Anti-bullying strategies: Does ‘walking away’ work? [, by Char Luttrell, 18/2/2011]

Girl Scout CEO Jan Barker with Alena Buczynski, Kimber Bishop-Yanke, and Maddie Rayner
Girl Scout CEO Jan Barker with Alena Buczynski, Kimber Bishop-Yanke, and Maddie Rayner

Does “walking away” from a bully work? For years well-intentioned adults have been telling kids to “ignore someone who is bullying you and he/she will get tired and stop.” Now, with reports of old-fashioned bullying and cyber-bullying in the news almost daily, some child development specialists are promoting a new approach to the age-old problem. They are counseling kids to stand up for themselves, with confident words and assertive body language.

Sure, it may be easier for teachers, school administrators and even parents to advise kids to “just walk away,” but recent news reports indicate that the problem of bullying is getting worse, not better.

That’s why Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan (GSHOM) brought Kimber Bishop-Yanke, President of Girls Empowered, to the sixth Girl Developers Summit in Kalamazoo in early February. Kimber teaches kids to use their knowledge, beliefs, connections and resources to find their own “voice,” the voice that will give them the power to stand up to bullies. She says that the momentary discomfort that children feel when first confronting a bully fades as they come to understand that they do have the power to stop hurtful comments directed at themselves and others.

Girls Empowered teaches specific language to stop bullies in their tracks. Language such as: “I don’t like what you said about me. “ (first offense) “I told you I didn’t like it when you said that about me.” (second offense) “I will have to report you.” (third offense). Of course, parents and school officials must follow up when kids do report bullies, so that all the children involved will know that unkind behavior won’t be tolerated by adults.

Through Girls Empowered workshops held with Girl Scout troops, schools, church groups and camps throughout the country, Kimber is teaching girls and boys that it is okay to confront bullies, to “Stop the Meanness; Spread the Kindness.” Through Girls Empowered, she has taken her message to 55,000 children and adults.

A second step toward building power is for children to get involved in groups that give them a chance to serve the their community, according to Kimber, who was as Girl Scout leader for six years.

“I always advise parents to get their children involved in a group, at church, school or sports,” said Kimber. “I always encourage Girl Scouting for girls.”

Joining Kimber at the summit were two Girl Scout Cadettes from Marshall, Michigan, who created an “anti-bullying week” at their middle school last spring. Maddie Rayner and Alena Buczynski wanted to honor the life of Phoebe Prince, the New England teen who ended her life after being bullied by her classmates. They wrote “Phoebe’s Pledge” and asked schoolmates and adults to sign it, promising “to not engage in gossip or bullying and to take a stand to support victims of bullying.” Alena’s and Maddie’s work earned them the Girl Scout Silver Award and coverage by People magazine and Nick News.

“Alena and Maddie are two shining examples of the courage, confidence and character that Girl Scouting builds, “ said Jan Barker, CEO of GSHOM.