Getting A Grip On Bullying A Project in Advocacy ~By: Elizabeth Murphy~ Community member, student, habilitation specialist, artist... Mom Rumford/Mexico Center HUS352 - Patricia Clark Fall 2012 For my advocacy project, I chose to focus on the bullying that is going on in this area, asit does in most areas. Although there is a Civil Rights Club in the high school, there does notseem to be much else in RSU#10 in the way of addressing bullies, or the kids that are being
bullied. It occurred to me that when a child is bullied, tempers flair and the focus is always inpunishing and consequence. It’s always about the bully. I began to think, what if the kids that arebullied learned to stand up for themselves and were educated on bullying? What if they realizedthat they are not alone - that other kids around them have thoughts and feelings and fears, andwhat if they got to share that? I thought, what if there was a group or club to educate kids andgive them a place to openly share with peers how they feel and get ideas? Knowledge IS power.By offering a safe place to learn, meet with peers in similar situations, express feelings openly,and talk through problems, we can empower our children to handle bullying appropriately andsafely. With the right tools, our children can have the confidence to support each other to stopbullying. Bullying is an ever-present, dark cloud in our lives, especially if you have school-agedchildren. My daughter, Amara, experienced bullying for the first time in first grade. She was sixyears old, and she just could not wrap her mind around what was happening. A girl she believedto be her friend began being mean to her several times a day, for no apparent reason. I canremember feeling enraged and wanting to march to the school and demand a meeting with theparents of the girl. I knew that being confrontational and angry was not going to get meanywhere, especially knowing what her parents are like. I decided to take a different approachand take control of what I could. I decided to educate my daughter on the makings of a bully. Ichose to put the focus onto Amara, and find ways to make her understand that she was NOT theproblem, but that she could be part of the solution. Instead of causing more pain and anger andpossibly causing Amara to be targeted even more, I decided to share with her the secret of thebully. That really, when someone is mean or hurtful, it usually means that their life isn’t going sowell. That something in their life is so bad, that it bubbles up and over and spills onto someoneelse in the form of hateful, hurtful words or actions. When I shared this with her, I can rememberher whole face changing. Her eyebrows relaxed, her eyes widened and she said, “oooh...” asthough it were all so clear. It still upsets her when people are mean to her for no reason, but sheknows it’s got nothing to do with her personally. She comes home, talks it out, and almost alwaysends with some sort of well wish to the bully, hoping that whatever is bothering them gets better.She also has the strength and confidence to walk away with a clear mind. What if other childrenpossessed these skills?
I began the advocacy project still wanting to help children, but I was planning to focus onintroducing art to parents and pre-schoolers as a way to communicate and better prepare them forschool. This would have been an easy project for me -- I love children and I love art. I spent agood chunk of this semester doing research for that, taking inventory of materials I had available,and scoping out places to have sessions. Throughout the time working on that, I kept hearingabout specific incidences of bullying and harassment in the schools. Family members that arebeyond frustrated that nothing is being done for the bullied child. That suspensions anddetentions and names on the board are all consequences for the bully. One family had to seek anadvocate to attend school with the child so she could get through the day without getting bullied.Her story is included in my resource binder. A high school girl was having rumors spread abouther having been pregnant! I just kept hearing about incident after incident. The elections werejust as bad. Talk about bullying!!! The negative campaigns and rampant slander on both sideswere enough to make me sick. Anyway, this topic of bullying and the “forgotten” victim, whomno one really addresses, was at every turn for me. Knowing full-well I did not have much timeremaining to work on this project, I decided to change direction. I’d still love to do the art groupfor pre-schoolers and parents, but truly, in my heart, I know this is more immediate. Once I realized that I would be doing this project, I started emailing, sending Facebookmessages, and talking about it to anyone who would listen. I got lots of responses from peoplethanking me and offering any help they could. I talked to a school psychologist friend in Mainewho said she is very excited to see this happen, and that it is badly needed. She told me that shejust got a case where the girl has been bullied so badly that she is now medicated. Being ahabilitation specialist (almost a BHP), I see both bullies and the bullied, and I understands needson both sides. I believe that if we can give the kids who are not bullying the tools to stick up forthemselves and others in a positive way, then their actions will become contagious and helpdiscourage futher bullying. The National Crime Prevention Center provides educational materialsfor parents and children which supports this theory. The NCPC says that when bystanders areable to stick up for a child being bullied and make it know that this behavior is sociallyunacceptable, it discourages the bully from taking further action. By building on this simple idea,I feel that an anti-bullying epidemic could be an achievable goal. Although most statistics on bullying are inaccurate and educated guesses, it is clear thatthis is a real problem that can have devastating, long-term effects on children, reaching long into
adulthood. I do not believe that a child-aged bully has the foresight to understand theramifications of their actions into their victim’s future, and I think that the conseqences arereaching as far as they can now, with new laws. I think the other end of the responsibility does lie with parents and families in teachingtheir children how to respectfully assert themselves, and how to convey to their peers what isokay and what is not okay to say and do. The peer support groups that I am trying to get startedin each school would go a long way in achieving this. I’ve had some parents ask if they would beallowed to attend the meetings. I would have to say that would be a good idea - not to sit aroundand complain about this kid and that teacher, but to actually learn what they can do to enactchange in an positive direction. I will have a major update for my project on Monday evening, the 26th when I present, asI will be coming from a meeting with the superintendent of schools for RSU#10. Dr. Ward seemseager to hear my thoughts and ideas on this project, and to discuss what we can get started in theschools. I plan to push for these groups to be up and running as soon as possible, and tovolunteer as much of my own time as I can in facilitating the groups. Although I’m really excited about the direction this project is going and the number ofpeople this could help, I do wish I would have thought of this sooner. I know things within theschool system take time, but I know how pressing this issue is for so many people. I also think itwould have been nice to be part of a group, however this probably worked out best for meanyway, due to the fact that I have so little extra time to spare right now and coordinating timeswould have been very difficult. I think this project will really take off when it becomes approvedwithin the schools, because so many parents and kids seem to really get blind-sided by bullying,and really don’t get much in the way of answers or help right now. So far, I have learned a lot from the people I have talked to who are both experiencingbullying in some way, and who are interested in changing the system we have now. Some of thestories I have heard are really upsetting and have reassured me that this is the very best I couldoffer in advocacy at this time. In continuing this project, I will do more research and add it to theresource binder, persist in advocating to start these groups, keep the conversations going aboutmy ideas, and keep my eyes and ears open - everyone has something to teach.