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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Two Basic Questions

Bullying prevention can become a road to nowhere unless schools can provide meaningful answers to the two basic questions that bystanders ask themselves when confronted bullying and their response to it: Is it worth it? Can I do it?

Most of us when faced with any decision ask ourselves those two questions.  We may not do it consciously, but our answers to those questions really determine what we end up doing or not doing.
If we want bystanders to, as they say now, “stand up” to bullying, we have to first bring those questions to the forefront-they must be articulated otherwise they will silently control what bystanders ultimately end up doing.  Telling people to just do something that requires both risk and doubt without at least discussing those risks and doubts is asking a lot-probably too much.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some kids who will step forward and “stand up” to bullying without those questions being answered-some kids will.  These instances of “heroic action” or positive deviance do happen.  If we want effective bullying prevention however we can’t just sit back with our fingers crossed hoping for these instances to magically happen to save the day.  We can learn from those instances of positive deviance.  We need to learn why some stand up and most don’t.  Our goal therefore should be to make positive deviance less deviant and more normal-that could be called a working definition of culture change.

This is really just a way of getting more kids to do what they want to do in their hearts.  The hopeful thing is that we don’t have to create a moral conscience in kids we just have to create the conditions for it to emerge-create a safe place for it.  We can increase bystanders’ perception of safety (perception is reality in this case) by bringing those two basic and essential questions into a conversation with them.  We can’t just tell them that it is worth it and that they can make a difference, they will need to ask themselves those questions, think about them, discuss them with others, become aware of the resources available to them and then feel some degree of safety in trying out the words and actions they can use in response to bullying.

Ironically those same two questions: Is it worth it? Can I do it? Are also ones that kids who bully ask themselves and answer in the affirmative most likely without consciously thinking about them.   It is very possible that if we talk about those questions in relation to the act of bullying, then the kids, who bully and do so without being aware of why they bully, might just be more likely to refrain from bullying.  In general when people become more aware of why they do what they do, they are more likely to have more control over what they do and say.  This is especially true of young people who are works in progress experiencing things for the first time very often with little or no awareness of why they are acting  in a certain way or saying certain things. 

It should be our job as adults to provide guidance and direction to our children for what is happening to them in their lives.  It becomes a road to nowhere for them and us,  if we just say to them NO don’t do that or if you do that then you will have bad things happening to you.  It also doesn’t little good for us just to give kids pep talks or try to shame them into doing what we think they should do. 
We need to educate them-help them think, reflect, discuss, ask questions, share stories, try out new behaviors and do all of that in a safe place surrounded by people they trust-people who are trustworthy.   When we are trustworthy to our children, we can start to help them ask and  begin to answer those questions: Is it worth it? Can I do it?   I know that if we ask those questions of ourselves in regards to educating our children, the answers have to be a resounding YES.

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