By Denise Dufala, Dave Greenspan and Stuart Muszynski
Against the backdrop of rampant incivility and political violence, we have a simple message for our schools, students and country: Be Kind, Stick Together.
As part of Project Love's "Be Kind® STICK TOGETHER®" anti-bullying program, this message has been adopted by more than 100,000 students and 500 schools across the country during October, National Bullying Prevention Month. More schools and an additional 100,000-plus students have chosen to spread this message in the months to follow. It is a profound message, that we believe all in our country should embrace.
Most of us are well-aware of rhetoric that has advocated treating "the other" as the enemy. But, many of us are not aware that the messages and tensions within our broader society trickle down to our children and our schools. Evidence from school principals, counselors and teachers and as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center indicate that, as incivility increases, it impacts our schools. Incivility has affected how students talk to their peers, teachers and elders.
Not surprisingly, bullying -- a subset of incivility -- is also on the rise. Here are some startling numbers:
A recent study by the non-profit group YouthTruth, based on interviews with 160,000 secondary students in 27 states, cites that bullying has increased from 28% to 33% from the 2015-16 school year to the current day. In the study, 40% of middle schoolers and 27% of high schoolers reported being bullied.
Higher rates of bullying were experienced at majority white schools: 36% of white students and 37% of students of color were bullied, the latter representing a 7% increase over the prior year. Bullying, racism and homophobia are inevitable partners.
In 2016, the National Crime Victimization Survey indicated that 21.8% of elementary schoolers were bullied.
In 2014, the American Psychological Association reported that "70% of middle and high school students have experienced bullying at some point". Translation: 38,500,000 students were bullied during their time in elementary, middle or secondary school!
A CDC study reveals that middle school students have the highest rate of bullying, at least once a week.
And, according to analyses by the U.S. Department of Education and psychologist Dr. Peter Langman, between 71% and 75% of school shooters have felt bullied, harassed or persecuted sometime prior to their shooting incident.
Bullying is debilitating in our schools and society, not only for students in school, but for ongoing life. According to psycom.net, long-term effects of bullying include chronic depression, suicidal thoughts and plans, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-destructive behavior, substance abuse, and difficulty with relationships.
Like so many juvenile dysfunctions in society, solutions that once rested solely with families, parents, churches and fraternal groups now must be handled through schools. Schools have become the de facto public squares of many social issues.
We are pleased that many teachers across Ohio and the country have chosen to implement Be Kind® STICK TOGETHER®, starting bullying-prevention in elementary school, prior to bullying's peak. It’s gratifying that even middle and high school teachers, who are judged based on students' performance on tests, not on moral character, are spreading this message.
The Be Kind® STICK TOGETHER® program is a 45-minute assembly that is facilitated by a teacher, a counselor, or high school students. Supported by the Ohio Education Association and in partnership with ShurTech Brands, the distributor of Duck Tape, Be Kind® STICK TOGETHER® takes a unique approach to bullying prevention. Its goal is to stop bullying before it starts by empowering students to always lead with kindness, caring and respect FIRST. It combines large group discussion, videos, hands-on activities and a writing exercise to keep students interested and engaged.
Duck Tape® and Project Love®, the character-education arm of Values-in-Action® Foundation, provide each school with the tools and assistance needed to execute the program, and the assembly culminates with students pledging to "stick together" to support each other with kindness and against bullying by writing their names on strips of Duck Tape and affixing them onto a banner that remains in the school all year.
The kids "get" the metaphor of Duck Tape through the message Be Kind, Stick Together. If you try to tear one strip of Duck Tape, it rips easily. But if you put two strips back to back, they will not rip apart. If you stick with your friends, with your school, with your community, you will not rip apart!
Incivility is ripping apart the fabric of America. In all corners, neighbors cannot talk to neighbors; families are fraying, as well. What are the solutions?
In dialing down incivility, nastiness and bullying, maybe we need to focus first on simple messages rather than lofty goals. Our children’s message to all of US is: Be Kind, Stick Together.
To enroll your school or organization in the Be Kind® STICK TOGETHER® program, go to www.viafdn.org.
Dufala, an Emmy Award-winning newscaster and author of a new anti-bullying book “Bomba the Brave”, is the National Ambassador of Project Love's Be Kind® STICK TOGETHER® program.
Greenspan, an Ohio State Representative from Westlake, is the sponsor of House Bill 360, the Enact Ohio Anti-Bullying and Hazing Act.
Muszynski is president and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation (Project Love), developer of the Be Kind® STICK TOGETHER® Program, with social-emotional and character-development programs in 64 Ohio counties, 46 states and two countries.