Our mission is founded on the principle that our children –the nation’s children–deserve to learn and develop in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by peers, educators, and staff that empower them to succeed.
As a rule, Safe and Sound Schools does not take a position on political topics. However, on the heels of a divisive and embattled election season, our nation is now faced with the task of restoring unity, stability, and a sense of safety. Our schools and our students are not immune to the current political climate. They watch the news, engage in social media, and engage in the political process at home, on the bus, and at school.
Unfortunately, not all of these interactions are positive, respectful, and considerate. In this climate, students have reported harassment, bullying, and even fear and uncertainty about their future and safety. Like most parents, educators, and community members, safety is our number-one priority. Here are five suggestions to help ease concerns with your students and help them make sense of the current post-election climate.
1. Make time for discussion. Chances are your student has an idea about the kinds of issues our country is facing. Whether they are getting their information from home, the news, social media, or their peers, they are subject to a lot of information and many opinions. Take this time to hold a family discussion. Ask your child about their day and address concerns they have about current events happening in their school, community, or in the news.
2. Encourage kindness, compassion, and inclusiveness. Violence, bullying, and harassment are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated. By modeling kindness, teaching compassion, and encouraging inclusiveness for our children, we plant the seeds of hope among our nation’s youth and open the door to understanding and acceptance.
3. Teach acceptance. Our country is diverse and filled with people who come from all walks of life. As the National Association of School Psychologists states, “American democracy is founded on respect for individual differences.” Teach children that people should be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect despite perceived race, appearance, language, orientation, affiliation, or religion. Model this behavior by remembering to embrace these values at all times.
4. Be vocal. If your child has any concerns or has experienced any sort of violence or harassment at school, encourage them to speak up. Hold a meeting with their teacher or school principal to address the issue. Work together to find a solution so that your child feels safe at school. If your child is the one causing the trouble, work with your student, and the school if necessary, to ensure their behavior is respectful going forward. Remember that every child deserves to learn in a safe environment.
5. Seek help. Remind your students they can make use of their school community and its resources, and as a parent, you can too. School communities are comprised of mental health professionals, educators, administrators, school safety officials, and parent associations – connect with these resources. Support, understanding, and solace can often be found within these groups. You may even discover that other families are going through similar experiences. Safety and confidence can be restored when you address concerns, seek help, and work together as a community.
We realize that as a nation, our backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions may differ, and that is one of the things that makes our country special. One thing we can all come together around is the common goal of providing safe and secure schools for all our children.
Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis, National Association of School Psychologists
Social Media and School Crises: Facts and Tips, National Association of School Psychologists
October 2016 is a special month and year, as it marks the 10th anniversary of National Bullying Prevention Month. We have seen a lot of progress in bullying prevention over these past 10 years, including the launch of stopbullying.gov (a federal government website dedicated to this topic) and the passing of anti-bullying legislation in all 50 states. On a personal level, 5 years ago I was honored to become the director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, a center with the mission of conducting research to better understand and prevent bullying and getting that information into the hands of people who can make a difference.
What do we know about bullying?
- Bullying is intentional aggression that can cause harm to the person being bullied. It involves a power difference (due to physical size, social status, race/ethnicity, and many other things) between the person bullying and the person being bullied. It usually happens over and over, as opposed to a one-time event.
- Bullying can be physical (hitting, kicking), verbal (mean teasing, threats), indirect (spreading rumors, excluding), or cyber (through computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices)
- About 1 in 3 children and adolescents are involved in bullying as a bully, a target, or both. Most of the time adults do not see it happening, kids do not tell it is happening, and peers see or hear it but do not try to stop it.
- Bullying can be very distressing to all involved. The target of bullying can experience anxiety, depression, school avoidance, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem. Students who bully may be involved in other risk behaviors (fighting, drug and alcohol use) and are more likely to have legal, criminal, and relationship problems as adults. Bystanders who see bullying happen also experience anxiety.
What can we do to help stop bullying?
- Live the golden rule by treating others with the kindness with which you would like to be treated. We do not know what battles other people are facing or struggles they are having, so treating each person with dignity, respect, and kindness is the best way to prevent bullying.
- Find ways to cope with frustration, anger, and other normal feelings that may make us want to hurt others. Some people talk to a friend, others write in a journal, and others work it off through physical exercise. Stopping to think and pausing to post before are good ways to prevent saying something that may hurt something else.
- If you are being bullied, know that it is not your fault and you should not be treated this way. You have options, such as leaving the situation, being assertive that this is not OK, reporting it to a trusted adult, and surrounding yourself with safe people.
- If you see someone else being bullied, don’t join in. Speak up if it is safe to do so. Sometimes this is hard to do alone, so it helps to band together as a group to say it is not OK. Reach out and let the person being bullied know they are not alone. Report the incident – it is not ratting or tattling (this is what we do when we are trying to get someone in trouble), but it is reporting or telling, which is what to do when someone’s behavior is unsafe.
If each person does their part, it makes it easier for schools, parents, and communities join together in these common goals to create a culture and climate of support where bullying is not tolerated. I hope in another 10 years we won’t need a Bullying Prevention Month because every day will be a day where we are committed to treating others with dignity and respect.
To learn more, please check out some of these resources:
Dr. Amanda Nickerson is a professor of school psychology and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. She is a licensed psychologist, a nationally certified school psychologist, and a speaker for Safe and Sound Schools.
On September 8, 2001, Michael Iken sat down with his wife Monica and told her that he had a feeling that he was going to leave this earth suddenly. He did not know how this would occur, but the feeling was strong. Michael told Monica that he had no regrets, that he loved her deeply and that he felt at peace. Three days later, he died in the second tower of the World Trade Center.
Five days after the tragic events of 9/11, I met Monica Iken for the first time, through my uncle, one of the only survivors at Euro Brokers. He was Michael’s best friend.
While talking with Monica and hearing her story, a clear vision came to me: one of Monica as a leader and spokesperson for a Memorial at the World Trade Center Site. When I shared this with her, Monica shrugged it off saying “That’s impossible. I am a kindergarten teacher. I love my job, and I plan to keep teaching.”
Ten years later, in the spring of 2011, I watched Monica live on CNN, speaking at Ground Zero beside President Barack Obama and former Mayor Giuliani. Monica, now the CEO of September’s Mission, was representing the 9/11 families participating in the building of the Memorial. Watching Monica on television, I felt a profound sense of interconnectedness. I witnessed a sense of grace demonstrated by those that overcome tragedy with resilience, service, and love.
In the wake of this profound experience, I reconnected with Monica and shared with her my vision for creating a curriculum for schools, designed to decrease high-risk behavior, violence and bullying, while addressing social and emotional challenges. We discussed a shared goal of creating this kind of program for NYC schools, and Monica expressed that this was very much in line with the goals of September’s Mission.
Years later we continue to work together. Mission Be reaches more and more schools with a message of forgiveness, resiliency, strength and hope. And now in partnership with Safe and Sound Schools, we look to reach school communities across the country.
Learn more about Carin as a speaker and workshop presenter on our Safe and Sound website and at Mission Be.