Adults need to “do their own work” in order to effectively address issues of bullying

Resource helps adults work effectively with youth to address issues of bullying, from Michigan State University Extension.

Some experts in the areas of social-emotional health, bullying prevention and related areas agree that adults must be willing to dig deep and do their own hard emotional work in order to facilitate programs around these issues effectively with others. It’s not necessary to be a mental health professional. However, it is essential for adults who want to work with youth around these issues to begin by engaging in a process of “doing our own work.” This involves being willing to self-focus and be reflective about our own histories, perspectives, struggles and realities.

A new Michigan State University Extension resource called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments provides adults opportunities to “do their own work” and invites young people and adults into a journey together – one that encourages us to examine our thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs and behaviors. Many of the activities in Be SAFE encourage the adult who is leading the session to model the activity for youth by sharing examples of their own ideas, experiences, identities, cultural backgrounds and other aspects of themselves. This kind of reflection is vital so that we are better positioned to create and present powerful and effective learning opportunities for and with youth. When adults are willing to do their own work and share as openly as they can with youth, they show young people that it’s okay to talk about these issues and that we’re all in a process of learning, growing and healing. By modeling authenticity and a willingness to share our own stories, we model what we hope others will do – and we cast ourselves in the role of co-learner rather than the roles of expert or specialist.

Young people may be reluctant to share their stores because they feel their situation is unique or shameful. Issues related to shame are often at the heart of bullying issues. When we as adults are willing to be vulnerable and share our own stories about our experiences with challenging situations like bullying, we show young people that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We show them that we can have empathy and understanding for their situations and that we want to listen and be supportive.

Doing our own work and addressing issues of shame are just examples of what adults who work with youth will find helpful through the Be SAFE materials. Be SAFE is designed to help young people aged 11 to 14 and adults that work in partnership to create environments that are physically and emotionally safe. While the primary audiences for Be SAFE are young people and adults involved in out-of-school time settings (such as after-school programs, 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs, Scouts, Y’s, sports programs and faith-based programs), the effort also applies to middle school settings. Be SAFE focuses on education and prevention of bullying, bias, harassment and other hurtful behaviors – as well as provides suggestions for intervening when young people are affected by these issues. It draws from extensive research from a variety of key disciplines – as well as from evidence-based bullying prevention programs.

You can download a free PDF of the 36-page introduction of Be SAFE or order a copy of the 224 page guide at the MSU Extension Bookstore.

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