KEYSER - “This room should be full; it's going to take all of us,” said Mineral County superintendent of schools Shawn Dilly as a small group of students, parents and educators gathered at Keyser High School Wednesday to learn ways to end bullying.
By Ronda Wertman
KEYSER - “This room should be full; it’s going to take all of us,” said Mineral County superintendent of schools Shawn Dilly as a small group of students, parents and educators gathered at Keyser High School Wednesday to learn ways to end bullying.
During her stay in Mineral County, speaker Signe Whitson shared her 20 years of experience in bullying with administrators, counselors and in two meetings open to the public - one at Keyser and one at Frankfort High School.
Dilly said he first learned of Whitson from her article, “Is it rude, is it mean, is it bullying?”
“There are lots of challenges with bullying,” said Dilly, noting that this week’s presentations are the first step in creating awareness and that the task force is looking to add programs for students too.
“Bullying is really toxic to young people,” said Whitson, noting that she has identified five core areas that are a road map to be effective in changing the culture of bullying.
“Most kids can get caught up in a moment. Our job is to help them not make mistakes over and over,” said the school counselor and mother of teenage girls.
The first step is identifying the problem and whether the action truly is bullying. In addition to whether something is rude, mean or bullying, Whitson took it a step farther noting the underlying themes of purpose, pattern and power.
“Young people who bully lack empathy in that situation,” she added.
To determine if something was intentional, is repeated and involves a balance of power, the key is listening.
Whitson said that by the time a child or young person goes to an adult for help they have already experienced 70 to 80 bullying situations.
“Teachers are only aware of one in 25 bullying situations among their students,” she added, noting that students wait till adults are not around to bully others or do it through technology.
“How do we build trust that we are a resource they can come to?” Whitson asked.
“Avoid freaking out,” she said, explaining that the first few seconds of a reaction set the tone and it’s important to maintain calm.
Next it’s important to express sympathy, letting the student know that you are sorry for what they are experiencing and to thank them for telling you so can work through this with them, which leads to brainstorming for problem solving and follow-up.
The third piece of the puzzle is to talk less and say more.
“The words we say to stop it (bullying) are important. Make it meaningful and make it short,” she said.
Once the behavior is stopped and the crowd is dispersed is the time for following up with the student and formulating a plan, which the student needs to rehearse over and over as their response.
One of the important factors in preventing bullying is to teach young people social skills.
“There is no way to predict who your child should be friends with and who will be a bully,” she said noting that everyone needs social skills of empathy, kindness and compassion; how to handle emotions, how to problem solve, skills for building friendships and for being assertive.
“Having these social skills is a better predictor of success than test scores,” Whitson said.
The final step is keeping up with what is happening online.
Whitson said that many parents feel like their kids know more about technology than they do, but parents need to be aware of the risks with social media and other applications.
“There is more technology on my smartphone, than in the first space shuttle to land on the moon,” she said.
“Talk early and often,” she says, encouraging setting limits on time and places technology are utilized and what sites and games are accessed.
“Kids’ online behavior is pretty well aligned with their in person behavior,” said Whitson.
She urged parents to google texting acronyms and to take a closer look at the apps their kids are using noting many have hidden features that make things disappear once opened. She noted it can be tricky because one app looks like a calculator, but it’s not, it’s another way of sharing pictures and information.
Additional resources can be found on her website at www.signewhitson.com and an anonymous reporting site is being established on the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department website.