Resources and strategies for addressing safety, understanding and inclusion

There are many tools available to help adults provide support to young people affected by bias, harassment and other forms of violence.

As news sources around the country continue to cover incidents of harassment, many parents, educators and other community members are expressing heightened concerns about ways that this violence is affecting the lives of young people. Many are concerned about ways this violence is based in racism, sexism, homophobia (hatred or fear of people who identify as or are perceived to be LGBTQ), xenophobia (hatred or fear of people from other countries) and ableism (discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities). When young people – and adults – are targets of or witnesses to these forms of violence, their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being can be affected in many ways. These impacts can include serious physical injury and increased feelings of anger, loneliness and powerlessness – as well as higher rates of depression and anxiety. In addition, when young people don’t feel safe within their schools, they can have lowered academic performance and higher rates of school absenteeism.  

There are many resources and strategies that parents, educators and others can draw from when they or the young people in their lives experience or witness bullying, harassment and other forms of violence. Following are resources that can help people deepen their understanding of these issues, provide support to those who are affected, and create ways to prevent the behaviors from occurring in the future.

Resources for supporting young people who have been impacted:

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides a variety of resources to help parents, educators, professionals and others support children who have been exposed to traumatic events. For example, Understanding Traumatic Stress: A Guide for Parents helps parents look for signs that children are experiencing traumatic stress, as well as ways to provide support for children at home and at school. Healthychildren.org, a program of the American Academy of Pediatrics, offers several resources in English and Spanish related to children’s emotional wellness, including advice on talking with children in the aftermath of the 2016 election, talking with children who have been exposed to violence and talking with children about racial bias. In addition, the Michigan State University Extension article titled ”Trauma-Proofing Your Kids” offers strategies that parents and caregivers can use to help young people return to balance and feel capable and self-confident in the face of traumatic experiences.

Resources about the rights of young people who have been affected by these issues:

It’s important for parents and educators to have a good understanding of the civil rights that protect young people within educational settings related to their race, color, national origin, sex and disability. The MSU Extension article titled “Know your child’s civil rights related to harassment within educational settings” provides an overview of these protections within educational institutions that receive federal funding. Young people who are attending colleges and universities also have resources available within those institutions that are designed to help protect their rights. For example, the Michigan State University Office of Institutional Equity reviews concerns related to discrimination and harassment based on sex, gender, gender identity, race, national origin, religion, disability status and any other protected categories under the University Anti-Discrimination Policy and Policy on Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct.

Resources for learning more about bias-based behaviors:

Many resources are available to help adults and young people deepen their knowledge about the prevalence and impacts of bias-based behaviors. For example, GLSEN is an organization that provides education and research designed to help all students be valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. GLSEN provides a biennial report on the school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in schools, as well as programs to raise awareness of and prevent bias-based behaviors related to these issues. Several MSU Extension articles also provide information about other kinds of bias-based behaviors, including trends related to young people’s experiences with hate speech and microaggressions, which are the intentional and often unintentional slights and insults experienced by people of color, women, LGBT people and others. Another article examines the harassment experiences of many American Muslim young people and explores resources for learning more about the lives of American Muslims.

Resources for dialogue around hard issues:

Having conversations about issues like racism, sexism and other “isms” takes courage, commitment and practice – and two recent MSU Extension articles provide strategies for talking about these issues. “Moving from debate to dialogue” helps distinguish the difference between these two approaches, and “Don’t avoid the hard conversations” provides guidelines for talking with young people about diversity, discrimination and human differences. In addition, MSU Extension provides workshops in multiple areas of diversity and multiculturalism.

Resources for schools and other educational organizations:

Teaching Tolerance, an initiative founded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for children. In a recent Teaching Tolerance teacher survey about the effects of the 2016 presidential campaign, teachers indicated that the campaign has elicited fear and anxiety among children of color, immigrants and Muslims, and emboldened some students to mimic the words and tone of the campaign. In response, Teaching Tolerance gathered a variety of resources that teachers and others can use to help young people explore ways to counter bias and model civil discourse when talking about hard issues. Another organization, Rethinking Schools, is committed to the vision that public education is central to the creation of a humane, caring, multiracial democracy. While its resources are primarily designed for teachers and other educators, parents may be interested in exploring some of the articles that are especially pertinent to helping young people explore issues in the forefront of the nation’s news – such as recent articles on NAFTA and xenophobia and the impact of Islamophobia on students. In addition, MSU Extension has an initiative called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, which is designed to help adults and young people work in partnership to create positive relationships and inclusive settings and which includes a curriculum that can be used in both formal and nonformal educational settings.

Resources about media consumption and messages:

It’s important to pay attention to what young people are watching, hearing and learning from a variety of media sources related to current events. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated their guidelines about children and screen time, which stress the importance of creating a family media use plan that limits media time and that provides opportunities for parents and children to view media together. Many experts also stress the importance of helping young people build media literacy skills. Two MSU Extension articles that provide additional information on media literacy include an article that describes questions that kids can ask that will help them analyze and evaluate media messages and an article that stresses the importance of helping young children build a foundation of media literacy.  

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