When it comes to bullying, every child should have a safe harborAlana Friedman knows all about safe harbors. In the 1950s and 60s she grew up in the tightly knit West End Duluth community where nobody was a stranger.
Alana Friedman knows all about safe harbors. In the 1950s and 60s she grew up in the tightly knit West End Duluth community where nobody was a stranger. All the adults kept their eyes on the kids, and when any bullying started up in the neighborhood, the adults set the kids straight. Then they sent them home, where they were set straight again.
It was the kind of place where, one night when Alana was coming home late, she was stopped by a group of young toughs. They didn’t stop her to harass her. They stopped to say, “Alana, we better walk you home because this neighborhood just isn’t safe for girls like you!” Friedman laughs when telling this story because the irony isn’t lost on her. She only wishes the bullies now were as considerate as they were then.
Because October is National Bullying Prevention Month, I interviewed our own Alana Friedman, founder of Safe Harbor, Duluth, an area bullying prevention program. Safe Harbor’s motto is: “If every child had a safe harbor, none would be at risk,” and it is the program’s goal to help adults help children find that harbor.
Friedman, a West End Duluth native and area educator and counselor, has been involved with children and the school system for decades. About 10 years ago, after the Columbine school shootings, Friedman focused her attention on bullying. Because some adults view bullying as a rite of passage for children, I asked Friedman why bullying has become such a hot point issue.
“All of us carry with us some incident [from our childhood], whether victim, witness or abuser. Some people carry this residual pain or guilt with them always,” Friedman says. This and the escalating violence in school shootings is now making people aware of how damaging bullying is. Unfortunately, new weapons have escalated the violence of retribution.
Using the Olweus Bullying Prevention and Intevention Program (www.violencepreventionworks.org), Friedman trains teams of folks in schools in the skill of stepping in and taking responsibility so that bullying comes to a fruitless end. The Olweus method involves taking guided steps, moving from quiet observation of a bullying incident to direct confrontation. Friedman doesn’t necessarily encourage outsiders to step in and take charge of a bullying situation, but sometimes simply calling attention to the conflict can de-escalate it quickly.
“The face of bullying has changed,” says Friedman. “The digital age makes bullying possible 24/7. It used to be that kids could get away from it, but now it follows them into the privacy of their bedrooms.”
Often children don’t have the skills to know how to deal with bullies. That is why the schools are working harder to educate both staff and students. One way adults can help to empower children in the face of bullying is simply through positive role modeling.
“When you are in the checkout line and the person in front of you is rude to the clerk, go ahead and support the clerk afterwards with a kind comment,” Friedman said. Anything you can do to lessen the humiliation, even after the fact, helps strengthen a victim.
Modeling good behavior also includes limiting the media’s messages. “There are so many television shows out there which give permission to bully,” Friedman observes. “All the reality shows use bullying to gain power; that’s the whole point.” And it’s a point which strikes its target in the social behaviors of children.
Friedman made note of a trend making a difference for bullying. According to a recent KARE 11 news story, an Osseo, Minn. teen is directly combating digital bullying by using his Twitter account to observe positive things about high school classmates. After being frustrated with all the anonymous trashing of character he was witnessing online, he set up “Osseo Nice,” a Twitter account dedicated to uplifting his fellow students. His efforts have made a difference internationally, as websites with a similar goal are popping up all over the world.
This is the kind of thing Friedman, and the rest of us, wants to see happening — many people working together, doing their part to make things more secure for the more vulnerable. If every child had a safe harbor, none would be at risk.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.