The Protectors



The Harding University Honors College recently hosted Paul Coughlin, an expert in the field of school and workplace bullying, as part of the L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series in the American Heritage Auditorium. Coughlin discussed “How to Bring God’s Love & Justice Into the ‘Theater of Bullying.'”

A best-selling author and school bullying expert who spoke at Harding University last year believes bystanders are the answer to what is now considered the No. 1 form of child abuse.

Paul Coughlin, who discussed “How to Bring God’s Love and Justice Into the ‘Theater of Bullying'” as part of the university’s L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series, said that as a former victim of bullying, he wanted to “work on behalf of justice” and found his program Protectors in 2005 to diminish bullying in schools.

Coughlin said he took inventory of his life and decided he wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives. He studied the topic of bullying for years before noticing an alternative approach to the problem that traditional, and unsuccessful, programs were overlooking. The Protectors website states that unlike other anti-bullying efforts that focus primarily upon reforming children who bully and which are historically ineffective, Protectors focuses on the rescuing capacity of bystanders.

“I studied the topic for like three years before I really created anything. And after three years I thought, ‘You know what? We may be on to something here in regard to growing courage on behalf of the bystander, seeing them as a protector.’ That was the genesis of it,” Coughlin said.

He also provides assertiveness training for targets, educates authority figures about bullying and attempts to inspire children who bully to employ their power in life-affirming directions instead.

“I am proud to help kids who are targets to no longer be targets,” Coughlin said. “The target can do things that can make it better in many circumstances. If we take that away, then they’re hopeless and their parents are hopeless too. It’s devastating to see how hopeless parents become.

“We have brought hope to thousands of kids who were pretty hopeless. … We have created protectors. We are proud to help create the kind of person who stands up for the weak and vulnerable and the wounded in spirit.”

Since there were already anti-bullying initiatives in public schools, Coughlin, who is a Christian, said he started Protectors as a faith-based program, but it didn’t take long for public schools to request his program as well. The program now has curriculum for public and private schools.

“Bullying stems from such profound human weakness — public schools are not allowed to speak to the spiritual side of bullying ”¦ they are not able to speak to the entire child,” Coughlin said. “I think, given the dynamic of bullying, Christian education has a unique ability to address it.”

Brandon Emlaw, president of the Honors College student advisory council, said that once the council learned what Coughlin’s organization did, he knew Harding students, especially in the education department, would benefit from his message. After the presentation, Emblaw said he felt “profoundly inspired.”

“I think a big part of it is to maintain hope and the perspective that even though this is a big problem there are things that can be done, and that we can put an end to bullying even if it’s just one small step at a time. Especially the education majors in the audience, I can imagine getting discouraged by the magnitude of the problem,” Emlaw said. “There are approaches and strategies and good things that we can do to help. It was really encouraging to me and I’d hope an encouragement to the education majors.”

During his visit at the end of October, Coughlin said he was able to inspire more than 200 Searcy grade-school students to publicly apologize for bullying and related behavior. He said he has kids apologize publicly because they often want to “get it off their chest” and bullies respond to positive peer pressure. Coughlin said that if the majority of students would provide direct intervention, “report not tattle” and comfort their targets after bullying occurs, it would reduce bullying in America by about 80 percent within two to three weeks.

“Kids need to be saved from themselves. They lack the wisdom and foresight on many complex issues and certainly the theater of bullying is a complex issue,” Coughlin said. “With wisdom, and grace and courage on behalf of educators, they can help kids navigate these difficult waters, but they’re not going to do it on their own.”

Dear loving parents and adults, we must lead the charge against bullying. Here’s how we can start

By Paul Coughlin | Originally published on

Bullying in teen years linked to health problems

Study: Childhood trauma can lead to headaches, insomnia and more

By this time of year, school bullies have separated their prey from the herd – nice kids, shy ones, the kids whose parents tragically tell them to “turn the other cheek” – and filled their child victims with fears of humiliation, isolation and threats.

Tragically, school bullying is far more widespread than many people realize. Studies show that about 28 percent of students age 12-18 report being bullied at school each year, and about 160,000 children a day skip school across the country to avoid bullying. These targets feel less than others, because that is what their bullies and supporters tell them.

The result is lethal. Far too many times, I’ve talked with yet another grieving and weeping mother who has lost her child due to suicide caused by bullying – bullycide.

Like Jill Moore, who wept when she told me how her daughter, Alex, was so miserable at Jemison High School in Jemison, Alabama, that she hurled herself off an overpass and into morning rush-hour traffic, after years of ongoing bullying.

Like Maureen Molak, whose son, David, took his life due to brutal cyberbullying, even after transferring to a Christian school in San Antonio, Texas. She wept when telling me how David felt that “God had abandoned him. Our family will never be the same. It feels like a life sentence for all of us.”

Like the gentle and humble immigrant mother from Mexico, whose daughter tried to kill herself, or more accurately, tried to drain the pain drowning her tender spirit.

Panicked to the point of wheezing, her mother wept while telling me how her daughter’s head was bashed into a short concrete curb at school by a known female bully. The daughter was then punched multiple times by the same bully on the back of her head as she lay unconscious on the same skull-white concrete.

The girl’s frantic mother said in broken English that she makes her beautiful daughter sleep next to her every night, and drapes her right arm across her daughter’s body so she cannot slip her motherly grasp and try to take her life again.

Though a bullied child can be nine times more likely to consider or attempt suicide, most thankfully do not walk this desperate path. But something within them is still murdered – their vulnerable spirit.

It’s happening at this hour and every hour. Parents across our country are seeing vitality and hope drain out of their precious children. They are seeing what Martin Luther King saw in the eyes of one of his daughters, the “ominous clouds of inferiority (in their) little mental sky.…”

That little light of theirs no longer shines, such as happened with a 9-year-old boy with hemophilia, whose mother pulled him from public school and put him in a Christian school. But he’s still being bullied and is crying for help.

“He’s being bullied verbally, emotionally and now physically by the majority of students,” the boy’s mother said. “He has no self-esteem and doesn’t fight back. I constantly worry he’ll kill himself. I need someone to take this seriously. It’s killing me to watch my son so miserable.”

We adults must lead our children out of this complex bramble of disdain and hatred, and we have a long way to go, as revealed in the latest social experiment from Burger King. You may have seen the viral video where only 12 percent of adults helped a bullied child in a Burger King, yet 95 percent of the same adults complained about their inexpensive burger being mangled.

It’s a whopper of a fail. Until we adults care more about the psychological and spiritual well-being of our children – worth far more than a cheap slab of pressed beef – more precious children will take their lives in a shortsighted and desperate act to just make their pain go away.

Mature, loving adults must lead the charge – in part by taking courage from those already fighting and winning. Like Maureen Molak, who is burning out the bad soil of suffering and maternal grief, and transforming it into a laser beam of love.

Molak helped create David’s Law in Texas, perhaps the most powerful anti-bullying legislation in America. And she spearheaded the DBM Project, which stands for David Bartlett Molak, but also stands for Don’t Bully Me.

This project provides pro bono legal advocacy for targets of bullying and their families in Texas. The goal is not to gain money from the bully’s family, but liberation for targets and their families.

Sometimes, just a letter from an attorney can make bullying stop, smashing the stubborn myth that bullies can’t control themselves. They can. They just need a strong enough reason to stop.

May the DBM Project spread to every state in our great nation, and in the process, drape a loving arm across the shoulders of abused children and their families for generations to come.

What Parents Look for in Christian Schools

Research Releases in Schools & Colleges • August 22, 2017

This article is part of Barna’s back-to-school series. In the coming weeks, we’ll explore brand new research on education, from parents’ expectations and college trends to students’ schedules and school violence.

With the new academic year upon us, parents will be preparing to send their children off to school with different expectations and motivations for their education. Their process of choosing a school was most likely informed by the educational objectives they most value for their children. But what are the priorities of parents when it comes to choosing a school? And what role does faith play in such important decisions? In partnership with the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), Barna asked parents of current and prospective Christian school students about their schooling decisions.

The Goals of Education
When it comes to what they consider to be the goals or ultimate purpose of education, parents of both current ACSI students and prospective students want more for their children than a list of accomplishments or path to wealth. Parents clearly think of schools as meeting a complex range of student and family needs. Of course, that includes academic subjects. It also includes other ways of developing and nurturing children.

Barna asked these parents to choose the top five purposes of education. For both groups of parents, the most selected goal of education is to instill strong principles and values (current: 69%, prospective: 53%).

The most selected goal of Christian education is to instill strong principles and values. CLICK TO TWEET

There are some key differences however. Prospective parents are more focused on objectives related to personal achievement and social skills like “practical life skills” (51% compared to 31%), “increased opportunities in life” (45% compared to 29%), and a “fulfilling career” (38% compared to 22%). On the other hand, parents of current students place a higher priority on spiritual goals and a lower value on personal achievement. As a group, the ACSI parents believe education is primarily for developing a child’s character and spirituality, then academics and career. They do not believe education’s ability to raise a child’s socioeconomic status is nearly as important.

In addition to instilling strong principles and values, a majority of parents of current students place a high priority on five goals that include “love for God and other people” (65% compared to 33%), the “ability to apply their knowledge” (referred to as wisdom) (60% compared to 47%), “faithfulness and obedience to God” (54% compared to 21%) and “leadership skills” (52% compared to 46%).

What Parents Want in Schools
Most parents are looking for a school that aligns with their general ideas about education—what a school should do. However, parents’ specific priorities when it comes to choosing a school seem to reveal another side to what they value in an education—what a school should be like.

Safety’s first. Next come quality teachers, academic excellence and character development. Barna asked parents to rate 23 characteristics of a school from “essential” to “nice to have” to “not necessary.” What follows is a detailed look at the top four characteristics that are most important to parents.

1. Safety
A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and prospective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include “cultural safety,” such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect.

A safe environment is essential to current and prospective parents of Christian school students. CLICK TO TWEET

Based on findings from qualitative research, parents considering sending their child to a Christian school are thinking of their children’s physical and emotional safety from other children in the school. However, parents with children currently in Christian schools are more likely to be thinking of the freedom to ask questions or raise doubts, like those related to their faith.

Among parents of current ACSI students, almost half (47%) rate their current school with a 10 of out 10 for providing a safe environment. Comparatively, only 4 percent rate charter schools and public schools in the same way. Prospective parents, though more generous toward public (21%) and charter schools (35%), also give private Christian schools (both 42%) a 10 of out 10 for their ability to provide a safe environment.

2. Quality Teachers
Children experience a wide range of relationships at school, but the core ones are with peers and teachers. Parents want warm teachers who they can reach easily. “Teachers who really care about their students” (98%) is the aspect of schools that ACSI parents are most likely to say is essential (tied with safety at 98%), followed closely by “accessible teachers,” which slightly fewer (94%) said was a necessity. Likewise, almost all prospective parents believe caring and accessible teachers (91 and 80 percent, respectively) are essential to schooling.

Parents—especially of ACSI students—generally want small class sizes for their children (current: 63%, prospective: 49%). It seems likely this aspect of a school might indicate to parents that their child will get the personal attention from teachers that nearly all deem crucial.

Parents whose children are in private Christian schools tend to rank their experience with the schools very highly. Almost six in 10 (59%) give their current school a 10 of out 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and over half (52%) give the same ranking to “accessible teachers.” For prospective parents, almost four in 10 (38%) gave a 10 out of 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and about one-third (34%) gave the same rating for “accessible teachers.”

Parents with kids in private Christian schools tend to rank their experience very highly. CLICK TO TWEET

3. Academic Excellence
Academic excellence is a top priority for parents of both current and prospective Christian school students. Nearly all current Christian school parents(95%)say it is essential. For prospective parents, that number is slightly lower, at 88 percent. Surprisingly, parents do not consider academic excellence more important as their children grow older and closer to the window for college admissions.

Current ACSI parents rate their schools quite well for academic excellence. More than one-third (38%) give their schools a 10 out of 10. Altogether, 86 percent rate the school a seven or above, and more than two-thirds of current parents choose “fosters excellence” to describe private Christian schools—ranking them far above other types of schools.

Fewer prospective parents share that view. They give lower scores to private Christian schools, with 29 percent saying that Christian private schools have the highest academic standards. It is not clear where this difference in perceptions comes from, except that those with a personal experience of ACSI schools have a much higher view of the schools’ academics.

4. Character Development & Spirituality
Current and prospective parents both also give high priority to “intentionally developing children’s character” (current: 94%, prospective: 73%). But in addition, current parents especially desire spiritual development for their children. This reinforces the above findings showing how most current Christian school parents believe that character and spiritual development are among the ultimate purposes of education.

When it comes to spiritual formation specifically, more than eight in 10 (82%) parents of current students believe it is essential when weighing a choice between different schools, but only one-quarter of parents of prospective students(26%) feel the same.

It seems that ACSI schools (private Christian schools) fulfill these expectations, especially for current parents. More than half of parents of current students gave Christian schools the highest score (10 of 10) for being deliberate about developing children’s character (59%) and spirituality (66%). In both categories, over 97 percent of parents give the schools a score higher than six out of 10.

Prospective parents rank Christian schools much lower on these two measures (35% gave a perfect 10 of 10 for character development and 42% gave a 10 of 10 for spiritual development). However, about three-quarters of prospective parents gave a score of six of 10 or better on those two dimensions of spiritual development.

Comment on this research and follow our work:
Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @roxyleestone | @barnagroup
Facebook: Barna Group

About the Research
A sample of ACSI schools invited parents to participate in these surveys. To qualify, parents had to have a decision-making role in their children’s education and to have at least one child enrolled in an ACSI school. The prospective parent survey went to a nationally representative group of adults who had children in grades K–11 (those with seniors in high school and no other children were not included). To be counted in the survey, they had to indicate that they would be open to sending their child to a private Christian school. There was no restriction on the religion of these parents. While this survey was offered to a nationally representative group, the group that met the qualifications was also different from an average collection of American parents. Read the full research report at ACSI.

About Barna
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2017

Bullying: The forgotten lesson in 13 Reasons Why

By Paul Coughlin | Originally published on

During the final episode of Season One of the fictional and controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, the main character, high school junior Hannah Baker, requests a meeting with school counselor, Mr. Porter. She tells him she’s “lost,” and “doesn’t care about anything” anymore, and that she “needs everything to stop.” She’s a young woman sliding into the abyss of hopelessness, and the thoughts of suicide that follow.

Clever, funny, and beautiful Hannah is beleaguered by a series of personal and public calamities, most revolving around bullying and a horrific rape. The difference between the two isn’t as vast as many think. Both dehumanize their target, and include the lust for, and pleasure gained from, power, domination, and control.

Hannah Baker is confused, and at times despondent, before Porter. The fire behind her glamorous and hazel-blue eyes fades to embers. She’s still breathing, but she’s dying inside.

Before deciding to take her life, she records how, after leaving Porter’s office, she waited to see if he would throw open his dark, walnut-colored office door to pursue and rescue her. But his phone rings. Again. Concerned about Hannah, but over-worked, he takes the call instead.

“No one is coming forward to stop me” from killing herself, she says. The music at this point is ominous, but in a positive way, as if to celebrate and even glorify her ensuing suicide. The soundtrack makes her decision sound and feel heroic.

As someone who works with thousands of youth each year to diminish bullying, and tired of speaking with mothers destroyed by their child’s decision to kill themselves due at least in part to bullying, I wish that scene never appeared, because otherwise deft Hannah Baker handed agency of her life to another, a lethal mistake that some youth won’t notice.

Others aren’t responsible for our mental health. Yet at the same time, others do influence it, especially bullies, which is an important and lost message this series offers us, a series even elementary school-aged children are watching.

In addition to our current campaign to reverse the thoughts of glorifying suicide, we should also use this Netflix series as an opportunity to battle adolescent bullying, the leading cause of child abuse in our nation.

We should explain how serial targets are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide. We should reveal to children and adults how being cruel, mean and even wicked helps children gain and maintain social status, especially during the middle-school years. In an attempt to grow needed empathy, we should explain how a female serial target like Hannah is 25 times more likely to develop agoraphobia than her non-bullied peers, ruining adult lives.

In order to return the needed stigma to bullying, and get the attention of serial bullies, we should explain how they are far more likely to go to prison after graduation and abuse their future spouse and children.

But most importantly, we should use 13 Reasons Why to show how standing up to bullying represents the best in human nature by promoting the virtue of kindness, but not just any form of kindness. We must promote courageous kindness, because as the late Maya Angelou explained, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

We must tell true stories of heroic kindness bolstered by courage, the kind a young mother named Lisa told me about recently. Before graduating from high school three years ago, she noticed how a boy she didn’t really know was being bullied at lunchtime by five girls. Lisa became angry and indignant, which helped fuel her courage to invite the young man to sit with her and her friends during lunch for the remainder of the school year.

What Lisa didn’t know, until three years later after meeting the boy’s mother, was that he was planning to kill himself. He created a suicide box, which contained a cord to hang himself, a suicide note, and keepsakes that he wanted his mother to cherish. She found it in his room and tearfully confronted her son when he returned from school. He told his mother that he wasn’t going through with it. He told her about kind and courageous Lisa.

“We are the inheritors of a coarsened society…A coarse place is by definition anti-child because it is anti-innocence,” writes Peggy Noonan. I believe bullying will get worse across the nation due to our coarsening society. But it will get better in pockets of resistance. Let’s use 13 Reasons Why to grow our resistance, by creating more students like Lisa, who stand up to bullying and in the process save the lives of real-life Hannah Bakers.

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying-Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.

Worried About Your School Culture? How to Start a Bullying Prevention Program

Interested in starting a bullying prevention program at your school? Here’s who to include and what to consider.

With research suggesting as many as one in three U.S. students are bullied at school,many educators are eager to find ways to make their buildings safe. Bullying affects not only the person being bullied but also the bully and bystanders, creating an environment in which it’s difficult to learn and succeed.

When setting up a bullying prevention program, experts says it’s important to have strong leadership from the top along with grassroots buy-in. Programs don’t have to cost a lot of money. It can take time and personnel to set up policies and reporting mechanisms, but a committed team can make progress and the effort is worth it.

Here are eight things to consider when embarking on a bullying prevention program:

1. Be comprehensive.

Bullying is a complex issue that emerges in homes, schools and communities as kids model adult behavior. Efforts to address it should be developmentally appropriate and include all invested parties. Jessica Toste, assistant professor in the college of education at the University of Texas in Austin, suggests asking for input from teachers from different grade levels and content areas, administrators, mental health professionals, students, other school staff members and perhaps a parent or community member. It may start with a big assembly, but the conversation needs to continue in the classroom with teachers, among student groups, and at home with families to build trusting relationships at all levels.

2. Accentuate the positive.

Rather than anti-bullying, frame the effort as one that promotes a positive school culture and acceptance. “The majority of teachers and administrators want their schools to be environments that are safe and positive and affirming for their students,” says Toste. In addition to academic skills, schools are increasingly seeing the value of promoting social-emotional learning – teaching kids how to regulate their emotions, demonstrate compassion, and accept people from different backgrounds and cultures. With that climate as the foundation, bullying can become less of an issue.

3. Commit to the long term.

Research shows that for bullying prevention efforts to work, schools should commit to programs for the long-term. “It’s something that needs to be in place regularly because these aren’t issue that we clean up and then everything is better. They are issues with humans interacting and kids learning,” says Toste. One example of an ongoing effort is the Reaching Out with Character and Kindness—or ROCK—program at Keller Independent School District in northern Texas, now entering its fourth year. ROCK is both proactive, with staff and student training, as well as reactive, with a process to report and investigate bullying incidents, says Laura Lockhart, coordinator of student services at Keller. The steering committee is a standing committee that recognizes the importance of committing to the long-term culture. “Bullying is not going away after doing one exciting assembly. It’s something that is deeper than that,” says Lockhart. “Reaching out with character and kindness is just part of who we want to be.”

4. Customize to fit your needs.

The committee at Keller worked together to come up with a mission and vision for ROCK. Students helped come up with the acronym and logo. “Whenever you get something out of a box, it doesn’t meet all of the unique needs of your community,” says Lockhart. “It was very important that it was designed with Keller ISD in mind … getting as many voices involved was crucial.”

5. Get buy-in from the cool kids.

Bullying is often linked to social status and is perpetrated by some of the most popular kids in school. Paul Coughlin, who speaks about bullying in schools and is the founder of Medford, Oregon-based nonprofit The Protectors, says any efforts to stem bullying need to include kids who are in positions of power and hold up a mirror to show the reality of what they are doing. “Many of these kids are aware they are being cruel, but many are not aware of the extent of their cruelty,” says Coughlin. “Unfortunately, they don’t have the necessary empathy and sympathy for the child that they are bullying.” Sometimes showing bullies a video of another bullying incident and explaining that what they are doing is similar can resonate, suggests Coughlin.

6. Make a splash.

Messages that promote a positive school culture need to be visible in classes, hallways and in the community. At Keller ISD, a special merchandise committee sells fun items, such as bracelets and T-shirts, with the ROCK logo to promote the brand and program, says Lockhart. The communications committee makes sure ROCK is talked about on Twitter and through newsletters. Experts add that free materials are available to distribute from websites such as

7. Get a handle on the problem.

Consider surveys of students to truly evaluate the school climate and effectiveness of programs, suggests Toste of the University of Texas. Ask how students feel about safety and if they have someone in the building they feel they can go to if they are in need. Compare results before and after initiatives have been launched to fine-tune the work.

8. Set up a good reporting system.

Setting up a process to report and track bullying can be a powerful tool, experts suggest. To make sure the response to bullying is appropriate, Keller ISD set up an investigation process aimed at getting the entire story so the solution can be informed and keep everyone safe, says Lockhart. Schools also may want to consider an anonymous reporting system, suggest Coughlin. Some apps, such as Stopit, can make reporting easier and cut down on bullying.

As for the future, Coughlin predicts the bullying landscape will get worse with the lack of civility in broader society and with negative politics this campaign season. Still, it will get better in pockets of resistance and with support from concerned parents, he says. Schools that get it right and become known for taking the issue seriously can find it’s an opportunity to attract students, adds Coughlin.

“You can’t educate well with the presence of bullying,” says Coughlin. “Having the presence of bullying in the classroom and trying to teach is like having a gas leak. There are going to be a few kids who can do it, but they are going to be surviving, not thriving. They are just trying to make it through the day.”

10 Things Every Teacher Should Know About Classroom Microagressions

Microagressions aren’t as outright as physical bullying. But there’s still no place for them in school. Here’s how to prevent classroom microagressions.

Boy Being Teased – Preventing Classroom Microagressions

When a student is pushed in the lunchroom or otherwise physically bullied, it’s a clear case for intervention. But it can be trickier to know how to handle more subtle hostile behavior—or microaggressions. While not always targeting an individual, these verbal barbs or actions often disparage a particular group and can contribute to an unhealthy school climate.

Here’s what teachers should know about microaggressions so they can effectively address this toxic behavior at different ages before it turns into bullying:

1. Microagressions are often linked to language.

Behavior that might not look like bullying, but communicates hostile or derogatory attitudes toward a particular group—by race, sexual orientation or disability—can be microaggressions. They may be spoken words that obviously victimize, such using the word “retard” or referring to something as “gay.” But linguistic microagressions take subtler turns, too. Continually mispronouncing a student’s name can be considered a microagression, for example. So can making assumptions about a student’s background. You’re Hispanic! What do you mean you don’t speak Spanish? Here’s a list of other common microagressions that happen in schools.

You can make a difference by being aware of the words you use, what your students are saying, and by providing corrective feedback about what is and isn’t appropriate, says Jessica Toste, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Texas in Austin. It’s about being conscious of how our language has an impact on everyone in the classroom.

2. Exclusive actions can also be harmful.

Microaggressions can also be actions that exclude or tear down certain people—sometimes without the intent to harm, although that’s the result. For instance, for someone in a wheelchair it can be a microaggression for the class to arrange a field trip to a location that is not accessible. Having gendered bathrooms or activities can have a negative impact on transgendered students. “It’s not targeting [those students] in any way or trying to make them feel bad, but it’s something that can have a huge impact on them as they have to maneuver that situation,” says Toste.

3. Teachers can set the tone.

It’s important for teachers to set up a classroom community where diversity and differences are not only accepted, but celebrated, say Toste. Stigmas and negative perceptions can be diminished when teachers talk with students. “Be open that people need different things to learn and to be successful. We all come from different experiences and have different strengths,” says Toste. “Sometimes we try to just make everything feel exactly equal without recognizing the fact that we all need different things.”

4. Inclusive curriculum can create acceptance.

Include literature and have conversations around various kinds of family structures, identities, and backgrounds, suggests Toste. “Never representing a family structure that is similar to one lived in by a kid in the class can be difficult for them,” she says. Check out educator resources for the classroom from the Oleweus Bullying Program.

5. Be aware of gender identity and sexuality issues.

Microaggressions are often linked to gender or sexuality. Rather than assuming all students want to date someone of the opposite sex—or date at all—a supportive school environment is sensitive to hosting activities such as a “Sadie Hawkins” dance, for example, and responsive to the needs of all students, says Toste.

6. Kids are looking for a response.

Bullying is like a ladder that kids climb, testing out their skills along the way. And the first rung is microaggressions, says Jan Urbanski, director of Safe and Humane Schools at Clemson University. “Whether intentional or not, microaggressions can cause and perpetuate a power imbalance based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or other identity status,” she says. “When these aggressive behaviors are not systematically addressed, patterns of bullying may emerge. If unchecked, they can also create a climate that allows bullying to happen.”

7. Relationships can be used as weapons.

Relational microaggressions happen when someone intentionally embarrasses another person—often with some form of gossip—designed to isolate or humiliate them, say Paul Coughlin, founder and president of The Protectors, a nonprofit anti-bullying organization based in Medford, Oregon. A bully can appear friendly to the victim, but the friendship is actually highly conditional and if the victim is dropped the hurt can be profound. Teachers should be aware of this, particularly in middle school, and be available to support students who are victimized.

8. Include parents in the issue.

“Bullying is a cultural problem, not a school problem,” says Coughlin. “Schools are unfairly saddled with solving it. They do not have all the tools necessary for this topic. Parents are the frontline defense.” Host special evening programs to talk about bullying and microaggressions with parents and encourage them to continue the dialogue at home to convey positive parental expectations to do the right thing.

9. Make it cool to be courageous.

Teachers are limited in what they can do when kids say cruel things, admits Coughlin, but they can help promote the idea that it’s “cool to be courageous” and empower others to speak up when they hear hostile behavior. The ones with power and who bully are often the popular kids. “Cruelty, meanness and unkindness are currency. You get ahead socially by being awful,” says Coughlin. “We have to make civil courage a currency in school settings.”

10. Empowering bystanders is key.

Bystanders need scripts to follow—non-violent words—that can denounce the behavior. Teachers and parents can encourage kids to intervene, report what they heard, and comfort the victim afterwards. Helping someone in need can actually help children develop a strong character and capacity for leadership. “There is no neutrality when it comes to bullying. We are affected when we witness it,” says Coughlin. “If we can get our kids to stand up against bullying, we are going to that make our schools better and grow greater civility in the American population.”

Bullies go shopping in September. They shop for targets. Here are 5 ways to protect kids

Originally posted on

School is finally in. And unfortunately, so is bullying.

Bullies go shopping in September, and it’s not just for school clothes or supplies. They shop for targets.

By the end of October, most bullies will have found their prey. These bullies aren’t looking for someone to fight. They profile kids they can overwhelm, who wither when criticized and mocked. Here’s how you can help defend your child against this intentional and repeated form of abuse from those with superior physical, verbal or social power.

The main quality most bullies look for is non-assertive and weak body language, which can include fearful or anxious facial expressions, rocking side-to-side when standing, slumped shoulders, little if any eye contact, short strides, and kids who don’t smile.

The main quality most bullies look for is non-assertive and weak body language, which can include fearful or anxious facial expressions, rocking side-to-side when standing, slumped shoulders, little if any eye contact, short strides, and kids who don’t smile.

1. Help them “fake it till they make it.” Coach your child to appear more confident and relaxed on the outside, even when they don’t feel that way on the inside. Remind them to stand taller, breathe deeply, hold their chin level, make more eye contact, lengthen their stride, and put a slight smile on their face.

A slight smile not only gives your child an air of confidence, it may also beneficially alter your child’s body chemistry as well. Harvard University’s Amy Cuddy has explored this dynamic through what she calls “power posing.” Students were told to stand in front of a mirror and strike an assertive pose, such as the famous Wonder Woman pose: hands on hips, legs slightly apart, shoulders back, and with a confident and slight smile on their face. The chemicals in their body associated with self-confidence increased after just a few minutes.

2. Forge friendships. Maintaining and growing friendships are essential for children, since bullies seek isolated prey. Help your child forge at least one meaningful friendship, but ideally three to five. Many targets are shy, and shy kids often need help with friendships. Remind your child to ask other children questions about their lives, to share their toys, and remember other kids’ birthdays. Have your child’s classmates into your home, and try not to contaminate their play by intervening too much. For some kids, especially boys, helping them forge more friendships will mean less video game time, so be prepared for this battle ahead of time.

3. Avoid the edges. Bullies want a public display of pain or anguish from targets, but they don’t want to get caught by authority. So they roam the edges of rooms and groups. Encourage your child to stay toward the front and middle of groups. Encourage them to ride toward the front of the school bus, where it’s easier for the driver to see them.

4. Memorize verbal comebacks. The vast majority of bullying is verbal, not physical. When your child cowers and says nothing in response, this can encourage bullies to keep going, and even escalate their attack. Help your child to practice resistance without war. This resistance can be offered through just one word: “Whatever.” It’s a great comeback because it’s dismissive, but it’s not a fighting word, which could get your child sent to the principal’s office.

Such a comeback involves more than just what your child says. It’s also how your child says it. Coach him or her to speak with confidence and then walk away. Too many targets try to reason with their bully through long, drawn out conversations. This is almost always a waste of time.

5. Be good at something. Kids who get bullied are often on the bottom rung of the social ladder, where kids are known as “nobodies.” Assess your child’s interests, then help your child explore those interests. Since many targets are shy, you will probably have to push them in this direction, but without shoving them. For example, being good at an instrument can help your child be a “somebody,” especially if they choose a popular one, such as the guitar.

With all that said, no child is bully-proof, and most targets don’t talk.

This week, promise your child that you will not run to the school and make things worse if he tells you about bullying, which is one of a target’s greatest fears.

Tell your child that you will come up with a game plan together, one that includes documentation.

Above all, tell your child that what is happening is wrong, that there is nothing wrong with him or her, and you will always be by their side.

Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying-Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.