The Connection Between Bullying and Growing Up

New Jersey state law requires all schools to observe a “Week of Respect” every October. While this mandate emanates from the HIB (Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying) legislation passed a few years ago, I like how it overlaps with what is designated in middle school circles as the “Month of the Young Adolescent.” This observance is supposed to highlight and celebrate the challenges of growing up and how we as middle level educators can provide opportunities for our students to transition to adulthood. The two themes here, bullying and growing up, are inextricably connected in any middle school.

Middle level students are struggling to define themselves. They are experiencing physical and hormonal changes almost daily it seems. They are just beginning to develop social awareness and social skills as they emerge from thinking almost exclusively about themselves to developing empathy. Naturally, some students develop faster than others, and it is generally understood that girls mature faster than boys. Peer pressure kicks in, and the things that elementary pupils used to like to do, such as play with dolls or legos, have to be hidden from view.

Groups start to form and labels (remember the list of how students were labeled in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”?) often follow.

What is important to remember is that conflict is a part of the human theater of operation. As adults we are expected to be able to handle conflict in an adult way, but kids are not developmentally equipped in the same way…yet.

What we find is that the majority of negative interactions we deal with in school tend not to be bullying, but conflict. And so these interactions become “teachable moments” for students to learn about how their words and actions, and how others’ responses, escalate the perception of bullying. School administrators are duty bound to investigate any allegation of bullying, but more often than not, the investigated incident does not fit the criteria for HIB.

Our School Climate Team recently concluded a self-evaluation of our programs, and the parents, administrators, and teachers on the team continue to honestly assess how our school climate and programs deter both conflict and bullying. Our peer leadership program, our development guidance lessons, the curriculum of our leadership courses, our liaison with our juvenile detective, and our specially selected grade level assembly speakers during the month of October all reinforce our character education program and strengthen a school climate whose aim is to promote tolerance and respect.

But it’s not a perfect world, and middle level students are in the “becoming” phase, and our collective job is to influence and inspire them during this very impressionable period of their lives.

Our goal is to make the “Week of Respect” last the entire year!

October 2014

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