Creating Climates of Respect: Call to Action

By Jo Ann Freiberg, Ph.D. with Eve Kessler, Esq.

With a new school year comes this important reminder that school bullying is a significant and pervasive problem in the United States, affecting at least 20% of students, with over one-third of those cases involving kids with learning and other disabilities.

For children that are vulnerable to bullying, conventional empowerment strategies alone are not enough. To protect them, a more comprehensive approach is needed—one that not only builds individual skills, but also ensures a safe environment where anti-bullying preventive practices are systematically implemented and enforced by schools and communities.

The true antidote for bullying is the creation of climates of respect—safe physical, emotional, and intellectual environments that do not tolerate cruelty and mean behaviors. 

Because youngsters imitate the behaviors modeled by adults, fostering a safe school culture must be a system-wide endeavor that includes administrators, principals, teachers, coaches, staff, and the parents and siblings of bullies, their targets, and the bystanders who witness their acts. The change must begin at the top. From elementary school through high school, administrators must learn what it takes to ensure a safe school climate for all students, leading the effort to build awareness, implement reform, require accountability, and maintain vigilance.

Adults’ Role

Bullying is an adult problem, because adults allow it to happen. Parents and teachers must take responsibility to make it “cool to be kind” and let kids know that meanness is not okay. There is no excuse for toxic classrooms with sarcastic, mean-spirited teachers. Instead the classroom should be a place for children to find mentors who understand and appreciate differences in others, value respect, and treat everyone fairly.

Kids must learn ways to help and appreciate others, be more caring and compassionate, ask for help to stop meanness, and apologize when necessary. They must be taught that while they don’t have to be everyone’s friend, they are responsible for not hurting anyone.

It’s vital that children realize they are not alone and that they should not keep their feelings to themselves. When children do not take immediate action to inform an adult that bullying behavior is occurring, the harmful behavior is destined to continue.