Kevin: What do we really know about bullying today? What are its impacts? How can we recognize it? And what can we do to stop it? This is "What I Want to Know." Today, I'm joined by National Bullying Prevention Center director, Julie Hertzog to find out. Julie Hertzog is a nationally recognized leader in bullying prevention. She helped create PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center and has brought worldwide attention to the issue of programs like National Bullying Prevention Month. Julie served as the co-chair of the Minnesota Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying and of Minnesota School Safety Technical Assistance Center.
Kevin: She joins me today to discuss how the definition of bullying is changing, how we can spot it, and what we can do to ensure all kids feel safe and supported at school. Julie, it's such a pleasure to have you on this show, and we're gonna talk about a real important issue. Is an issue that has existed since school started. But first, I wanna talk to you about your own educational experience. Were you ever bullied as a student?
Julie: I think we probably all experienced it at some point, absolutely. And I was a student back in the late '70s and early '80s. And so, I would say bullying absolutely looked different at that time versus now. And being the parent of three children and having gone through the evolution of social media, our oldest daughter's 26, and so I think that that compounded the issue for so many and, you know, just today's world has really changed the face of how kids are bullied.
Kevin: So let's talk about that. Let's talk about bullying today in 2021. I wanna get your thoughts on this issue, you've been at work on this issue for some time.
Julie: Early 2000, I remember going in and doing a Google search for the word bullying and coming back with maybe, yeah, we'll say 50 to 100 somewhat relevant hits. And then also at that same time, putting in the keywords of bullying and disability and coming back with maybe less than five. And so that really was the beginning for me in saying, you know, what can we do about this issue with bullying? It's big. And at that time, we were still looking at bullying, we were calling it a natural right of childhood passage. My son was born with Down syndrome, and I started the organization that I work for now, PACER Center, when he was 2 years old.
And so I've been there for quite a while. And I looked at the issue at that time because when David was going into kindergarten, he was this vulnerable young man. And he had literally fought for his life that first two, three years because he had open-heart surgeries, and a tracheotomy, and a feeding tube, and a pacemaker. And so when I was thinking about what his experience was gonna look like when he went to kindergarten, as a mother, it absolutely broke my heart that somebody might hurt or harm him emotionally or physically. And as we know, there are certain populations of youth who are more vulnerable to bullying, and certainly, kids with disabilities are among those.
Kevin: When you got started, did you find that parents were reaching out and saying, "Thank you," like, I mean, because they felt that same lack of, you know, coordinated support and information out there and they've been going through this suffering in silence? That is my sense of how things were 15, 20 years ago.
Julie: You know, and I love that phrase, suffering in silence because that's what was happening. If bullying was talked about, teachers would say, "Oh, just ignore it." Teachers and parents would...if your child came to you and said they were being bullied, that was the advice given, just ignore it. But we know that bullying by very definition is about not being able to stop it on your own. That it's about a power imbalance, whether it's a person who's physically larger than you, or has more social status, or maybe it's a group of kids who are targeting a single student. And so at that time, you know, the attitudes were very different even 20 years ago.
And so just our first step was really saying we wanna shift the perception about bullying and help people understand that there's not only the short-term consequences of kids not wanting to go to school or developing stomachs or headaches or anxiety and depression to helping them understand that there's also longer-term consequences of a decrease in grades, loss of self-esteem. And so those were things that were not being talked at all in the early 2000s. And so that conversation has really shifted over the years.
Kevin: Talk to me about the National Bullying Prevention Month and how that came to be.
Julie: We're a small non-profit. We have about 70 staff members, but we're a dedicated bunch because the majority of us are parents with children with disabilities. So there's this kind of an inherent, you know, positivity in our message and what we wanna do. And at that time, as I spoke about, there wasn't a wealth of resources out there. And we knew that, in early 2000, what we wanted to do was to elevate the cause. And so it was suggested that we start in awareness week at that time. And we joined on with such organizations such as National Education Association, PTA, and a few others, and just started the week. And literally named that first week of October was going to be National Bullying Prevention Week. And from there, there was such interest in it that it just continued to escalate. And even three years later, we turned it into a month because of the interest and the excitement around it.
Kevin: So, again, let's talk about the definitions of bullying today. Give our audience some examples of bullying, particularly in this age of social media.
Julie: I'd say what's happening more and more now is the emotional bullying. And, you know, that can be gossip or starting rumors or just name-calling. Things that I would say kids have gotten more savvy about doing things outside the view of adults. And I say that because now, us as adults, whether you're parent or educators, see that behavior, you know that you should be doing something. But where kids are going now is online, and so they can be on sites where adults don't have access. And so that can be really insidious or, you know, it's still happening on the backs of buses. Anywhere where adult doesn't have vision I would say is where kids are taking the bullying.
But I would also wanna provide the audience just with information about definition as well because, at this time, there's not a federal law about bullying. So, every state does have a law, but the definitions do vary a lot, but there's definite hallmarks within them that it causes hurt or harm is obviously the first one and that it could be physical or emotional. It can happen in school, community, online. And oftentimes schools do have information about if it happens online because we know that what kids are doing outside of school impacts when they come back into school. So it's not like the cyberbullying is happening in a vacuum.
And then as I mentioned earlier, there's the power imbalance too. And I think that's really important because it's such a hallmark of bullying is that the persons doing it have more power, whether it's social or whether it's physical. And then the persons who are on the receiving end of it have a hard time making it stop. And so those hallmarks are very important. And again, they vary state by state as far as the law is concerned.
Kevin: But also think about that there are certain social media tools out there, platforms that unwittingly contribute to bullying like Snapchat, where something disappears. They could put something or post something there, and even if you wanted to reign it in, some of the evidence may be gone, or you almost have to go to court to get subpoenaed, but you see what I mean? How do you deal with that aspect of the social media phenomenon?
Julie: When kids were being bullied online and parents realized it, the first thing they wanted to do was limit their kids' access to technology. I mean, that's a natural parental gut response, and I probably was guilty of it myself at some point. But really what we learned quickly was that we needed to provide kids with the tools and the resources on how to deal with it. And so I think that's been an absolute evolution too over the last 10 years, and that a lot of social media providers have really looked at that and elevated those tools to do so. And I would add too, I think, the irony of social media is, as awful as it is, so much bullying when it's outside the view of adults, you know, you're not able to necessarily validate it, but with social media, even with, say, Snapchat, you can take screenshots of that information. And so you can capture the evidence. And that's one of the things that we always tell parents right away if you're gonna go talk to a school is get that information, you know, do a screenshot. You can even take a...you know, using your phone, you can take a photograph. And so it does provide that tangible evidence. As awful as all that information out there is and trying to control it, that's one thing I always...I think is very important for people to know.
Kevin: What about training and who should get the training? You alluded to the fact that years ago in the old-school kind of bullying that teachers...it's like a rite of passage. Some teachers say, "Oh, well, you know, get over it. He'll be fine, blah, blah, blah. She'll be fine." But who should receive the training, and what should that training look like?
Julie: We really trifecta, I would say educators, the students themselves, and parents, and so that we're all working from the same message. And we talk a lot about, as an advocacy organization, and our organization advocates for students with disabilities, but I wanna mention that our resources are for all kids, including those with disabilities, but we talk about what we call self-advocacy. And so much of bullying is about silence. And you mentioned earlier about suffering in silence. Oftentimes kids were shut down when they tried to talk about bullying or when parents went to schools and tried to talk about it, they were shut down. And now we know that we're having conversations about it, and we wanna have responses to it. And so when we ask kids to self-advocate, really what we're doing, number one, is we're just simply asking them tell somebody what's happening to you because so much of bullying can be about feeling scared, sad, ashamed, and those are hard emotional things to talk about. So we really encourage kids, and I'll just share that as one self-advocacy piece.
But we also encourage all kids to be advocates for others. And so kids will say bullying is something that makes you feel less about who you are because so often we're targeted about our differences. And that's really what we encourage kids, like, that's usually the beautiful thing about each kid is oftentimes what they're teased about or made fun of. And so when we encourage advocacy for others, it's really about being supportive of the person who's bullied so that they can reach out to me privately and just say, "Julie, I read what was written about you on the internet. I don't believe it. I want you to know that I'm here for you." Because oftentimes bullying just leaves kids feeling isolated and alone. And then as far as that adult response, I always say, you know, kids can be self-advocates, we can have other kids do advocacy for them, but it's really about adults to address the situation. So if they know that a child is bullying, it really is up to adults to handle that.
Kevin: You know, at our company, Stride, we're the largest online provider. We have thousands and thousands of children who've been bullied. And when you talk about the impact on children, I think it's far deeper and profound than many parents or families realize. Have you seen that post-COVID or in the middle of COVID, you know, that the awareness has increased?
Julie: I would challenge anyone listening to just think about elementary school, middle school, high school right now. And you're probably gonna be thinking about a name that you recalled and, you know, that's 10, 20, 30 years later, that lives inside of us. And so I share that just so parents understand what the impact is, or also when your child tells you that they're being bullied, they may not be telling you about the whole experience. They're not giving you the details about how just devastating it feels. But I know from experience, say, for example, when parents read things that have been posted about their kids online, they talk to me and they say like, "My heart broke into a thousand pieces. Like, I can't even imagine how my kid got up and went to school the next morning." And as you're mentioning, not every kid wants to go to school in the morning and they find alternate solutions. And so I think it's just important to recognize that this is a serious issue and that primarily, you know, it definitely impacts our kids' emotional health because the one thing that we're hearing about is an increase in anxiety and depression.
Kevin: When we talk about the behaviors of children, you know, we alluded to what historically has been called the bully. What's the best way to address the behaviors of children who engage in those practices?
Julie: One of our most downloaded handouts on our website is "What if My child Is the Bully?"
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
Julie: And so it's not an easy thing for parents to talk about. You know, and I just say to parents, take heart. Like, all our kids test out behaviors sometimes that are inappropriate. And I think the thing you wanna do is find out why they're doing it because there's lots of reasons kids bully. They may feel peer pressured. They may have been bullied themselves. They may be doing it, you know, just to test it out because maybe they don't like the other person and so they're showing that. But find out the reason why. And then, again, you know, it's so important, hold them accountable. Like, that behavior is not acceptable.
Kevin: So this is the last question, Julie, this is what I really want to know. What advice would you give parents who are dealing with bullying issues right now?
Julie: Right now, I would say the most important thing that you can do is make sure that your child knows that you are in their corner and do that unequivocally. And what I mean by that is be available for conversation and let them know that the emotions that they're feeling around the situation are okay, and that...you know, so provide that support absolutely. And then we even on our website have something called a student action plan, it's a way to talk to your child about bullying and what they can take because so much about bullying you feel like your power has been taken away from you, and you wanna make sure that your child feels empowered and that they have your support.
Kevin: Yeah. Julie, you're doing powerful work. Thank you for joining us on "What I Want to Know."
Julie: Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin: Thanks for joining "What I Want to Know." Be sure to follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And don't forget to write a review too. Explore other episodes and dive into our discussions on the future of education. I also encourage you to join the conversation and let me know what you want to know using #wiwtk on social media. That's #wiwtk on social media. For more information on Stride, visit stridelearning.com. I'm your host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining "What I Want to Know."
Julie Hertzog is a nationally recognized leader in bullying prevention. She is the director of Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Julie helped create the center in 2006 and has brought worldwide attention to the issue of bullying with programs like National Bullying Prevention Month. She served as co-chair of the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying and on Minnesota’s School Safety Technical Assistance Center.
Join The Email List
Sign up and get notifications on new What I Want to Know podcast episodes.
Thanks for subscribing!
Check your email to confirm your subscription.
What I Want to Know
In this podcast, you will hear from leaders in education as we talk through learning solutions for homeschool, online school, education pathways, and topics tailored specifically to online students and parents.