JAMES GARBARINO: We come to the end of our program with the question, who is responsible for the social environment at school? That's why we're here in the office outside the principal's office. Too many people I think put the responsibility, all the responsibility, most of the responsibility for dealing with bullying and harassment and emotional violence on the shoulders of kids. But our research, and I think our whole perspective on this tells us a different answer. It's adults. It starts and stops here. The buck stops here, where the adults take charge of the social environment of the school.
Now this taking charge of the environment makes a lot of sense intellectually as well. Psychologist Rudolf Moos offers up what he calls the principle of progressive conformity-- a fancy way of saying that kids will start to behave and develop in ways that are consistent with the environment in which they are living. So if the school provides a positive environment that demonstrates caring, that reinforces caring, that teaches kids how to care, then over time, kids will become more caring. So it's not a matter of just finding the bullies or helping the victims. It's a matter of taking charge of the social environment of the school.
Now if adults don't take that responsibility, kids will know it. Kids will detect adult withdrawal. Our research shows that kids will see that adults are backing off and letting kids handle things themselves. And once that starts to happen, more and more we see that kids will develop a series of strategies for coping, which in the long run aren't particularly helpful.
One, they will see that they have to take responsibility, and that may mean that they have to act out against bullies to defend themselves and fights go up. They will see that they have to be very astute in assessing the predictability of their peers. Now what this means, and Ellen deLara's research really proved this, is that kids will figure out who can be counted on to behave in a predictable way, sort of for better or for worse, and adjust accordingly.
But that means they begin to do things like not go in the hallways at certain times because they know it's a dangerous time. They stay away from other groups of kids and areas of the school become off limits. They know they have to not make eye contact. All of these implications of the predictability of their peers may have negative consequences for them.
And of course, for some kids the problem is that they see peers as being unpredictable. And this is one reason why drugs in school is often a very negative, disturbing influence for kids because it does undermine the predictability. Kids who might otherwise be reasonable or rational become irrational because they're high. Kids who might not be so aggressive are more aggressive because they're high. All of this undermines the sense of predictability.
Another thing we found about how kids will deal with a situation when adults don't take responsibility is that they will focus on the question of taking it. This comes up over and over again in Ellen deLara's research, whether or not kids can take it, whether they can live with the bullying, and whether they can develop the inner fortitude to close themselves off emotionally so the taunts don't hurt them. Girls may say that you just have to take it, the fact that boys make comments or touch them in an appropriate ways.
Well, this is a way of surviving day to day, but it's not why we send our kids to school, so they'll just have to take it and manage. And of course, part of the bad news is that not every kid can take it. One of the school shooting cases I was involved in, it's very clear this boy just for years and years took it and took it and took it, but eventually, it just got too much for him and he broke. Well, when kids break when they can't take it, the result can be harm to themselves, and a lot of school-related suicides are evidence of that, or harm against others, the most dramatic example being the school shooters. So peer predictability is particularly important.
You know, one of the important features of taking it that we have to come to terms with is that for many kids, taking it means being an immoral witness. We hear this from kids all the time, that part of taking it is the ability to see nasty things happen and not respond, to just swallow it. Even when you know you should be helping, you don't because you don't want to make yourself the next victim.
Now this highlights the important role of social influence in dealing with the problem. For example, each of the studies we've talked about in the program can lead to interventions to make the school environment a safer place emotionally for kids. For example, Sheppard Kellam's research led to the development of an intervention called the Good Behavior Team, an intervention that starts in the early elementary school years to teach teachers how to take charge of the first grade classroom, because the research shows that if you take charge of the first grade classroom, those aggressive boys will not form into aggressive peer groups and will not escalate their aggressive behavior throughout elementary school. So when they show up at the high school, they'll be less aggressive. So there are preventive measures early in the elementary years that can lead to less aggression later on at the high school level simply by diverting that process of peer support for aggression.
That's one example. Another is James Gilligan's research. Now Gilligan showed that in prisons where violence and intense bullying and harassment and humiliation is a major problem, that even in prisons, the more the administration of the prison takes charge and creates a respect-based culture in the prison, you get a reduction of the kinds of problems we're talking about here. You get less assaults by inmates against other inmates. You get assaults of inmates against guards. You get less assaults of inmates against themselves.
It's very easy to see how we can translate that onto the school. The school is obviously not a prison. But you know, if you go to some high schools, you'd think they were because the emphasis is on bars, metal detectors, security guards. But none of that really changes the culture of the classroom, the culture of the hallways, the culture of the whole school. It's a matter of looking at the whole and seeking to teach respect.
This is why character education is such a fundamental part of bullying prevention, because it seeks to create an environment in which everything that happens in the school is evaluated week by week by the character education committee that includes students and faculties and administrators. And they ask, is what happened this week consistent with our goals of our character education program? The character education program usually has five or six values that it seeks to support-- responsibility, integrity, honesty, mutual respect, and so on.
And we go through week by week and ask, all right, on Monday this happened. How was that consistent, or how wasn't it consistent? It's not just a matter of bully proofing, it's a matter of teaching a caring ethic across the board. And the more we do on this, the more we'll be able to see that adults taking charge will give confidence to kids.
Kids are willing to accept this adult role. They may grumble about it sometimes, but deep in their hearts-- Ellen's research makes this very clear-- they want to know that when they walk in the front door of the school, when they get on the school bus, when they go in the bathroom, they are safe, physically and emotionally. And if we've learned anything from all of this, it is that words matter, that the climate matters, and that the bottom line is right here with the adults who have to take responsibility.
Well, I hope this program has really shed some light on how to think about these issues of bullying, harassment, and emotional violence, thinking outside the box of just find the bullies and punish them and stop them, or find the victims and make them feel better. It's really showed us that we have to take full responsibility for the social climate in the school. And you can pursue this material through the books, through the references, through the websites that are provided, and through the discussion board where you can be in touch with me about this. Share your thoughts and questions and I'll respond.
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While there are fewer than 100 child fatalities each year at school, literally millions of kids suffer from physical and emotional violence in the form of bullying, harassment, stalking, intimidation, humiliation, and fear. Beyond the rare events of gun shots at school are the common events of psychological stabbings- the millions of kids who suffer emotional daggers to their hearts at school. Sticks and stones and bullets may break their bones, and words can break their hearts.
This presentation offers a guide for parents, professionals, and other concerned adults seeking to help their adolescents, their schools, and their communities overcome this problem. The presentation focuses on how the social system of the school plays a decisive role in the process of bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence in the lives of teenagers. It is based upon James Garbarino and Ellen deLara's
And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (NY: The Free Press, 2002).
This video is part 7 of 7 in the Protecting adolescents from bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence series.