For many children, the start of a new school year can be stressful, especially if they’ve been victims of bullying in the past.
Last year, Baltimore County Public Schools came under fire after parents of a fourth grader at Pine Grove Elementary School in Parkville found their child sitting in a corner inside their home with a note on his chest that read, “Kill me. I mean nothing.”
The youth had been repeatedly bullied at school.
Jane Clementi knows all too well the feeling of having a child who is bullied.
Clementi co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation after she lost her son Tyler in 2010 to suicide after an episode of cyberbullying. The foundation works to prevent bullying before it starts and it helps schools around the nation develop policies to deter such actions.
“I would strongly encourage all school districts to implement the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s #Day1 program. It’s an easy, yet highly effective, tool to prevent bullying before it happens,” Clementi said.
Day 1 is a downloadable script that helps leaders to set clear boundaries for acceptable behaviors within a class or team and asks for a commitment to stay within those boundaries.
Clementi says one could imagine how much easier it would be if every teacher in every classroom or every coach on every practice field stood up on the first day and said that it was not acceptable to humiliate or intimidate anyone in the class or on the team because of the color of their skin, where they came from, what language they speak at home, how they dress, how much they weigh, their abilities or lack of abilities, who they loved, what gender they identified as or anything else that made them unique, special and precious.
“It’s such a simple idea, but so very important for that marginalized or different child to hear, that they were welcomed and included in this group or space and no one will be allowed to target them here,” she said.
When attempting to identify a bullying victim, Clementi says it’s important to understand that some young people will have a change in their behavior.
They might exhibit signs like withdrawing from activities and friends they once enjoyed, or show other signs of anxiety, depression or even anger, she said.
“But, it is also important to remember that some people do not exhibit any signs at all. Tyler did not,” Clementi said.
Open lines of communication and age appropriate supervision in the digital world and on social media also are essential.
“We don’t just hand over the car keys to children without teaching them how to use a car and carefully explaining the consequences of poor choices,” Clementi said. “We shouldn’t just hand over mobile phones and other devices to them without careful instruction either.”
Further, digital tools can be used for good or they can be used as weapons of great harm, as in the case of so many young people today including her son, who was publicly humiliated when a private moment was put online.
Tyler died by suicide shortly after he was cyberbullied.
“I would strongly urge educators to teach youth the three steps to safely become an ‘Upstander,’ someone who does not remain a passive bystander, but rather stands up and speaks out when they see someone being humiliated or harassed,” Clementi said.
First, if you know those involved and feel safe, you should intervene and speak up at the time of the incident, she said.
Second, if intervention doesn’t change the situation or if an individual doesn’t feel safe, it’s essential to tell a trusted adult.
Finally, Clementi says, speak to the target to make sure they are okay and that they know where to go for help and support.
Intervene, report and reach out— the three simple steps to be an Upstander, according to Clementi.
It’s also vital that all school districts have strict policies against bullying, Clementi said.
While the Baltimore City School District does have a strict written policy about bullying, the county released a statement, which said they too are committed to putting an end to such behavior.
“Our commitment is providing safe and orderly learning environments for each of our 113,000 students through proactive and comprehensive staffing, policy, equipment, technology, and training,” county school officials said in a statement. “We take safety seriously, and we know that this priority is essential to helping every student grow and thrive.”