For at least three different families whose lives were irreversibly changed by the suicides of their young sons, last April was a tragic month in this country that starkly illustrated the dangerous consequences of an act that goes on at our schools, in our homes, and on the internet: bullying.
In response to these sad stories and sobering statistics, anti-bullying campaigns and intervention programs have sprung up all over the country, offering training and support to help adults intervene in bullying situations.
But there is a different kind of approach to addressing this ongoing crisis. The solution to America’s bullying problem doesn’t lie in adult mediation of incidents. Instead, we need to focus on prevention.
Suppose, in our families and schools, we began to train children to help each other…much like we train them to do anything else. Suppose we taught them that they were responsible for expecting the best out of each other, and they were expected to become both students and teachers in that learning process.
Children begin life naturally dominated by an inherent self-centeredness, self-gratification, and self-protection instincts.
However as they enter adolescence, they are ready for parents, mentors, and teachers to develop their deeper character.
Adolescents have not completed their emotional growth and, as a result, their self-confidence is shaky. They may easily become dominated by peer pressure, which feeds the desire to experience power, not just in the bully, but in those being bulled.
This approach is based on the Hyde School philosophy. It serves to ease adolescents through the “shaky period” of their emotional development, while promoting mutual support and accountability, resulting in an environment in which bullying could not thrive.
It creates what we call at our schools a positive peer culture, where students are actually looking out for the good rather than the flaws or weaknesses in one another.
A radical change such as this would prove very difficult at the outset; it takes strong adults to model it, but children would slowly come to recognize that their peers could be some of their most effective teachers, and that they in turn could significantly help others.
These efforts will develop the leadership potential in children, rather than leave them vulnerable to their more base instincts, which can lead to bullying.