SOMERS — A national bullying prevention expert said Friday that kids who are bullied want peers who support them and adults to listen to their concerns and lay off the blame.
Stan Davis, co-researcher in the Youth Voice Project at Penn State Erie, spoke with 80 participants Friday at the Bullying Solutions: Creating a Culture of Acceptance half-day conference held at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside Student Center. The conference was co-sponsored by Mentor Kenosha & Racine and Peace Learning Circles, among others.
Davis, who gave the keynote address at the conference, said that adults need to listen and that it is time for society to empower children to let those with authority know when they’ve been harassed or assaulted.
“Since the 15th Century we’ve been telling kids ‘don’t tell,’” said Davis. “We don’t have to tell kids it’s bad to tell me (the adult).”
“If a kid is mistreated, and we start telling them what they should’ve done … we’re telling them that it’s partly their fault,” he said.
Davis said kids who have been bullied aren’t different from adults who have survived domestic violence and the criminal justice system is attuned to their needs. The bullied child should be no different, according to Davis. They should also not be encouraged to confront the bully, which only makes things worse.
In his research the author of “Schools Where Everyone Belongs” and “Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention,” said telling the bully to stop the behavior often did not work and “for many of them, when they told them to stop, it only got worse.” Similarly, people who’ve told kids that if they can’t forgive the bully that they are no better than the bully, also aren’t helping.
What does help, said Davis, is letting kids help kids and adults facilitate the change in attitudes by allowing them to do so.
“Adults are talking about the bullying. The kids are talking about belonging,” he said. “It’s about inclusion and exclusion.”
He said that when youth are given the support, if they have been bullied, especially from their peers who support them, the environment around them changes because kids will see that there are others out there who want to include them in activities and groups.
“We can mobilize the 20 percent of kids who care about some kids being left out,” he said. “Kids can do that, they want to do that.”
During the day, the conference also featured the documentary “ Bully” which featured the experiences of students who were the victims of bullying. Among them was a youth named Alex whose resilience was inspiring, Davis said.
“I don’t believe in luck. I believe in hope,” Davis said, alluding to Alex’s words. Kids who have been bullied want the bullying to stop and want to look forward to better days.
“When people believe in hope, they can go on in life,” Davis added. “Resiliency is the air bag of life.”
Victoria Froh, a Kenosha woman whose daughter was bullied at school said she was encouraged by what Davis had to say. Froh, said she will be among the parents attending a special meeting of the Kenosha Unified School Board on Tuesday that is being held to address concerns of bullying and discipline in schools in the district. The board will meet as a committee of the whole.
“I think we need to change the culture. I think we also need to change some of the (district) policies, too,” Froh said. “I think we need to have an atmosphere that encourages hope from adults all the way through to kids.”
She said she also hopes that the meeting brings awareness and gives hope to parents who have had concerns about bullying.
“It starts from the top on down,” she said.
If you go...
What: Special meeting of the Kenosha Unified School Board
When: 6 p.m., Tuesday
Where: Educational Support Center, board room, 3600 52nd St.