Exploring differences and the connection to bullying prevention

The release of the “hate map” and the 2010 study from the Cyberbullying Research Center show the importance of creating opportunities for youth and adults to fostering skills/strategies go beyond bullying prevention.

Human differences and the cyber world – two components of the complex bullying issue – intersect and are brought to the forefront with the release of the “hate map” report. This map represents all tweets adult and youth alike and points to the culture of intolerance and mistreatment of others.

Many people believe that words can be just as hurtful and damaging – perhaps even more so-than physical assault and violence. It’s difficult to see the wounds that verbal, social and emotional abuse leave, and how these scars can impact a person for the rest of his or her life. Anecdotal and powerful personal stories certainly point this out. Examples include novel, It’s Not Just Joking by Jodee Blanco and To This Day, work by the poet Shane Koyczan’s.

When painful words hit the screen and spread like wild fire the damage is widespread and long lasting. Feelings of powerless, worthless, anger and fear can leave youth feeling like there is no escape. According to a 2010 study from the Cyberbullying Research Center, 20 percent of 11- to 18-year-olds indicated they had been a target of cyberbullying at some point in their life, and 10 percent said they had been both a victim and the person targeting others.

These unfortunate, sad and frustrating experiences could have occurred to youth in any online environment. Sameer Hinduja, PhD says, “Instagram is not the problem. Social media is not the problem. Technology is not the problem. It is the underlying issues of peer conflict, immaturity, insecurity, ethics, social-emotional dysfunctions, and behavioral issues that foster instances of online bullying among individuals. And that is something we must all continue to target, so that we can make further headway in safeguarding, equipping, and empowering our youth as they navigate the difficult waters of adolescence.”

Change starts when adults and youth join together to go beyond bullying prevention by creating atmospheres of acceptance, affirmation and safety for all through the development of social-emotional and behavioral skills/strategies.

Michigan State University Extension educators are linking with communities across Michigan to address the complex issues at the root of bullying behaviors with the aspiration of going beyond prevention. These community workshops are designed to build awareness, knowledge and skills, as well as providing resources and curriculum training founded on research and evidence that shows helping young children feel physically and emotionally safe is essential to their development, overall health and future academic success. Kids benefit from consistent and repeated positive messages across community settings where they live, learn and play. BeSafe: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments says that creating a climate in youth settings that will help children feel a sense of belonging and that is rich in character traits such as caring, compassion, fairness, trust, responsibility, resilience and courage is fundamental.

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