Adults who bully vs. adults who care: Adult behaviors are powerful modeling tools

When it comes to issues of bullying, adults who work with kids have a responsibility to examine behaviors they’re modeling.

Many adults who care about the healthy development of young people have voiced concern about the importance of addressing bullying, harassment and bias behaviors in the lives of kids. Across communities, parents, teachers, youth leaders and a variety of other community adults are working alongside young people to find ways to create safe, affirming and fair youth settings. Many experts agree that it’s important that these efforts not only focus on youth behaviors, but that adults also take a closer look at the attitudes, language and behaviors they’re modeling for kids – including ways they may be directly targeting young people.

In her Education World article titled “Adults Who Bully,” Linda Starr offers several ideas to help classroom educators examine their own behaviors and whether they might be veering into the realm of bullying. Many of these ideas can be adapted to help adults who interact with kids in any kind of youth setting look more deeply at what they’re modeling:

Adults Who Bully . . .

Caring Adults . . .

Create their own rules for behaviors within the setting, often with different standards for the adults in the setting

Workwith youth and other adults to create guidelines for behaviors that contribute to a safe, affirming and fair setting

Take an iron fist approach that often reflects inconsistent use of the rules

Bring the guidelines to life by helping the group (including the adults) clearly and consistently follow them 

Exert their own control, sometimes resorting to anger and intimidation

Model self-control and choose their words and actions carefully

Use sarcasm to target specific youth and divide the group

Use humor to bring the group together

Target or humiliate young people for being unsuccessful or different

Help young people feel successful, included and valued

Compare youth to one another

See each young person’s uniqueness

Make examples of poor behavior

Highlight caring and positive behavior and follow up with youth who need additional support and guidance

Are judgmental

Are judicious

Let youth know who’s boss

Let youth know they care

Recognizing and changing one’s own bullying behaviors is an important initial step for adults who are interested in working with young people to create healthy relationships and settings. Adults also have a key responsibility to use their voice when they learn about or witness other adults targeting young people in harmful ways. Visit the article “Taking action when adults bully young people” to learn strategies for confronting these adults.

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