We Protect Kids’ Bodies not Brains

An article I wrote on our abject failure to protect children from bullying in schools has just been published in Our Parenting Spot. This failure lies at the heart of our society.

http://ourmomspot.net/community/index.php?topic=13174.0

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Why Aren’t We Doing MORE to Protect #Kids from #Bullying?

Did you know that schools in Canada, the United States, and Australia are required by law to conduct fire drills several times a year? The drills are designed to ensure everyone in the school learns to recognize the sound of a fire alarm and they are an opportunity for everyone in school to practice getting outside quickly and safely.[1][2][3][4][5]

I’ve taught for about twenty years in a variety of schools all over Canada. I’ve participated in many safety drills where school administrators, teachers, and students practice what to do in the event of a fire. There are procedures to alert everyone and evacuate the building. Professionals are brought in regularly to assess buildings for safety compliance. They take a look at whether a school’s efforts to keep students prepared for a fire are successful.

Adults understand that fire is dangerous. It’s important that our kids know exactly what to do in the event that there is a fire at school, so the fire drills seem sensible and necessary. Bullying is dangerous too, yet there are no bullying safety assessments or drills.

Why is that?

Danger by the Numbers
This discrepancy in how we address these aspects of child safety becomes even more interesting when we look at the effects of fire versus bullying in schools.

How successful are we when it comes to protecting children from school fires?
According to a report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there were thousands of fires in schools across the United States between 2009 and 2011 and less than 100 children suffered injuries from those fires.[6]

We can surmise from this report that when we have strict safety codes, experts assessing safety compliance, and school communities promoting awareness and practicing safety, the result is schools where fire causes minimal harm and fatalities are rare.

How successful are we when it comes to protecting children from bullying?
According to the U.S. Census, between one in three and one in four students report being bullied in 2011.[7] That year, there were 63 million students enrolled in U.S. schools – which means between 15 to 21 million of those students reported being bullied.[8]

Negative outcomes of bullying – whether a child is a bully or being bullied – can include:

  • absenteeism
  • poor academic performance
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • substance abuse

Consider how many news reports you’ve seen about kids who commit suicide after being bullied. Studies to determine the link between bullying and suicide have yielded mixed results, but kids who report frequently bullying others and those who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.[9] High school students who experience bullying and other forms of harassment are more likely to report being depressed, consider suicide, and carry weapons to school.[10] From 2009 to 2011, fire did not kill any children at school. In 2011, 4,822 students committed suicide. That’s about 13 children every day.[11]

It looks like we’re not as successful with this aspect of child safety.

No More Excuses
We turn to experts when we want to train school administrators and teachers to keep our kids safe from school fires. We could turn to experts – psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists – to train school administrators and teachers to keep our kids safe from bullying in schools.

On a wide scale, school systems do not:

  • inform school staff and students about the effects of bullying.
  • teach students how to protect themselves from bullying.
  • provide kids with a safe place to report adult or peer bullying without fear of repercussions or victim-blaming.

During fire drills it’s common to see school administrators and teachers with a list of children’s names. They’ll find out exactly who is missing and react with great urgency – even though they know it’s just a drill. Sometimes, school administrators don’t seem to react with the same urgency and concern when children are harmed by bullying. I’m writing from personal experience about the excuses adults make when teachers or coaches bully kids. I’ve listened to my colleagues and school administrators make excuses for staff members who bullied kids – and it was a common occurrence.

Fire on school property is rare, yet we treat it as a serious matter and take definitive measures to stop it. Bullying is so common that we’ve normalized it as part of our education system. For example, when youth sports coaches yell at kids or call kids names during practices or games, many people say it’s to “toughen kids up.”

Perhaps we have trouble responding in appropriate ways to the pain and suffering of bullied children because we can’t see damage to their bodies, but we can learn a better way. For example, no one could see what secondhand smoke was doing to children’s bodies, but we enacted laws to protect them because we discovered there was a correlation between secondhand smoke and serious health issues.[12][13][14]

Solutions?
Children flourish when they are educated in safe, respectful environments; however, without a paradigm shift, the bullying cycle will continue in our schools. Our educational system needs to make a real commitment to bringing about change by gaining knowledge about emotional abuse and the harm it does – and then we need to take action to prevent and stop it.

There are no easy answers to ending bullying in schools. Here are some to consider:

Jail
In the UK, emotional abuse within an intimate or family relationship became illegal with the enactment of the Serious Crime Act of 2015. This new law means that adults who isolate, humiliate, or bully a family member can be held criminally responsible. Abusers can face up to five years in prison, significant fines, or both.[15][16] Unfortunately, in the US and Canada, there are no legal protections when it comes to emotional abuse.

Monetary Penalties
In response to a rise in school shootings, teen suicides, and cyber bullying, Monona, Wisconsin, USA, issued a municipal ordinance saying that parents can be fined when their kids bully other children.[17] The Wisconsin townships of Plover & Shawano Wisconsin issued similar ordinances too.[18][19] Only time will tell if these measures help reduce bullying.

Anti-Bullying Requirements for Schools
We teach children “Stop, Drop, and Roll” as a part of fire safety. Children and adults have an emergency number to call for instant help. They can trust that firefighters and other emergency responders will arrive as quickly as possible.

Similar safety measures could save the minds and bodies of children who are bullied in schools. Kids can be taught what to do if a teacher, sports coach, or child bullies them – yells in their face, restrains them when they try to get away, or mutters obscenities at them. They’d need to have an emergency number for reporting bullying, then experts could respond quickly. Schools that do not meet the safety requirements could be forced to take steps toward compliance. This could save thousands of children from harm every year.

What do you think about these measures?
Can you think of other ways to prevent and / or stop bullying in schools?
Please share below.

We Need to Do SOMETHING
If we treated bullying the same way we treat fire hazards in schools, we would change our schools. If we stopped normalizing bullying in schools and put emotional abuse in the criminal code, we would probably see a decline in bullying.

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About Jennifer Fraser PhD

I am an author and educator. My latest book Teaching Bullies tells the story of 14 students who came forward to report on the verbal, emotional and some physical abuse at the hands of their teachers. How they were treated by school administrators, lawyers, and educational authorities is cause for alarm. The story is grounded in psychological, psychiatric, neuroscientific and sports journalism. It is a call to action for all those who want to protect children from bullying especially when it's done by teachers and coaches.
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