By: ParentFurther Editor, Jennifer Jolly
Have you met Jonah Mowry? The editors here at ParentFurther recently became acquainted with Jonah through YouTube, where he bravely spilled his deepest fears in front of an audience of millions when he revealed his heartbreaking experience with serious depression as a result of the years of bullying he had endured from his peers. Watch Jonah's bullying story below. Warning: video contains disturbing themes and offensive language. Watch Jonah's video >
This morning, we showed Jonah's video to some of our colleagues here at the Search Institute/ParentFurther office. There were tears, there was silence, but above all, there was passion. Jonah's bold statement only reiterated something that all of us here at Search Institute and ParentFurther are passionate about. The need for more Developmental Assets in schools, at home, and in our communities.
If you're unfamiliar with the Developmental Assets, you might be asking, "What are these 'Developmental Assets" and can they really solve the problem of bullying?
Here's what we believe: ABSOLUTELY
Why? Two reasons:
1. There is strong research behind the Developmental Assets and there are hundreds of schools and communities across the nation changing their own cultures of bullying to cultures of positive youth development as I type.
Search Institute's researchers have been studying the power of Developmental Assets for decades. These so called, "Assets" are 40 values, experiences, relationships, and qualities that bring many benefits to the young people who have them. They are important because the research has shown that when young people have more of those 40 assets, they are more likely to be leaders, to be careful of their health, and to do well in school. And when young people have more of those 40 assets, they are also less likely to use drugs, become involved in violence, or participate in other high-risk behaviors, including bullying. In short, the more of these assets a young person has, the more likely he or she is to succeed in many aspects of life.
2. Building Developmental Assets is a long-term strategy that creates positive community change. In her book, The Right to Be Safe: Putting an End to Bullying Behavior, Dr. Cricket Meehan highlights prevention and intervention strategies that don't work. She writes, "Simple, short-term solutions do not work because bullying is a long-term, often repeated problem. As such, it usually takes a repeated, long-term solution to fully address the dynamics involved in [bullying]."
This is why we believe that if we can be intentional about building assets in both victims and perpetrators of bullying, we can really make a difference for our kids. Now, this isn't to say that we should simply ignore bullying behavior. But what we should be doing is recognizing that bullying is a BEHAVIOR, it's not a permanent characteristic or trait of a young person.
For right now, what's important is to know how to recognize the signs of being bullied, the signs of bullying , and then take asset-based approaches to address the problem. For the long run, it's important to continue building assets in our families, schools, and communities to create a paradigm shift in these negative and high-risk behaviors.
The good news is, people are building assets every day! In fact, you might even be doing it, and may not even recognize it.
Did you volunteer at a local food shelter with your child over Thanksgiving? Do you say hello to the kids in your neighborhood when you see them? Do you make time for family dinners at least once a week? If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you are building assets. It's that simple!
The list of physical, psychological, emotional, social, behavioral, and academic consequences of both kids who bully and kids who are bullied ranges from eating disorders, fear, anxiety, and poor academic achievement, to the most extreme of all, suicide. You can type "bullying" into your Google search bar, and you'll get an overwhelming return of thousands of articles about how to prevent bullying, websites dedicated to anti-bullying tactics, and celebrity PSA's against bullying. What you won't find, is probably the most common-sense solution to bullying, something that starts at home, occurs in the community and in schools, and creates a long-term, lasting and positive effect in our children: Developmental Assets.
That's why it's so important to spread the asset message.
Every community has a "Jonah". You might know him, you might not. What's important is we get to know him. When we don't acknowledge the Jonahs of the world and we don't acknowledge the bullying behaviors against the Jonahs of the world, we are doing irreparable harm. Bystanders need to speak up. Parents, educators, and youth workers need to recognize bullying behaviors, and be intentional about building more assets in kids. Every adult is capable of this.
So, what can you do right now?
1. Download the list of Developmental Assets, print it off, and look at it frequently. Pass it along to your friends and colleagues.
2. Become an "champion" of the Developmental Assets. Pay attention to young people. Smile at them. Learn their names. And catch them doing something right. The more positive energy we put out to our youth, the more we will get in return.
3. If you're comfortable doing it, share Jonah's video with your kids. Watch it together. Ask them how it makes them feel. Talk about how bullying others can lead to serious risk behaviors like depression, cutting, and suicidal thoughts.
4. Share this article. E-mail it to your friends; share it on Facebook; share it on Twitter; send it to your child's teacher; send it to your school principal, and get the word out to help every adult start to understand that if we really want to put an end to bullying, it's so important to be intentional about how we approach bullying and the valuable young people in our world._________________________________________________________________________________________________
1. Developmental Assets, ParentFurther
2. High Risk Behaviors: Bullying, ParentFurther
3. Cricket Meehan, Ph.D, The Right to Be Safe: Putting an End to Bullying Behavior (Search Institute Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2011).