Education Experts: Why Bullying Continues to Thrive

What’s the hot video on YouTube this week? The latest song by Katy Perry? A Justin Bieber faux pas?  Guess again.

It is a video of Congressman Joel Burns of Texas sharing his emotional testimony about bullying at a Fort Worth City Council meeting. The video has garnered more than 1.6 million clicks, his anti-bullying message has gone viral, and it is reported that he has received more than 7,000 messages through e-mail and Facebook.

“It comes as no surprise that the congressman was a victim of bullying himself, and that he would receive such a substantial response,” says Malcolm Gauld, president of Hyde Schools and co-author with his wife Laura of the parenting book “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have.” “Teen bullying has reached epidemic levels in our country, and it is beginning at a younger and younger age.”

“Often bullying goes on for years, beginning in elementary school and growing much worse in middle school,” says Laura Gauld. “Many parents are concerned that bullying is associated with teen suicide.”

At present there is a national focus on bullying, and families are hoping for a solution—one that can include school administrators, the community, students and parents.

The Gaulds have experience in the solution.

“We have found that the way to end bullying is not to address it as an unfortunate outcome, but to prevent it from beginning,” says Malcolm. “We have done this by creating and supporting a character culture in our schools and community.”

The Hyde Schools are an organization of prep and charter schools in Maine, Connecticut, New York City and Washington DC with 45 years of experience in character education. The result is a respectful school environment with minimal bullying.

Notably, the Hyde School in Washington D.C. is an urban school with the unique absence of metal detectors at the entrance. They are not necessary.

As opposed to typical punitive actions in response to bullying (in environments that tend to encourage bullying) the Gaulds suggest the creation of a character culture where deeper principles are at the core of relationships and daily life.

“We tend to think that we can tackle bullying by using a defensive approach,” says Laura. “If we’re serious about diminishing it, we create environments for children that encourage honesty and compassion—THAT has to be the priority. We can’t just say we have an intolerance for bullying, we have to live in our environments in a way that doesn’t breed it.”

Malcolm adds: Taking an offensive approach means we’re serious about raising good, decent human beings with strong character who wouldn’t tolerate bullying themselves.”

The Gaulds refer to the 10 Priorities or principles, which they have implemented in their schools, to create an environment where bullying won’t thrive. The principles include:

This priority calls upon us to put the weight of our feet on the side of truth. Find out what is going on in a child’s life. Children, tell your parents, teachers and other adults in your life with whom you connect what is happening.

Our families, schools, and communities can be healthy if we value attitude over aptitude, effort over ability, and character over talent. Parents and schools focused on only achievements can send the message that successful outcomes are more important than honest efforts. As a result, children often do not share their difficulties for fear of disappointing or giving an unflattering impression of themselves to the adults in their lives.

While parents and teachers focus on helping children, many avoid asking others for help. Consequently, they raise children who do not ask for help.

“When it comes to bullying, we need to do all these things,” says Malcolm. “We need to discuss the matter honestly and freely, value our kids’ genuine struggles and trials, and work as a team.”

Here are some basic tactics the Gaulds suggest:

  1. Raise the issue. There is no need to wait for bullying to occur. Discuss it at home, in classrooms and groups.
    “We tend to have private conversations about bullying,” says Laura, “the kind of ‘let’s talk about this over here,’ or in the principal’s office, conversation. That’s one way to fuel the bully. Stop making it a private, personal issue. It’s a community issue that needs to be discussed openly, in front of each other, in the classroom, between students, and at home…loudly.”
  2. Let students know what is expected of them. “It often isn’t spelled out,” says Malcolm. “Teachers and parents, tell your students and children exactly what you’re expecting of them. I expect you to… act respectfully… treat others well… participate in the positive environment of your home or school… if you don’t, you will continue to hear from me.”
  3. Let it be known there will be zero tolerance for bullying.
  4. Focus on the positive. “We sometimes are so busy focusing on our problems, we can forget to emphasize the positive,” says Laura. “Part of countering the bully culture is to show support for all of our children and to tell them when they do something good, right or well.”
  5. Praise acts of support among peers. “It is not cool to hurt your peers,” says Malcolm. “It is cool to help your friends. Our children and teenagers should hear that message loud and clear.”

“An honest and positive school environment where kids look out for each other is possible,” say the Gaulds. “Students can’t do it by themselves. We cannot do it for them. But we can form a partnership that gets it done.”