Bullies can escalate their behavior during Summer Camp, AfterSchool and their associated field trips. The fun atmosphere of camp and field trips can be interpreted by the bully as ‘an anything goes’ environment, that the rules of social engagement no longer apply.
This might not be true for all students but it was for my daughter, who at the age of 9 was physically tormented at school, the bus and Afterschool and Summer Camp by the same bully. She often told me it was worse at Camp as she could not get away; there was no reprieve, there was no follow through on the loosely written rules by the badly trained, super-young staff.
Needless to say, they now have rules, procedures and better anti-bullying training and the young lady in question is now residing with the State. You can imagine how bad this child and her home life was to be in Joovie by the age of 11! But I digress!
It should not have been my fight; the provider should have, as my daughter’s school already had, done more to spot the behavior, deal with both children professionally and taken active steps to exclude the bully before a parent had to go to extreme lengths to protect their child in an environment they had chosen to keep them safe!
Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that the behavior should have been easy to spot, this child was bad enough to be removed from her home after all! But no, she was super smart, super cunning and manipulative with crocodile tears and self inflicted injuries. She had them believing my daughter was the perpetrator and I was ‘one of those Moms’. It was like the movie Orphan and like the movie her reign of terror came to its brutal end when she lost control and physically attacked another parent, who had the good sense to press charges and follow through.
So what is bullying?
Bullying can be described as repetitive, aggressive behavior that causes emotional, social or physical harm to another child, characterized by an imbalance of power between a more dominant and less dominant student.
This can take the form of name-calling, systematic exclusion, rumors, threats, physical contact and misuse of social media. (Becky Telzerow, M.A., L.L.P.C., a counselor at Forest Hills Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan)
According to a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, twenty percent of ninth- to twelfth-grade American students have experienced bullying. Another study, by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that twenty-eight percent of students in grades six to twelve have been bullied.
There are specific steps you can take to minimize the potential for bullying and nip it in the bud. The most important thing is prevention.
Telzerow recommends that staff members hold pre-trip meetings. You may be able to prevent some bullying simply by recognizing group dynamics ahead of time and using them to make decisions about groups, bus seating and room/team assignments.
Things to Discuss During Pre-Trip Meetings:
Trip expectations. Be sure students know your trip is an extension of your program—the same rules and values apply—and they should respect your program or school’s name, themselves, and others. “Students should understand how to be a responsible ambassador,” said Telzerow.
Clear rules. Thoroughly review a Behavioral Rubric that identifies inappropriate behaviors and defines disciplinary steps. Well-developed rubrics outline the consequences for a first-time infraction, a second-time one, et cetera. (Your program may already have an established Behavioral Rubric.) It’s important for students to know the trip atmosphere will be safe and that social pecking order doesn’t matter—the rules apply equally to everyone.
Before the Trip
New friendships. Help students understand that trips such as these present an opportunity for new friendships to blossom. To encourage new relationships, leaders could prohibit saving seats on the bus or at mealtimes.
During the Trip
Bullies are natural leaders and are naturally power hungry. “If adults can help a student find a way to channel that inappropriate leadership into positive leadership, it’s a win-win,” said Telzerow.
Establish tech guidelines. Students today have cell phones and iPods, and we’re not going to change that; plus, it makes communicating with students easier. But you could and should set expectations about technology use in a group setting. For example, let students know that when you’re touring, you expect them to put their phones away and listen attentively. (Adults on the trip should model that behavior, too.)
Pay attention to how a student reacts when you ask him to put it away. “If they react strongly,” said Telzerow, “staff members should try to tease out why.” Excessive phone use could be an indicator that s/he’s using social media for bullying.
Delegate responsibility. “Give potential bullies a really good, appropriate trip responsibility,” said Telzerow, “and have them be a positive model on the trip not a negative one.” Doing so could take a lot of patience on the staff member’s part, but it creates a stronger connection with that student. The more of a connection a potential bully has with a healthy adult, the more prevention it provides for the entire trip.
Say “hello.” Telzerow suggests gathering your entire group each morning and greeting them by name. “Make eye contact with them, so they know they’re valued and they belong on that trip,” said Telzerow. If something seems off, you could follow up with students to get an idea of whether something happened during the night.
Catch them doing good. Verbally praise students, authentically, when you see them doing the right thing. It creates a strong community atmosphere and a positive environment for everyone on the trip.
Be a role model. “It’s important for adults to model a positive tone and behavior,” said Telzerow. For example, adults could reach out to chaperones they don’t know and sit with them during meals or on the bus, rather than sticking with adult friends throughout the trip.
Leaders could also show kids that leaders don’t need to be dictators. “Turn over some power to students,” suggested Telzerow, “so you’re not dominating. Instead, model a healthy form of co-leading.”
If Bullying Occurs
If bullying occurs despite prevention efforts, Telzerow suggests these action steps to immediately handle the situation.
Step 1. Privately pull aside the less dominant student. Describe what you’ve seen and ask them to share more information. If they don’t want to discuss the incident further, let them know that you’re concerned and you’d like to help if it happens again.
Step 2. Next, privately pull aside the bully. “Never, ever shame or embarrass the bully in front of their peers,” said Telzerow. Remain non-emotional, state what you saw, and ask the bully, “What was wrong with that?” Then wait for an answer. If there is no answer, educate the bully on why the infraction was wrong. Then, talk about what needs to happen to restore the relationship. Often, it’s also appropriate to implement a “gag order” prohibiting the bully from discussing the situation with friends; this reduces gossip and possible escalation of the situation.
Step 3. Consider making changes to student groups. Use discretion and do what’s in the best interest of the less dominant student.
Step 4. After both of these discussions, it’s imperative that all leaders keep their eyes and ears open to potential conflict in the next twenty-four hours. Afterward, privately speak to the less dominant student once again, to determine if there’s been any retribution (from either the bully or the bully’s friends). If necessary, take disciplinary action based on your Behavioral Rubric.
Step 5. When bullying occurs, it provides leaders with the opportunity to talk to the students involved about the fact that relationships are messy and growth is painful. “All of us have the ability to be mean and rude, to bully others,” said Telzerow. “But these situations give us an opportunity to show grace and to have the courage to change. Many times the most painful things that can happen on a trip are life changing and transforming, for the adults as well as for the students.”
The original version of the advice in this article appeared in Teach & Travel magazine.
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