Thursday, February 21, 2013

Anti-Bullying Day

Baltimore County Public Schools will hold its first system-wide Anti-Bullying Day on March 1.
In addition to individual school initiatives, students will be asked to sign a no-bullying pledge and be reminded of this pledge with a wristband that says "#TeamNoBullying."

Bullying is a pervasive problem that we must all continue to work together to overcome. It is something that everyone endures, but few have been willing to stand up and intervene. While there are legal definitions for bullying, we cannot forget that perception is reality, and that if a person feels victimized, then the damage is done, whatever a third party wishes to call that damage. And the damage is often more than hurt feelings. When we feel these feelings, it increases our blood pressure and causes muscle tension, loss of sleep, changes in appetite... the levels of stress impact physical health as well as mental and emotional health.

Name-calling, teasing, exclusion, slander, sarcasm, "throwing shade," physical harm... the list can go on for days; bullying looks like many things to many people.

However, with this being a school counseling blog, this post will focus more on solutions than on the problem. It is clear to everyone that there is a problem, and we all have experienced bullying of some degree at some point, we know how it feels, and we would like to do more. So let's talk about what we can do about it.

Be a positive individual. Dole out praise to other people, express gratitude for their presence and participation in your school and your life. Show appreciation, as it may take every ounce of their strength to even come to school. Accept people for who they are, not what they can do for you. Remember that our society is built on caring for each other, and the collective grows stronger when every participant can improve upon their current situation.
In the wake of the shooting at Perry Hall High School, even one of our local heroes, Ray Rice, posted on his Facebook page:
 " when you go to school...Sit with someone who is alone at the lunch table, befriend the new kid in class, lend a helping hand, make it a point to be kind, and if you see something that is not quite right, say something!! You can be a HERO to someone, just by being their FRIEND!"
When you are online, practice responsible digital citizenship. Being a responsible digital citizen includes being personally safe by not putting yourself in dangerous situations. Additionally, as it relates to this conversation, to borrow a term from counseling, being a responsible digital citizen means that you employ beneficence and nonmaleficence. When texting, tweeting, or posting on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media, keep your posts positive and without intent to harm. The internet is a virtual arena for people to interact. Even though you can't see other user's faces when they read your posts, that doesn't mean they are not there. Only post things that you would want your grandparents, future bosses, and perhaps your own eventual children to see. If your ten-years-from-now self wouldn't be proud, then keep it to yourself.

Assist your classmates who seem to be struggling. Listen to them. You don't need to solve their problems, but even taking a moment to listen to them is often an improvement over their previous experiences. The goal is to offer hope. If and when things get too intense, don't get alarmed. Just encourage them to also talk to an adult, and make sure that you go straight to a trusted adult to inform us, so that we can assist.
When you overhear someone being rude in the hall or in class, stand up and say something to the aggressor. Disarm them with kindness. Deflect the attention in some way - you don't need to get violent, just change scene. If that means directly confronting the person in a nonviolent way, great. It may be easier to loudly change the subject, or do something silly to distract the crowd's attention. It may serve a double benefit to overtly support the victim. The goal is to keep the environment positive. It may take tremendous courage at first, but remember how much courage it must take a person to even come to school, knowing that someone is bound to pick on him or her during 6th period. Some students even have to endure going home to emotional abuse or neglect that could be worse than what they experience in school. You never know what the person next to you really feels.
Please take the time and care to be considerate to everyone in your life. Being kind is so much easier than being rude and mean. Not to mention, you never know when you may need that favor repaid.
So, think about your role in the bullying "relationship." Is it possible that you are the perpetrator? Take a minute and think about how you interact with your peers and how that may be received by them. Are you a bystander? Are you afraid to stand up, for fear that you will also be targeted? When more bystanders do something, the act of bullying will no longer be accepted. Are you an ally? Develop that leadership and encourage others to stand up for the downtrodden. Are you a victim of bullying in any way? What resources are you using to care for yourself? Talk with your parents, school counselor, watch the videos below... do anything to keep yourself moving forward. High school is temporary, and the more you can do to keep yourself looking forward to emotional freedom, the less time and energy you'll spend focusing on the present.

This next video playlist is from journalist Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project. It is an example of many adults who have come through the struggles of coming out as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, first to themselves, and then to others. The clear theme is that as hard as it is to be a queer teen, if you can get through this period of your life, it will get better.

Life doesn't always get better on its own, however. It takes great determination, patience, and - most importantly - the support of other human beings who sincerely care.

We are all in this together. 

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