Reflecting on the Columbine Massacre
Today, America reflects on the events of April 20th, 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. It was a tragic day that changed how we view school safety and made us hug our kids a bit tighter, each day. After the Columbine Massacre, America asked what could cause two students to kill 12 of their classmates and one of their teachers. Their conclusion led to one thing – bullying.
The War on Bullying
Following Columbine, America quickly launched the war on bullying, in an effort to stop school violence. Their number one goal was learning how to prevent school shootings. Since then, the anti-bullying movement has drawn support from students, parents, educators, mental health professionals and lawmakers, alike. Anger towards the Columbine shooters soon became directed towards stopping bullies.
After 20 years, we have learned a lot about what does and doesn’t stop bullying. In fact, you could say America has been “schooled”. Unfortunately stopping social aggression at school wasn’t as easy as empowering bystanders, enforcing zero-tolerance policies, or simply teaching students to be kind. Additionally, telling students to report all incidents was found to make bullying worse. Soon it became clear that schools across the nation were writing checks for failing programs, left and right, while desperate for a working solution.
Today, we know that the secrets to stop bullying have a lot to do with building emotional resilience, student empowerment, and social and emotional learning skills.
The anti-bullying movement was based on the premise or theory that students are unable to stop bullying on their own. It views kids as victims, completely powerless to change their situation without outside intervention. Due to this mindset, many efforts are focused on changing the environment around the victim (through other people, programs, policy, and procedures). Many schools found that, despite their best efforts, the bullying got worse.
All experts on bullying agree that bullying is an imbalance of power. Since this is true, what might happen if we simply empowered the victim (or target) of aggression? As professionals began to ask this question, they saw that one of the most effective ways to irradiate bullying is by empowering the victim directly.
Building Emotional Resilience
If you get to know the Columbine survivors and families effected by the tragedy, one word that continually surfaces is resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to leverage adversities for psychological growth. It is perhaps the greatest lesson that Columbine can teach us. Surely those impacted by this tragedy had to become resilient and students targeted by bullying can learn to do the same.
Today, resilience education programs are leading the pack in effective methods for bullying prevention. Instead of teaching students what to do when they are hurt, kids learn how not to be hurt by the words and actions of others. Through education, children learn simple skills for guarding their heart and disputing irrational thoughts.
Social and Emotional Learning
Another trend showing up in schools is the push for social and emotional learning. While most classes focus on academics, social and emotional learning teaches students how to manage their feelings and handle relationships. Since social drama and hurt feelings are what often distracts students from learning, these efforts can help the overall health of students and campus culture. Nashville Public Schools saw an 11% increase in academic scores as a result of SEL programs in their district.
Since students targeted by bullying often feel inept to respond, social skills can help their prepare a response. Emotional coping skills teach students how to deal with stressors and promote mental health. Through rehearsing bullying scenarios, parents and educators can learn how to empower children to deal with haters.
I dedicate this blog post to all those effected by the events of April 20th, 1999 at Columbine High School.
A special thanks to the family and friends of Rachel Joy Scott. Your stories, support, and love have changed my life and I am forever grateful.