In Expert Interviews

Interview: Bullying in Education

Juanita Allen Kingsley is Director of Business Development for Century Health Systems, the parent company of the Natick Visiting Nurse Association and Distinguished Care Options.   A health educator, she trains more than 2,000 people in the MetroWest region annually through her First Aid, Wilderness First Aid, CPR and AED classes in addition to the variety of health and safety programs she teaches.   Juanita has successfully created and facilitated various programs aimed at providing individuals of varying ages and backgrounds the necessary education and tools to foster effective and positive social development. Youth programs include Home Alone Safety, Bullyproofing, Babysitting, Family Life and Sexual Health, and Girls’ Empowerment. Young adult courses include Goal Setting and Time Management, and Caregiver Care is aimed at family members who are caregivers. In this Interview, Juanita Allen Kingsley shares her experience on bullying in Education and what can be done to combat it.

Is bullying as big an issue today as it was say 10 years ago?

I feel that bullying is happening more today. It is also happening very differently, and we are more aware of it. Bullying is happening increasingly with social media—with Facebook, cell phones, with texting, with Snapchat, etc. This gives us a record of what is going, so that we have more data with which to measure what is happening.

Juanita Allen Kingsley

Juanita Allen Kingsley

Do you see a difference in how bullying happens today – for example social media, mobile phones?

There is more opportunity to bully 24 hours a day, because the bully and victim need not be physically in each other’s presence for it to happen. Social media also allows the bullying to reach a potentially infinite number of people, by sending group texts/messages, etc. These ways of bullying without being face-to-face make it easier for children to bully each other, because they can be relatively anonymous. Children who wouldn’t bully a classmate face-to- face might join in by forwarding a hurtful text to others; they can gang up on one child from the privacy of their respective bedrooms.

I believe that one of the reasons we are more concerned about bullying and discuss the topic of bullying more often is that there is an acknowledgment of how long-lasting the effects of bullying can be. Ten years ago, there simply wasn’t the understanding that children/teens who are bullied may become depressed and turn to self-harm or worse. We now understand that girls who are bullied by girls when they are young may be more vulnerable to bullying in dating relationships and to future dating violence.

With current media coverage on Bullying and Cyber Bullying is the situation improving?

The media’s coverage of bullying is certainly helpful as it brings the issue to light. As with so many other things—it doesn’t seem real to families or school administrators until it happens in their own schools or families. When bullying is covered in the media, it’s usually about a series of events that is worthy of keeping people’s interest, i.e. sensational and dramatic. What isn’t covered are the months and perhaps years of more subtle behavior that preceded the bullying. What always strikes me in the coverage is that it covers the bullying that happened in great detail and we hear from the target and his/her family. Very rarely do we have a chance to hear from the bully and hear from him/her about why they acted this way or decided to bully this particular child/teen. Thus, the coverage of bullying has increased, but I don’t think that our understanding of what makes some people decide to bully has improved.

You created a “BullyProofing” course – why did you feel a need to do this? 

The course material that I use to teach children to manage any bullying that they may be witness or be a target of is called BullyProofing by Canada-based Kidproof.  Description: This child safety program is designed to be preventative and proactive, so that children can avoid being bullied, and if they are bullied, know how to stop. Ages 8 to 11. http://www.kidproofinternational.com/canada/

The course comes with a small book and a 2-hour course outline. The course teaches children to recognize bullying. It outlines the roles of the bully, the target of the bully, and the bystander. It gives children the tools to address the bullying they are a victim of or which they see as a bystander. It emphasizes to children that bullying is never okay. The course outline is good; however, the real meat of the course always ends up being the children’s discussion of what is happening in their own world and in their school community.

I decided to offer the Bullyproofing course as part of our menu of courses for elementary school students because of the prevalence of news stories on bullying. It became clear that this was a topic that concerned parents and caregivers. I wanted to offer an opportunity for kids to learn some tools with which to be assertive and talk and listen to each other outside of the school environment. Schools in Massachusetts are now mandated to offer some level of bully-proofing education, yet parents often feel more comfortable providing this material to their children outside of the school setting.

Although the courses that I teach are co-ed, I do feel that the bully-proofing classes would be more constructive if they were offered in a single sex setting. Often, the boys and girls simply can’t relate to each other’s experiences. Girls’ experiences with bullying are almost exclusively through social media, while the boys’ bullying tends to revolve around hazing/sports when it happens. In my experience, it is the girls who need more help with bullying-proofing

Do parents know how to deal with bullying and how to educate their children about its effects?  What about bullying in education?

I feel strongly that the world of gadgets—IPads, phones for texts and photos, etc. and the programs through which children can bully each other is so fast-changing and complex that parents are overwhelmed. I am convinced that many parents aren’t aware of the many different ways that their children are communicating with each other. Throughout children’s days – mostly girls – there is a never-ending exchange of texts, photos, and messages. Girls are measuring and judging and jockeying for their place in their social group all day long. They’re doing it with social media and build themselves up by pulling others down. Having to manage this and worrying about the degree of response or how someone responded is a real drain on young girls. It creates a real distraction from the school work and family relationships. Whether the bully or the target, this consumes a vast part of girls’ emotional energy.

My own philosophy on how to create a bully-proof family and school and community culture is two-fold. We can use the analogy of physical violence and guns.

One: take away the weapon used. If bullying is happening through social media using gadgets like tablets and phones, we need to increase the times and duration that children are gadget- free. Schools can insist that phones not be used during the school day. Families can insist that phones/tablets be checked in at night. Parents should be monitoring their children’s phones to see what messages and photos are being sent. The older a child is when s/he has their own phone and Facebook page, the better. When children are in groups, in cars, at a team sport, there should be no phones allowed. If you are interacting in real-time with people, you don’t need access to your screen.

Two: we need to work on the culture in which the bullying or violence is happening. We need to create a culture of kindness and address in every aspect of our lives in which the rudeness and lack of civility exists. Emphasizing that kindness as a family value, a school value, and a community value creates an environment where bullying is less likely to happen. It is far better to focus on the positive values that create a culture of being kind to each other than simply policing bullying behavior.

This has to be an ongoing effort to address and point out what is not kind in our culture. Popular culture – from the slogans on clothing to TV shows to song lyrics – is full of unkind and disrespectful language. Parents and teachers should hold themselves to a high standard and model behavior that is kind and respectful to each other. It involves teachers, parents, and other adults in children’s’ lives addressing unkind behavior that they see, each and every time.

Is there a social impact to a community when bullying happens on a small or large scale?

Once the behavior becomes ongoing, intentional, and targeted— this is true bullying—there must be a zero tolerance among school administrators, teachers and family members. Too often, school administrators do not respond when parents bring concerns to them, and they have an unwillingness to get involved. This is unconscionable.

In school, it’s important for teachers to circulate throughout the school premises. The old adage, “you must be seen seeing,” is a great way to describe what needs to happen. When teachers talk with each other at recess rather than walk around the playground and chat with children unkind behavior is more likely to occur.  Middle schoolers who bully and who know that a teacher will never enter their girls’ or boys’ bathroom, have a safe spot in which to act. We need to create an environment where there are no “sure bets” of areas that are adult-free.

Juanita Allen Kingsley is Director of Business Development for Century Health Systems, based in Natick, Mass.

For additional information, visit www.centuryhealth.org, call 508-651-1786 or email[email protected].

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