Students returned to class this fall amid a pandemic and an increasingly controversial debate around the COVID-19 vaccine, masks and warrants. Pair that with a year without face-to-face interactions, and you’ve got an environment conducive to bullying, according to Sara Goldstein, professor of family science and human development at Montclair State University and an expert in bullying and developmental psychology.
In recognition of World Bullying Prevention Month in October, Goldstein shares tips on how to best implement prevention and intervention training for educators, promote and focus on mental health in classrooms, and tackle cases of bullying.
Identify and discuss the ‘triggers’ of bullying
With students returning to classrooms, some level of bullying in school will inevitably return – and this will more than likely involve the issues that adults are currently grappling with.
“Harassment in the 2021-2022 school year will likely include themes that wreaked havoc in the adult world last year, such as the ongoing vaccination and wearing of controversial masks surrounding the COVID pandemic- 19, “Goldstein said.
“School districts should make efforts to make masks standardized and non-controversial. If masks are not mandatory according to state or district guidelines, the district should ensure that no child who wears a mask is stigmatized or bullied. ”
Like any other year, schools are encouraged to adopt an evidence-based anti-bullying and school safety curriculum that is used across the district and covers all forms of bullying:
- Relational – A type of “social” bullying common among young people where the bully intentionally damages the reputation and / or social status of the victim
- Physical – Use of physical violence to hurt, intimidate or control a victim
- Cyber – Use digital platforms to send, post and share content to harass or intimidate a victim
- Sexual harassment – Repeated unwanted sexual or romantic advances or displays, using foul or inappropriate language, non-consensual behavior and / or touching to intimidate, control or take advantage of a victim
Focus on rebuilding social skills
Missing more than a year of in-person learning has the potential to negatively impact the development of children from kindergarten to college, Goldstein says. “These face-to-face social interactions are essential for positive social and emotional growth. “
Given this, Goldstein suggests that educators, mental health professionals, and parents help rebuild children’s social skills and psychosocial resources during the 2021-2022 school year. “Districts should do everything possible to make full-time face-to-face school accessible to children of all grades. She adds that in-person extracurricular activities for young people should also continue so that they can develop positive and healthy skills and relationships with peers.
Provide mental health training to staff
Training teachers and staff in mental health and suicide prevention would be hugely beneficial, Goldstein says.
Students at all grade levels should have access to a school-based mental health professional, and for the 2021-2022 school year in particular, an increased number of structured socialization breaks (e.g., games, activities) team building) should also be offered. in part to close the socialization gap between peers from which many children will attempt to bounce back.
“This is important even at the high school level – older children still need more time and increased opportunities for face-to-face socialization. “
Create and support safe spaces
In order for all students to feel welcome and included, Goldstein says, districts need to ensure that curricula offer racial, gender and intersectional representation. Outside the classroom, safe spaces and mental health resources should also be readily available and accessible for LGBTQIA + youth and others who feel marginalized.
“In addition, the past year has brought significant unrest when it comes to social issues around the breed,” Goldstein said. “Districts need to be sensitive to this and need to be proactive in providing a safe and just environment for all.”
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