Bullying is a big deal.
In the extreme, the results of bullying can be catastrophic, as we saw in the recent suicide of a teen in Massachusetts.
As a parent, I worry about how such behavior might affect my child. As a Jewish educator, I believe that we are all created b’tzelem elokim — in the image of God — and that we must teach our children this Jewish value, that they must treat and regard others with fundamental respect.
The challenge of social aggression crosses economic, social and religious lines. Private schools, public schools, day schools, and congregational schools have all grappled with the issue of defining and dealing with social and emotional tensions among children and adults in the school community. The patterns of behavior that often develop among our children reflect age-old battles for power, control, status, and connection.
How we deal with those patterns of behavior distinguishes us and presents an important opportunity to integrate Jewish values into expectations for how people treat one another.
At the Agency for Jewish learning, we have worked with all our Jewish schools to address this critical issue. Over the past several years, we have partnered with our three Jewish day schools in initiatives designed to help teachers and students address the issues of bullying, or “social aggression.” AJL supported Community Day School, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools as they introduced the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, including joint training sessions, follow-up meetings, the implementation of a student survey and ongoing check-in and review. Since then, our schools have, along with their peers in private and public schools, created various initiatives to hold students and staff accountable for the feelings of those in their school communities.
But we cannot rely on our schools alone to deal with bullying.
Our schools should help guide parents about what is normal and what is excessive social aggression. Parents must communicate routinely with their child’s school, and become a partner in helping their child navigate the rough waters of social interaction at school.
But as a parent, I must set expectations and hold my daughter accountable for how she treats others. I must support her and help her learn to handle the social dramas that confront her. In Jewish tradition, schools are our agents in educating our children. We must also be part of the process.
As parents, we can hold our children accountable by asking simple questions:
• Did you treat your parents and friends with respect today?
• If there was a problem in school today, were you part of the problem or part of the solution?
It is inevitable that our kids will be tempted to bully others, and that our kids will experience intimidation. As parents, we can help make our children resilient, with a positive self-image, and provide them with coping strategies. We must ensure that they feel their obligation to be respectful and empathetic to others.
This way we will raise our children b’tzelem elokim — truly in God’s image.
(Ed Frim is the executive director of the Agency for Jewish Learning.)