I'll start. I gossiped about someone, and while that might not rate up there with threatening to smack someone across the face or actually doing it, bullying starts with words and moves its way up the pyramid of violence. That's how bullying works.
As executive producer and an early supporter, through Waitt Institute of Violence Prevention, of Bully, I was thrilled at the astounding reception and attention that Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen's beautiful and disturbing film received. It's long past time for this country to recognize the insidious and continual threat to millions of kids in school buildings, buses, and hallways across America. The film clearly became a tipping point in the anti-bullying movement, and that's a good thing. Bullying is an almost universal concern; that's why it resonates.
But... there's more for us to think about. Hopping onto the anti-bullying bandwagon is also a good thing, but as you do, consider the role we adults play every day in the lives of our kids, and other people's kids. As there are many ways kids bully, there are even more ways we adults bully.
As someone who has supported many types of violence prevention, it's always been my feeling that a lot of schoolyard bullying may start somewhere else. A study done by the CDC in 2011 confirmed that. Kids who bully and are bullied are more likely to live with abuse at home. This doesn't mean that in all cases kids have seen it at home, but parents matter, as do all adults who work with and mentor children.
When people ask what they can do to stop bullying, after a few practical suggestions such as volunteering time and resources and talking to kids, what I tell them is to look in the mirror. Studies done suggest that we do have an impact on our kids. It's up to us to show them how to treat other human beings. How are we doing? Not good enough. Millions of adults brutalize each other every day. I'm not counting street violence, but here are a few places that we inflict pain and trauma on each other every day in this country:
1) In the home. Bullying isn't a strong enough word for family violence, but it has to be number one on the list. Children are present during 80 percent of the assaults against their mothers and three million children witness domestic violence each year. There are millions of incidents of domestic violence each year and kids are seeing them. We have to make this link and connect the dots between what kids see at home and how they might act at school, particularly in prevention and in the education of adolescents. Thanks to the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, stricter laws, and the tireless work of advocates and activists every day, we've made progress. But when I read that Congress has yet to settle their differences over the Violence Against Women Act re-authorization, I wonder what they might be thinking. I'll get to Congress later.
2) In the workplace. The power and control tactics used in the home and in the schoolyard translate easily into where we earn our living. As sponsor of the first workplace bullying national survey, with the Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby, we found that 37 percent of Americans had experienced workplace bullying at some point in their careers. That's millions of targets and millions of bullies where we work. Those concerned with the American economy would do well to see how some of this affects the bottom line, not to mention the lives of those psychologically traumatized every day.
3) Online. Kids aren't the only ones who have figured out how to bully in cyberspace. Ever read message boards? We've read and been appalled at kids who started Facebook sites with "I hate...", but there are tons of adult haters out there starting sites every day. As the Internet has come to represent our world, both at its best and at its worst, this isn't surprising, but couldn't we raise the level of the discourse beyond targeting each other?
4) On the air and on the news. We live in an age of bullying as entertainment, and while this pastime is as old as time itself, our airwaves are increasingly filling themselves up with it. It's said that around 30 percent of television is now "reality based", and while not all of these shows are filled with bullying, plenty are. Adults are featured "voting each other off the island" in a plethora of brutal ways, verbally assaulting co-workers, co-contestants, and even "friends." Mean girls and mean boys are all grown up, and bringing their best schoolyard bully tactics to us every day and night. And the news? Some of the most popular talk shows feature those mean kids grown up too. If we can't make this stop, and we can't, can we at least start turning them off?
5) In our election process. There are some great politicians out there, dedicated and devoted to the public good, and many are active supporters of violence prevention. But, as a group, "hired" by us to work together in essentially a two-party system, they would earn a great big "dysfunctional" label and earn it easily. Let's ponder this. Imagine a company where half the employees have as a stated goal the overthrow of the CEO. In this place, the employees have two camps, and many in both camps work not only on obstructing the work of the other camp every day, but are also featured in the media trashing the other camp on a daily basis as well. Would you invest in that company? We do. We have many political leaders as allies now in the anti-bullying movement. That's great news, and we are grateful that this happened, but I'm hoping they'll gaze into their collective mirror and look at what's not working in their own halls. I think many of them would like to see more civility in the process of legislating.
Until, we get what we do to others and how we model for kids, the anti- bullying movement won't move as well as we would hope. A study we did in Iowa by Dr. Alan Heisterkamp of the University Of Northern Iowa confirmed that kids whose parents spoke to them about violence and bullying were more likely to view violence as wrong and intervene when it's happening. With that knowledge, we became co-sponsors with Marlo Thomas and Free to Be Foundation, AOL, Facebook, Johnson and Johnson, Bully director Lee Hirsch, the Department of Education, and the Ad Council in a new campaign that asks parents to talk to their kids about standing up to bullying and violence. That's the second step. Showing them what non-violence is about every day is the first.
With the violence prevention agency, Futures without Violence, we did an ad years ago about the importance of modeling non-violent behavior to children. It said, essentially, "They're waiting, they're watching, they'll listen." They are and they will.
Cindy Waitt is the Executive Director of the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention and Executive Producer of "Bully". She co sponsored the first Workplace Bullying Institute Zogby Poll in the United States in 2007, and, with her brother, Ted, has been a lead supporter of Futures without Violence's campaign "Coaching Boys into Men" and Jackson Katz's "Mentors in Violence Prevention" for the past decade. She is Executive Producer, with Gloria Steinem and Kit Gruelle, of the upcoming documentary "Private Violence". For more about her work, go to wivp.waittinstitute.org or cindywaitt.com