Two weeks ago I wrote a blog concerning statistics and what students in middle school understand about bullying. Despite having classroom guidance lessons since kindergarten, the students I surveyed in a middle school had limited understanding of what bullying was and how to help stamp it out. None of the students had attended an elementary or middle school with a comprehensive bullying prevention program.
The survey I conducted in elementary school was done with fourth grade students. The Kids Helping Kids Questionnaire (The Ophelia Project, 2006) was administered to 141 students in the fall of 2011. There are eleven questions and each question has the possibility of three answers: disagree, not sure, or agree.
From their answers to these questions, I would decide how to proceed with my guidance lessons for the remainder of the school year. I generally do three to five lessons during the year on bullying and problem solving, peer relationships and the like. I work empathy and cooperation into all lessons I teach. The elementary school has a school-wide behavior program which encourages and rewards good behavior. The principal is very firm about disciplining students involved in bullying, but there is no school-wide bullying prevention program. The students are taught to use a decision making model to assist them in making the right choice. The only prevention is the classroom guidance lessons and any follow up the teachers provided. I was interested in seeing how this system was working for the students.
The questions and results were as follows:
1. Excluding others, spreading rumors, leaving someone out on purpose are all examples of relational aggression.
Disagree (58) Not Sure (45) Agree (36)
It was clear from their answers to this question that most of the students were not familiar with the term relational aggression.
2. It is OK to leave others out of talk about kids behind their backs if they deserve it.
Disagree (124) Not Sure (5) Agree (2)
Good news! Most students knew this was not the correct thing to do.
3. It is important to share my feelings with the person who has hurt me.
Disagree (37) Not Sure (32) Agree (61)
The students were quite split on this answer. As they later explained, although the decision making model used by the school instructs kids to discuss a situation with someone they are having a conflict with, they are afraid of being hurt worse if they approach the person and are therefore frightened to do so.
4. Kids who ask adults or older kids to help if someone is hurting them are babies.
Disagree (86) Not Sure (22) Agree (22)
A majority of the students believed it was OK to get help when someone is bullying, but our culture still has many students either unsure or convinced that you are a “baby” or a “tattle-tale” if you get help with bullying.
5. It is not my responsibility to help others kids if I am not involved.
Disagree (87) Not Sure (18) Agree (25)
A clear majority of student do feel it is their responsibility to help their classmates even if they are not directly involved in the situation.
6. If I just ignore someone who is hurting my feelings, he/she will eventually go away.
Disagree (14) Not Sure (29) Agree (87)
The majority of students answered this question the same way kids have answered it for decades. This is what parents and teachers have been telling students for a very long time. When I asked the students about this question later, they all unanimously agreed…..it does not work to ignore a bully.
7. People act in mean ways because they don’t feel good about themselves.
Disagree (22) Not Sure (60) Agree (47)
This again, the kids later explained, came from parents and other adults who tried to explain away why bullies do what they do. They themselves did not believe it.
8. It is tattling to tell on a kid who is hurting someone else (for example, making fun of them and/or leaving them out).
Disagree (75) Not Sure (26) Agree (24)
Although most of the students do seem to realize that getting help in a situation is a good thing, there are still quite a few students who either are unsure of what to do or still believe that it is tattling.
9. If a kid hurts you, it is OK to try and get back at them and hurt them.
Disagree (120) Not Sure (6) Agree (4)
The only students who did not disagree with this explained that their dads have told them that it is OK to hit people and “defend” themselves.
10. People who are often the target (for example, of name calling, exclusion) may hurt for a short time, but they will get over it soon.
Disagree (33) Not Sure (57) Agree (40)
The kids were all over the map with this one. They had no idea what to think. We discussed this in all the classes for quite some time. They, for the most part, thought in the end that it made sense that this could hurt for a very long time.
11. When a friend or classmate has done something that you do not like, you should tell them how you feel.
Disagree (17) Not Sure (30) Agree (83)
The reason the majority of kids answered “agree” to this is because they have been taught through the decision making model to tell the person to “stop”. The students who disagreed or were not sure were afraid to say anything to the aggressor. Through a discussion, the students learned that until the person has been told to stop, and repeats it anyway, it cannot be considered bullying. The person must be intentionally doing things repeatedly in order to upset their victim.
I now knew what work I had lying ahead of me for the remainder of the year. The behavior program and decision making model gave the students an important step towards understanding bullying and the prevention of bullying in their school community, but there were significant gaps in their knowledge base I now needed to get to work on.