The League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions recognizes October as National Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children involving a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and those who bully others may have serious, lasting effects. Bullying remains a serious issue within our society, with some statistics citing up to 77 percent of students admitting to being the victims of some type of bullying. Bullying can include various types of behavior from physical attacks, to destroying one's personal property or clothing, verbal abuse, starting rumors, name calling, and verbal attacks online as well as other forms of cyberbullying.
In February 2012, Governor Mark Dayton established a Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, of which the Minnesota Office of Human Rights is a member. The purpose is to ensure that all students in Minnesota schools are provided with a safe and welcoming environment wherein each student is accepted and valued in order to maximize each student's learning potential. Inherent with this responsibility is the assurance that all students will be equally protected, specifically as it relates to bullying, harassment, and intimidation, while engaging in educational pursuits.
The Task Force gathers written and public comments from students, parents, and citizens who have been impacted by bullying, harassment, and intimidation, as well as the testimony of professionals in relevant fields throughout the state and nation, and advises the Governor of recommendations for immediate and urgent action. These recommendations can apply to both students and adults who should be protected from bullying, and who deserve an educational environment in which to participate and thrive. (The full report and recommendations can be found online on the Minnesota Department of Human Rights website at www.humanrights.state.mn.us). This is an incredibly important step towards a safer future for all citizens of our state.
So what can we do to help prevent and stop bullying locally? Bullying can be prevented, especially when the power of a community is brought together. Community-wide strategies can help identify and support children who are bullied, redirect the behavior of children who bully, and change the attitudes of adults and youth who tolerate bullying behaviors in peer groups, schools, and communities.
Bullying doesn't happen only at school. Community members can use their unique strengths and skills to prevent bullying wherever it occurs. For example, youth sports groups may train coaches to prevent bullying. Local businesses might make t-shirts with bullying prevention slogans for an event. School staff might read books about bullying and discuss them. Hearing anti-bullying messages from the different adults in their lives can reinforce the message that bullying is unacceptable.
Encourage anyone who wants to learn about bullying and reduce its impact in our communities to get involved. Consider our local businesses, associations, and adults who work directly with children, parents, and families. Identify partners such as mental health specialists, law enforcement officers, local organizations, service groups, and faith-based groups. Ask about what types of bullying community members see and discuss developing targeted solutions. And don't forget to involve youth! Teens can take leadership roles in bullying prevention among younger children.
Work is being done locally, but we can always do more. The most important thing we can do is talk to our youth and each other to get some of these important conversations going. Some conversation starters might be asking: Who do you think is most affected? Where? What kinds of bullying do you see happening here? How do the kids and adults you see react? What is already being done here in our communities to help? Consider hosting or attending open forums like group discussions with community leaders, businesses, parent groups, and churches to help get information and resources out to those who need them. Tons of information is available from our local schools and organizations like Someplace Safe, and even more can be found online. The Minnesota Department of Health (www.health.state.mn.us) and sites like www.stopbullying.gov are great places to do some research so you are prepared to help your family, friends and neighbors. Bullying doesn't have to be a reality for our future generations, especially if we work together to stop it.
Stay tuned for next week's article on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment and its connection to Human Rights.
- Becki Jordan
Becki Jordan, Director of Development at Someplace Safe, is the Chair of the Morris Human Rights Commission.