My children grew up in a unique time: the internet had just been popularized, and kids were using it not just to chat, but to bully one another. The dawn of cyberbullying was strange to experience as a parent. Things were being said online about my kid and their friends that my wife and I had no control over.
I have always tried to teach my kids how to stand up and be a leader in certain situations. Cyberbullying may be new, but bullying is age-old, and when it comes down to it the impulses are the same.
Luckily for my family, all of my children attended Friends Academy in the North Shore of Long Island. When my wife and I first heard about this school, we knew it was the place we wanted our kids to go. We made the move from the big city to the suburbs and never once regretted it.
There is a lot to like about Friends Academy, and one of them is their policy on bullying. As a Quaker school, they have a no tolerance stance. In fact, my kids have seen many classmates asked to leave the school because of it.
As parents, we’ve tried to instill in our children the power to stick up for themselves and others. It’s great to have a school that instills these same values. Friends Academy also builds community service into the kids’ weekly schedules, so that they learn the value of helping others when they are in need.
My kids have more knowledge of social media than I ever will, I hope that they can apply this wisdom to the world wide web, where the impacts of bullying can be amplified in a dangerous way.
Besides my family philosophy, I’m also lucky to be involved with people and groups working to combat bullying in all of its ugly forms. Along with my son William with Bucknell’s Men’s Lacrosse Team, I work with a program that goes to local public schools around the town of Lewisburg, where we speak to students about bullying. We take a full packet of notes and teach them numerous things: for example, how being a bystander to bullying is just as bad as bullying itself.
We also reenact certain types of bullying to students and have them respond with what they would do in any given situation. We try to show them that they should feel comfortable speaking to their parents, teachers, and other authority figures about bullying in schools. Most importantly, we give them ideas on what to say to a bully as a pacifist.
I cannot emphasize enough how important these tools all. Bullies and victims may only make up a small percentage of any given group, so there is a lot of power in the hands of those on the sidelines. But empowering the would-be victims also goes a long way.
My oldest daughter Katie knows this all too well. She is involved with music and theater therapy for people with developmental disabilities — individuals who are often misunderstood and targeted just for being who they are. She gives them a platform to feel confident in a safe environment, which we hope will translate to outside these activities if and when they are confronted with aggression.
Obviously bullying is a topic close to my heart, and I think that any program or school that teaches children how to combat it is actively worthwhile. After all, our children are the next generation. It takes good parenting and sometimes a little charity to impart the notion that all people are worthy of respect. Whether it’s happening behind a computer screen or between classes, bullying is a cowardly act that should never be accepted as the norm.