Why We Should All Care About Unity Day

Oct 14, 2016

Net Nanny’s Social Media Manger, Toni Schmidt, recently had a conversation with Julie Hertzog, Director, PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center on Unity Day and steps parents can take if they suspect bullying.

Why is Unity Day important?
Unity Day, held on the third Wednesday of October, is a time when everyone can come – in schools, communities, and online- and send one message of support, hope, and unity. The call to action is simple: wear and share the color orange. Orange provides a powerfully, visually compelling expression of solidarity. When hundreds of individuals in a school or organization wear orange, the vibrant statement becomes a conversation starter, sending the unified message to kids to know that they are not alone, that bullying is not accepted in the community, and that there are individuals who believe ALL kids have the right to be safe at school, online and in the community.

If a parent suspects their child is being bullied, what’s the first step they should take to protect their child?
When parents suspect their child is being bullied, the first step is to listen. Ask open-ended questions to help your child talk about his or her situation. It’s the child’s story; let him or her tell it. Be supportive by telling your child it is not his fault and he does not deserve to be bullied. Let them know you are there for him, will help him get through this and that he is not alone. Next, take action, without intervention, bullying will often continue, which makes it important to develop a plan and strategy on what to do next. Empower your child by involving them in the solution.

With the implementation of all the bullying programs in schools, has awareness decreased incidences of bullying overall?
The good news is that over the past few years the statistics show that reports of bullying have decreased from one of every three students, to approximately one of every four. Yet, these statistics may not reflect the full story. The data captures only those that report, its commonly believed that the numbers could be much higher, as its been demonstrated that large numbers of students often don't report being bullied. There are also populations of students that also report much higher rates of incidence, including students with disabilities, students who are perceived or identify as LGBT, or students with weight issues.

If a child’s school doesn’t have a bully prevention program, how can a parent make a difference in their child’s school?
There is a poignant quote that, “We can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.” In addition to advocating for your own children, and encouraging them to also be supportive of those experiencing bullying, parents can get involved by offering their time to help schools with activities designed to bring awareness and education. The month of October is a great time to get involved. A few ideas include parents offering to read books from PACER book club list to students and follow up with discussion questions, share information about Unity Day and encourage school body to wear orange, or helping to organize an information table at parents night using the You're Not Alone event toolkit.

If a parent’s child is being bullied, when should they involve professional help or even authorities?
It's always a good idea to be speaking to your child's teacher if they are being bullied. If the bullying continues, involve the principal and others. If the bullying is happening outside of school contacting law enforcement is an option. For cyberbullying situations, be sure to contact the social media provider for options or research how to report, block and intervene. If your child continues to have lingering effects from the bullying such as physical symptoms of headaches or stomachaches or emotional distress, such as anxiety or depression, then contact the family physician.

How can a parent tell the difference between bullying and conflict?

Bullying is different from conflict.

  • Conflict is a disagreement or argument in which both sides express their views.
  • Bullying is negative behavior directed by someone exerting power and control over another person.

Bullying is done with a goal to hurt, harm, or humiliate. With bullying, there is often a power imbalance between those involved, with power defined as elevated social status, being physically larger, or as part of a group against an individual. Students who bully perceive their target as vulnerable in some way and often find satisfaction in harming them. In normal conflict, children self-monitor their behavior. They read cues to know if lines are crossed, and then modify their behavior in response. Children guided by empathy usually realize they have hurt someone and will want to stop their negative behavior. On the other hand, children intending to cause harm and whose behavior goes beyond normal conflict responses might think, “Cool, I have more power. This is fun! Let’s see if I can break this kid!”

How has bullying changed since PACER Center founded National Bullying Month 10 years ago?
The change has been dramatic. In early 2000, I did a GOOGLE search with the key word "bullying" which brought back maybe 50 or so relevant hits. I then entered "disability" and "bullying" and less than 5 hits of note were returned. That same search today will bring 107 million results. The awareness has increased exponentially, and with that so has the education. For so long, bullying was viewed as a rite of passage, something that children simply had to endure as part of growing up. The emotional and physical harm was not recognized or acknowledged, nor was the impact on children's education of not wanting to go to school or decrease in grades. Ten years ago, very few states had laws on bullying prevention. Today, every state in the nation has a law. But, there is still much to do, as there are too many children who continue to silently endure being hurt, harmed or humiliated. It’s so important that they know that they have the right to be safe and that people care what is happening to them.