Address bullying through creating safe, affirming and fair environments

While policies requiring schools to clearly prohibit and address issues of bullying may be helpful, more is needed to foster the kind of climates that help to prevent mean-spirited and hateful harassment and bullying behaviors.

Michigan recently became the 48th state to require schools to develop and enforce policies to protect students from harassment, intimidation and physical violence. Schools across the state have until the start of the 2012-2013 school year to develop clear anti-bullying policies that include a statement prohibiting bullying of students, as well as retaliation against targets or reporters of bullying behaviors. Schools must also include provisions indicating that all students are protected under the policy regardless of subject matter or motivating attitudes toward the person being bullied.

While the bill, now called Public Act 241 of 2011, is new, parents, educators, youth workers and other community members have been concerned about issues of bullying for a very long time. Bullying is a widespread form of youth violence with significant health outcomes including physical injury, social and emotional distress, and even death. According to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 percent of Michigan public high school students reported being bullied at school one or more times during the previous 12 months. The prevalence of bullying behaviors is even higher in the middle school setting, with 44 percent of public middle schools reporting discipline problems related to bullying during 2007-08, compared with 22 percent of public high schools. While findings from these reports reflect school-based bullying experiences, issues related to bullying extend across community settings, particularly when accounting for the presence of online, or ‘cyberbullying’, behaviors.

While policies requiring schools to clearly prohibit and address issues of bullying may be helpful, more is needed to foster the kind of climates that help to prevent mean-spirited and hateful harassment and bullying behaviors. Research shows that young people benefit from time spent in positive and safe settings with adults and peers. Educators, youth workers and families have important roles to play in creating these environments that foster healthy social and emotional development in young people.

Helping young people feel physically and emotionally safe is essential to their academic success and overall health and development and kids benefit from consistent and redundant messages across community settings where they learn, live, play, work and grow. Schools, youth and family agencies, recreational, sports, faith-based and other organizations are urged to work together to create climates across these settings that help youth feel a sense of belonging and that are rich in character traits such as caring, compassion, fairness, trust, responsibility, resilience and courage. The importance of adults who embody and model these characteristics for youth cannot be overstated.

MSU Extension is currently developing an initiative called Be SAFE, which is focused on helping adults across communities create safe, affirming and fair environments with and on-behalf-of youth. The goals of Be SAFE are to address and reduce bullying behaviors in youth settings, prevent bullying behaviors by tapping the wisdom and assets of youth and adults, and develop positive relationships with peers and adults. For more information about Be SAFE, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) of MSU Extension.

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