Bullying Education Takes Center Stage at St. Louis Schools

It is one of the world's oldest parenting problems, but where our children used to be able to escape it in the confines of their homes, our constantly connected society has escalated the problem of bullying to the point of near crisis.

As parents and educators are grappling with how to handle this problem, organizations like Shakespeare Festival St. Louis locally, and Nickelodeon on the national level, are tackling the subject. The groups have developed programs to educate children on the issue of bullying and how to deal with this overwhelming and tender subject.

Christopher Limber, Education Director for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, explains that the bully and his tactics haven't changed much since the Bard's time, and goes on to say, "It is often more comfortable for students to process bad behavior that takes place in a play than it is to confront it in real life."

Since February, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has been visiting schools and groups throughout the metro-area with a program Limber developed in conjunction with the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute that focuses on bullying.

This year's Touring Plays and Workshops series, which is in it's 11th year serving schools around the area, features a play written by Limber called Cruel to Be Kind? in which the characters deal with many different bullying relationships.

The companion workshop, Bullies and Boundaries, provides students with a meaningful context and safe environment in which to discuss bullying via the situations presented in the play. Students participate in role-playing exercises and discussions about the bullying they witnessed in the play, and through this experience they learn new ways to sort through the relationships in their own lives.

Parents, educators and those who work with children can see the play on April 28, when it will be performed for the public at Clayton High School.

Popular children's network Nickelodeon is also joining forces with media advocacy group, Common Sense Media, to bring awareness to the issue. The Associated Press reports that the network is launching a campaign of anti-bullying PSA's featuring characters from some of their popular shows, which will begin airing next week.

According to reports, the Nickelodeon campaign will specifically address cyber-bullying, a relatively new phenomenon rooted in age-old bullying behaviors. The PSA's will offer kids advice on how to react to online brutes by logging off, and talking to a trusted adult about what is happening.

Though the issue is as old as time, the recent flurry of advocacy is coming on the heels of some very serious bullying headlines, beginning in 2006 with the Megan Meier case right here in St. Louis. And with new warnings coming out this week from researchers about the growing incidence of Facebook related depression in teens, chicken-or-egg arguments not withstanding, these messages could not come soon enough.

In his recent book, Brain Rules for Baby, Dr. John Medina, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning, showed that feeling secure and safe is essential to a child's ability to learn. And it follows that, with the help of these programs and the guidance of parents and teachers, the more empowered our students are about putting a stop to bullying, the better our education system will be.

By Melody Meiners, education blogger for SmartParenting

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