Students Against Bullying” whose motto is “I am here for protection, not rejection.” The group has sold logo wristbands to raise awareness among their peers and initiated a “Ranger Saver Program” for anonymous reports of bullying.
- CARLY JO LAUGHERY Elementary school student organized a project to order and sell anti-bullying shirts that read, “I love love, I hate hate, Kids against bullying.”
- MARCO MELGOZA 14-year old student who stood outside his school in protest of bullying. Marco earned the attention of Daniel Puder, an MMA star, and formed an alliance with him in order to confront the school board to take a stand on the issue.
- LILLY BALDASSARE 14-year old appeared on “Dateline” to talk about her experience with bullying and how to stand up to other kids.
What opportunities are you giving GenZ kids to tackle the challenge of bullying?