Youth Empowerment Is Key to Bullying Prevention

by Bernadette Sproul, Director of Finance & HR, Community Matters

As National Bullying Prevention Month is recognized in communities across America, with schools and other organizations joined as partners, awareness of bullying and its consequences continues to be a vital part of our nation’s conversation. Why is it so important to bring attention to this issue? Because it has been statistically proven that a positive school climate, where every student feels safe, is crucial for thriving, healthy and high-achieving students. At Community Matters, our flagship program Safe School Ambassadors® embodies the solution needed to undermine and prevent bullying and mistreatment by empowering students with the knowledge and skills needed to safely intervene when they witness mistreatment among their peers.

It is also important to get this message about bullying prevention out to the general public, as bullying behavior is certainly not just in schools. You can see bullying behavior often reported on national news in the business sector; so, this is not just a youth malady. People using their personal power to intimidate are found everywhere from Hollywood to corporate boardrooms. Is this what we want to model to our kids – that “might equals right”? What is the end result of that philosophy? You can see the impact of negative, destructive behavior when people are targeted by bullying, too afraid of the repercussions to come forward to confront their tormentors or even report the behavior. There is also the large group of bystanders who instead of standing up for what is right, are afraid to “rock the boat”.

The good news is that we do have the inherent capacity to demonstrate compassion and connectedness to others in our daily life. We see the confirmation of this with our Ambassadors, youth that are empowered with training and willing to get involved, right a wrong with no notion of accolades for their courage.

Natural compassion and empathy can be seen in times of hardship as well. One year ago, in our own neighborhood, the city of Santa Rosa and surrounding communities endured one of the worst natural disasters ever experienced in this region, due to the Northern California wildfires. Seeing people helping one another, reaching out and supporting strangers throughout that devastation brought home the knowledge that people have the capacity to be compassionate. That bond of connectedness was strengthened through serving others and the continues as our community rebuilds.

The bystander education provided by the SSA program harnesses the power of students to prevent and stop bullying and violence, utilizing their already innate capacity to understand and show compassion. They are trained, and then they practice these newfound relational skills amongst their circle of friends growing capacity and competency. Just like any endeavor one wishes to excel at, they practice – training the “muscle” of empathy and compassion. When Ambassadors are doing their work, they support their peers in making smart decisions. They practice first with themselves, then their family, their friends and then the greater community. The benefits? As more youth become engaged to stand up against mistreatment, their friends in turn emulate this behavior impacting even more young people.

At Community Matters, our mission is to wake up the courage of students and adults to create schools and communities that are welcoming, safe and inclusive. This work is vital for our country and we look forward to a future of collaborative partnerships with others who also believe and understand that compassion and empathy are the key to our future. Bullying Prevention Month is important for all of these reasons and many more. We extend our heart-felt appreciation and thanks to all the organizations around the country that help to shine a spotlight on this urgent problem. Together we’ll continue to build a more positive and compassionate world for everyone.