4 Myths of Bullying

This year, Jostens is partnering with Search Institute, an organization dedicated to researching and understanding what kids need in order to succeed. Over the past 25 years, Search Institute has studied the strengths and challenges in the lives of more than five million middle and high school youth across the country and around the world. Like Jostens Renaissance, Search Institute focuses on young people’s strengths, rather than emphasizing their problems or deficiencies. Visit Search-Institute.org to learn more.

The following is an excerpt from the October Renaissance Kit: Peer Pressure in Reverse. Below the message from Search Institute CEO, Dr. Kent Pekel, you will find an adaptation of their research. 

National Bullying Prevention Month (October) shines a spotlight on the critical issue in schools. Bullying undermines learning and development, and it can have tragic consequences for students. Whether as a bully, a victim, a bystander or “upstander,” each and every student is affected. And every student can be part of preventing it. The focus on bullying also shines a spotlight on the ways peers affect each others’ lives and learning — for better or worse. As adults, we too often focus more on the negative ways peers treat or influence each other, such as through bullying and negative peer pressure. This focus on the negative brings up our myths that need to be reversed.

Myth #1: Bullying is normal.
Sometimes people will dismiss concern about bullying, saying that it’s just part of growing up. In fact, the vast majority of young people do not bully others. However, when bullying behaviors evoke laughter, cheers or feelings of power, they are reinforced and create a culture that condones bullying. The good news is that the rate of students experiencing bullying in U.S. schools has dropped from 28% (in 2011) to 22% (in 2013), according to the U.S. Department of Education. So there’s still work to do — particularly with groups of youth who tend to experience higher levels of bullying, such as LGBT youth. But there’s progress. We don’t have to accept bullying as an inevitable part of school life. Rather, we can emphasize the many other ways peers interact with each other that are supportive, encouraging and inspiring.

Myth #2: Peer pressure is always negative.
Too often, we assume that peer pressure is what happens when someone gets gullible, vulnerable or maladjusted kids to do something bad or risky. Although negative pressure is part of the dynamic, peer influence or pressure is much broader than that. Through their relationships with peers, young people develop social skills, try new activities and figure out a lot about themselves and who they are becoming. All students absorb ideas, likes, dislikes and values from their friends and classmates. In fact, we want to help students learn to influence others — in positive ways. We help them learn to write and speak persuasively. We cultivate leadership skills. So being influenced by, and influencing, peers is an inevitable and important part of growing up and being part of society.

Myth #3: Peer relationships don’t really affect learning.
We may think we are teaching individual students. Yet, in reality, they are part of a web of relationships, all of which affect how they learn and what they learn. A growing body of research highlights the ways peers influence each other’s attitudes toward school and learning. That influence can be negative, when peers dismiss education or “being smart.” But the influence can also be critical for school success. If students enjoy being with friends in school, they’re more likely to show up and engage. Friends help each other problem-solve and learn. Peers often provide emotional support and safety through challenges, and they often reinforce positive educational aspirations.

Myth #4: Adults don’t play a role.
A great deal of peer influence (including bullying) occurs away from the watchful eyes of teachers, staff, parents and other adults. That can leave the impression that “kids will have to work this out among themselves.” Like most myths, there’s some truth here: young people do need to learn to solve problems on their own. But adults can also play important roles. Teachers and other school staff reinforce positive peer relationships by:
• Modeling positive, respectful relationships with all students.
• Creating a cooperative, respectful climate in a classroom.
• Giving students opportunities to work together cooperatively, talk about what they’re learning, support their opinions with evidence and provide feedback to each other — all important 21st century skills.

Positive peer relationships play a critical role in schools. Not only are they foundational for preventing bullying, but they are also an integral part of learning. National Bullying Prevention Month provides an opportunity to celebrate and harness this power for preventing bullying and for enhancing the learning experience for all students.

Kent Pekel, Ed.D.
President and CEO, Search Institute

Click the image to download a PDF with class activities, statistics and research around peer pressure and bullying.

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