Igniting the Passion: Prevention of Bullying and Peer Aggression
by Nancy Lindhjem, Ed.S., NCSP

Passion is a funny thing. Sometimes it lies dormant like the perennials in my garden over the long, cold winter months. Other times, it’s as evident as a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Currently, my passion falls into this latter category.

Last fall, several of us at CRG decided to address an issue that has been a concern to us for quite some time – bullying and what steps we can take to prevent it. We see students of all ages in our practice, many of whom have fallen into one of three typical categories in regard to bullying and peer aggression: bullies, victims, or bystanders. It is clear that a new category needs to be developed. It is incumbent upon all of us, as mental health professionals, parents, school personnel,  medical providers, law enforcement, community members, etc., to help create a cadre of upstanders, people who will not just look the other way, walk off, or join in when others are being victimized. Instead, we need to help our children demonstrate compassion, strength, and courage in helping to put an end to these harmful behaviors. It is this cause that has ignited my passion.

On November 3, 2012, CRG will partner with the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY), to host a one-day symposium entitled Bully Prevention: Creating a Culture of Acceptance at theIndianapolisConvention Center, followed by a celebration that evening at theIndianapolisArtsGarden. The symposium will bring together people from various corners of our community who all have a vested interest in this topic. We have also decided to incorporate the arts into this memorable day in the hope that we will be able to touch people’s hearts as well as their heads, thereby prompting each participant to subsequently become involved in this effort in a real way. The responses I have received from all of the amazing people I’ve talked to thus far have been overwhelming, but why should that be surprising? What could be more important than the health and safety of our children?

I have been like a woman possessed for the past few months, although I like to think of it as “inspired.” It’s not often in my life that I awake before the alarm to get on my computer to answer emails, send letters to new contacts, or do some research on the topic. Almost every day for the past several weeks I have had meetings with people from various organizations in our town, all of whom think that we are doing the right thing by bringing attention to this very important topic.

I have truly been inspired by the number of dedicated people we have in our community who continue to put the needs and welfare of our children first. From Asante Children’s Theater, to Young Actors Theatre, to the Indianapolis Children’s Choir and the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, among others, it is clear that the arts have been a gift to many of these children for whom life might otherwise be a dismal place.

I have also been extremely impressed by various youth organizations such as our partners at MCCOY, Indiana Youth Group, Indiana Afterschool Network, Very Special Arts, and Young Audiences, who tirelessly organize and develop programs to meet the needs of students of all ages. All of these programs require increasingly scarce resources to operate.  I have become acutely aware of how exceedingly important fundraising is to ensure that all of these programs will be able to continue.

Preparing for the symposium has brought me into contact with some of our legislators who work behind the scenes to create policy that ensure that our children are being protected. I’ve also become aware of organizations such as the Peace Learning Center who quietly but effectively promote practices that teach respect and responsible conflict resolution.

My reignited passion has also moved me to share information about Tribes Learning Communities (www.tribes.com) with our symposium participants.  This is an evidence-based process that symposium participants can use to create an accepting culture in our schools. This is accomplished by the adoption and practice of four community agreements, including mutual respect, attentive listening, the right to pass, and appreciations/no putdowns. This systemic process of change can transform a school culture to one that focuses on the whole child, including intellectual, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual development, instead of the current intense focus on test scores alone.  In my opinion, it is no coincidence that the increase in peer aggression is directly related to the increased focus over the past several years on our children from only the neck up.  If we are really going to prevent bullying and other forms of peer aggression, everyone in the culture needs to participate in creating an accepting culture, adults and children alike.

Planning this symposium, Bully Prevention:  Creating Culture of Acceptance, has inspired me by showing me the “heart” of Indianapolis – and I definitely like what I see. I don’t see this conference in November as a one-day event, but more of a coming together, over time, of like minds in unity to solve a very important problem. Let’s have our own parade because we do, indeed, have an incredible cast of characters!

To contact Nancy, please email nlindhjem@tribes.com