Bullying is in the news again. It may have contributed to yet another school shooting in Chardon, Ohio this week. Bullying is not a product of a modern age, but has been increasingly scrutinized in the past decade. After the Columbine High School massacre U.S. Secret Service officials found that bullying "in terms that approached torment," played a part in two-thirds of the 37 premeditated school shootings they analyzed.
The effects and causes of bullying are complex. According to Limber, individual, familial, societal and community factors play roles, and the impacts can be physical, emotional and psychological for victims, perpetrators, and witnesses.
With such a complex topic, how can the field of youth development make an impact? I believe that an emphasis on citizenship in out-of-school time youth programs can contribute to a solution.
In 2010, National 4-H began to shape a 4-H Citizenship Mission Mandate to ensure that the 4-H Youth Development Program can provide the best opportunities for young people to become engaged and make a difference in their communities.
In Minnesota 4-H, we are working to define what constitutes solid citizenship programming for our youth and adults, not only to help youth acquire personal skills for success, but to help them acquire interpersonal skills that benefit society. This is where the anti-bullying effort comes into play.
Sherrod, Flanagan, and Youniss point out that in the context of youth development, "Citizenship ... has to involve multiple components if we are to understand its development in diverse populations in this country." A definition of global citizenship, offered by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, is "a continuum going from being aware of the interdependent nature of our world, to understanding how local and global issues affect the well-being of people around the world, to committing or taking actions to create a more equitable world." Taking this point of view into account, these components effectively describe what we hope our youth will gain through participation in Minnesota 4-H Citizenship Programs:
- The ability to move beyond self-interest to expressing concern for others
- A sense of connectedness to a group (including the nation and world)
- The ability to respectfully listen to and consider differing experiences and opinions
- The ability to compromise
- Understanding of the rights and responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy and how action or inaction contributes to one's nation state, as well as to the world
- Commitment to creating a more equitable world
The teaching of empathy is a common element in violence prevention, and youth programs focused on developing citizenship provide a natural platform for helping young people understand how they connect with others. Foundational research on resiliency has found that the opportunity for meaningful involvement and responsibility can be an important protective factor for youth by helping them connect to society. Perhaps this feeling of connectedness, coupled with the ability to empathize, is the key to combating bullying as a cultural phenomenon. And what better way to do strengthen this ability than by showing young people how they are and can be, now, responsible, positively contributing citizens.
Could an emphasis on citizenship help to create an environment in which young people consider several points of view (victim, perpetrator, witness) in a bullying scenario? What strategies have you used to encourage youth to reflect and act on their values?