Tackling School Bullying


with Elizabeth Cushing of Playworks


Dec 31, 2018

One in four U.S. students say they have been bullied at school.

Elizabeth Cushing, president of Playworks, joins host Ellee Pai Hong to discuss how her organization’s mission to combat bullying is teaching the lesson of inclusion to schoolchildren.

Hosted by: Ellee Pai Hong Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hong: A report in "School Psychology Review" finds that more than 70% of students have witnessed bullying in school. Now a new campaign aims to teach children about the importance of inclusion. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Ellee Pai Hong. Joining me to discuss the Real Players Don´t Bully campaign, an effort to promote inclusion on the playground and in the classroom, is Elizabeth Cushing. She is president of Playworks. Elizabeth, thank you so much for being here.

Cushing: Oh, thanks for having me.

Hong: You know, I remember growing up as a kid and witnessing bullying during recess time, but 70% seems like an astronomical figure.

Cushing: It does. I think you have to think about how kids spend time at recess every day, in an elementary school, out doing whatever they want to do. They have free choice. And if that environment isn´t very welcoming, it doesn´t encourage everyone to play with everyone, bullying can arise pretty quickly.

Hong: And another phenomenon of bullying is that it´s a group activity, so that makes it even harder.

Cushing: It can be. It´s not hard for one child to inspire another to call someone a name or to make fun of someone. The challenge is when that goes unaddressed. It can then become a habit.

Hong: And another challenge can be in terms of how the adult responds to that bullying, right?

Cushing: Mm-hmm, tight. Because usually there´s an underlying reason that a child will engage in bullying behavior -- they´re feeling left out, they´re feeling like their feelings were hurt. And if an adult ignores the conditions that led to that bullying behavior and wags their finger at them, it´s not gonna change what´s happening.

Hong: So, the adult, as a bystander -- recess monitors, like I used to have as a kid -- they play a really crucial role in all this.

Cushing: They can. They actually have a lot of influence. If they´re willing to jump in and play with the kids and model the behavior of including everyone, giving everyone a high-five, even when they get out, the kids will follow that model.

Hong: So, let´s talk about some of the other solutions to bullying, because none of them are simple. But one thing is certain -- punishment is not the answer, exclusion is not the answer.

Cushing: No. Those are just repeating the same behaviors that probably inspired the bullying in the first place. When you take recess and you make it a place where everyone is expected to include everyone in the game, where all the kids can count on getting a high-five when they get out, and when name-calling just isn´t tolerated, the kids will actually rise to those expectations. All the kids will. And bullying just becomes something that´s not necessary, because you know you´re gonna be included in the game every day.

Hong: Mm-hmm. And this is something that you guys have witnessed, and because of it, you´ve launched a national campaign called Real Players Don´t Bully.

Cushing: Correct. So, I´m with Playworks, which is a national nonprofit organization. We work in elementary schools. And we play with kids, teaching them how to lead their own games, lead four-square and tag and kickball. And what we have learned is how easy it is to engage all the kids in the game so that bullying doesn´t happen anymore. Really Players Don´t Bully is a public campaign, and the idea is, make it cool not to be a bully, make it cool to include kids. So, we have celebrities and athletes -- people like the Detroit Lions and University of Southern California´s athletics department, members of Congress, and even Chadwick Boseman, who is the Black Panther -- who will be tweeting about how cool it is to not be a bully.

Hong: And isn´t so true, with kids sometimes, they do it because others do it?

Cushing: Right. So we´re creating a reason to not do it, because others don´t do it, especially with role models that those kids look up to.

Hong: And recess is really a crucial place for you guys to teach these lessons.

Cushing: Mm-hmm. Recess is really the highest source of bullying and discipline issues in elementary schools. So it´s the place where kids either learn the habits we don´t want them to have, or they learn the habits that we want to them to have. What´s interesting about play is that kids are intrinsically motivated to play. They actually really want to keep the game going. So if they can have some basic tools -- like we teach roshambo -- rock, paper, scissors -- to resolve conflicts -- they´ll use it because they want the game to keep going. So there´s some pretty simple things you can do at recess to eliminate bullying in an elementary school altogether.

Hong: But it´s not just about teaching kids different tactics and different behaviors. You have to teach the adults, too, so they can model that behavior.

Cushing: Yes. Adults can be pretty effective models if they jump in the game and just model the things that we´re teaching, like giving a high-five. Or, if you and I were arguing about whether the ball was out or not, if the adult on the playground says, "Hey, do rock, paper, scissors," we´ll do it. It doesn´t take long to really establish those practices and make them the norm.

Hong: Wow. Some interesting tactics. Thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Cushing: Yeah, you´re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Hong: Elizabeth Cushing, thank you so much for joining us today. And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Ellee Pai Hong.

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