Valentine’s Day is a great time to show people we love how much they mean to us. But flowers wilt, candies go stale, and stuffed animals gather dust in the corners of our rooms. As an alternative to engaging in the commercialism of the holiday, you could use the inspiration of Valentine’s Day to create lasting change by helping to make your school a safer and more accepting place for everyone.
We often think of bullying as physical intimidation, but bullying can also be very subtle – gossip, exclusion, name-calling, and treating people differently because of the way they look, dress or speak. Bullying doesn’t have to take place at school. Look out for threatening or unkind behaviors occurring through text, email, and social media. Often comments can seem harmless, but little incidents add up quickly to create an environment where people don’t feel free to be themselves. So instead of giving chocolates this Valentine’s Day, let’s make a commitment to stand up against bullying in all its forms.
Did You Know? 6 Facts About Bullying
- Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year.
- 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
- 1 out 10 students drop out of school because of repeated bullying.
- Physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school. Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.
- A 2009 survey found that 9 out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
- 1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4 percent of the time.
What Should I Do If I Witness Bullying?
- Ask yourself, “How would I feel if this happened to me?” “What would I want someone to do if it was me who was being bullied?”
- Speak up if you witness bad behavior. Confront the bully if it is safe to do so. You could say something like “Hey, leave him/her alone” or “Why are you being so mean?” or “What you’re saying is not cool” or whatever feels right to you in the moment. Don’t worry about saying the exact right thing — it’s not about saying the perfect words but about speaking up for against what you know is wrong and saying something to interrupt the behavior.
- Report the incident to a counselor, teacher, or other trusted adult. This could become part of a larger conversation about how to address bullying at your school in general. Report bullying immediately if there is a threat of physical danger or harm — even calling 911 if necessary.
- Don’t tolerate bullying or gossip from your friends, even if it’s directed at someone else. Any person who makes others feel bad will not be a good friend to you, either.
- Be kind to people who are bullied, and encourage your friends to be kind to them as well. Someone in need of a friend could be the best friend you ever have.
- Talk to your friends about bullying you see at school and brainstorm about how to create a school environment that looks down on bullying. Check out the amazing way students at this school spoke up against bullying.
What Should I Do If I Am a Victim of Bullying?
Some of these things may be easier said than done, and they might take practice — which unfortunately you might be able to get if you are bullied a lot.
- Know that you are not alone, that millions of other people have been bullied, that the other person is behaving in a way that is unacceptable and that he or she likely has been bullied too and may be taking out their own anger, fear, loneliness, sadness, or other emotions on you, and that it is not your fault.
- Walk away. Bullies want to get a response from you, and the best way to disappoint them is not to respond at all. The same holds true for hurtful texts, emails, and Facebook messages.
- Don’t react in anger. Try humor to diffuse the situation. If you need to vent your frustrations later, try writing them down or confiding in a friend.
- Never respond with physical force. You are more likely to get hurt or get into trouble yourself.
- Remember that you can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your own.
- Build confidence with a self-defense or martial arts class. You will learn how to effectively respond to intimidation without the use of force.
- Seek help from a trusted adult.
- Share your story. Maybe, to create discussion about this problem at your school, without using the name of anyone who has bullied you, write an article for your school paper sharing about your experience. Find other ways to generate dialogue.
Become an Anti-Bullying Activist for Valentine’s Day and Beyond:
- There are lots of ways to make your school a better place this Valentine’s Day and beyond! Some students and school clubs have started programs such as putting a valentine in every locker or giving a treat and a note to each student. Get creative! There are lots of ways this holiday to celebrate inclusivity and create a positive school environment.
- In Canada, two teens founded Pink Shirt Day to show their support for a classmate who was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. It has grown into a national movement and is celebrated on the last Wednesday in February. Start a Pink Shirt movement at your school.
- Write a blog or post about bullying and ask your friends to share it (or write their own).
- If your school has a safety committee, ask to get involved as a student advisor.
- Start an anti-bullying school club.
- Create flyers and pass them out around school, or leave them in public areas like the bathroom or the library.
- Ask your principal to sponsor a self-defense workshop at your school.
- Join a mentoring program and be a role model for younger kids.
- Set a good example. Be a good friend to others and treat them as you would want to be treated.
- Post positive notes for other people to see around the school. For example, Operation Beautiful encourages girls to post anonymous affirming post-it notes on lockers or bathroom mirrors.
- Create a school social climate survey to find out how safe students feel at the school and to assess the level of bullying that is happening. Use the results to talk to teachers, administrators, or the school board about creating anti-bullying classes or other initiatives at your school. Contact YEA for resources and ideas for surveys or anti-bullying programs at your school.
- Bring a Challenge Day workshop to your school. Challenge Day programs are powerful and incredibly effective assemblies that massively change the behavior of bullying students and the dynamics in schools.
- For more information, check out Anti-Bullying Network, Utterly Global, Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Born This Way Foundation, Make It Better Project, and Do Something
Sending you lots of love this Valentine’s Day and beyond!