Stop Bullying and Bias Before

by : Deb Capone

Fasten your seat belt and get on the diversity train!

Experts agree that bullying not only exists in every school and community in our country, but it is also escalating at a frightening pace. Bullying, defined as strong preying on the weak has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. as nearly one out of three American children have experienced bullying, either as the victim, perpetrator, or both with few victims letting on they are, in fact, victims. A Google search on "bullying," returns more than three million sites. Meanwhile, millions of research dollars are being poured into studying child and adolescent violence and the National Institute of Mental Health considers bullying one of the anti-social behaviors to watch for.

According to social scientists the common causes of bullying are rooted in diversity: racial differences, differences in family formation/structure, perceived sexual orientation, learning disabilities, and religious differences.

As the percentage of ‘different’ children in schools and in society increases the problem of bullying grows along with it. We can’t escape diversity-even if we wanted to. It is reflected in the languages we speak, the colors of our skin, our gender, our age, our traditions, our sexual orientation and identity, the structure of our families, and the financial and educational resources available.

The fundamental way to ‘bully-bust’ is to teach young kids to respect and celebrate all cultures, choices and ‘abilities’. Decades of social science research has found that diverse classrooms and communities improve children’s experiences through more realistic representations of the world around them, increase opportunities for authentic civic engagement and increase social interaction between members of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. That’s a fancy way of saying that our kids are less likely to be bullied or tolerate bullying of any sort if they are exposed to diverse people as early as possible—without any editorial from the adult ‘peanut gallery.’

So how can you become a ‘bully-buster’? Just follow these simple steps and empower one child, one family, one school, and one community at a time.

1. Bias-recognize, and then forgive yourself of your biases.

We are all human. We all have biases-both positive and negative: the super-smart Asian, or the mysterious villain in a turban. The trick is to be aware, acknowledge and not unconsciously pass them on. And don’t let the media or other institutions get away with it either. You can fight back and win!

2. Insist that school and home environments reflect the world young children live in.

Look at the books, dolls, toys, magazines and musical instruments, the colors of paint, paper and markers your children play with. Watch how gender roles are displayed in your homes and classrooms and ask: Do they really reflect our diverse world? Pay particular attention to books as they are proven way to influence a child's worldview, help form concepts of right and wrong, and raise awareness for social issues. Cinderella’s impact on generations of young women should be all the proof you need to convince yourself of the power of the written word. Don’t forget what is absent is almost as important as what is present because the missing link can provide children with the vital information necessary for beating bullying and diversity.

3. Language matter—Watch what you say and write!

Sticks and stones really do break bones and names do hurt. We are not even talking about the racial slurs of the past, but we are talking about other insidious and hurtful language. Use what sociologists call ‘people first positive language.’ For example, a person is blind. He is not a blind person. A child was adopted, not is (meaning permanently adopted). People first positive language applies to racial and ethnic stereotypes, i.e. we sit like pretzels and not Indians. Asians are not Oriental and not every black person is African-American. If this seems like political correctness run amok, one glance at the mountains of sociological and psychological studies demonstrating language’s role in shifting perceptions should be enough to convince the most ardent nay-sayers. And silence isn’t always golden, either. Silence equals complicit agreement when racism rears its ugly head.

4. Teach your child how to be successful.

Tweak assignments (or help teachers) to create a win-win for all. A simple and seemingly innocent ‘family tree’ assignment can send a child in a non-traditional family into a tailspin. A ‘family orchard’ assignment may accomplish the same educational objective yet allow everyone-no matter what their family looks like feel successful and included. Create family or classroom ‘contracts’ of behavior that includes bully-busting values like Respect, Honesty, Compassion, Fairness Responsibility and Courage. Get everyone on board the diversity and bully-busting train and stick to it.

These four simple steps to stop bias and bullying in its tracks will provide everyone with a huge payoff: safer, more secure children who can thrive in an incredibly complex and diverse world. And who knows where that might lead? Next stop: world peace!