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Talking to Teens about Dating Violence and Bullying in Pleasanton High Schools

“10/10! Would do it again!”

“It was very helpful, especially since this is becoming more common.”

“We haven’t learned much about this yet, so it was great to learn about it!”

“I liked how the presenters were open and not scared to talk about anything.”

“I really thought this inspired me to take action because I noticed some random person online for being called a “b—–” for so-called bullying that they didn’t even do. I feel like standing up that person [who is being cyberbullied] now, as it wasn’t their fault.”

“I felt that Tri-Valley Haven is there for me.”

These are some of the comments we received from ninth-graders after our Healthy Relationships and Bullying Prevention presentations at Foothill High School and Amador High School in Pleasanton this semester.

During the school year, I visit local middle schools and high schools to talk to teens about healthy relationships, teen dating violence and bullying in an age-appropriate way. At the end of each presentation, I hand out surveys to see how effective our presentations are and get anonymous feedback from the students.

Recently we lost all federal and state funding for our youth education programs due to a cut in California funding. As a result, we’ve had to trim many of our presentations down from 2-day classes to 1-day condensed classes in Livermore and Dublin schools. Fortunately, the Pleasanton Youth Commission has continued to fund our Prevention Education program. Thanks to their generosity, we are able to continue providing 2-day presentations to health classes at Pleasanton schools.

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During our full 2-day presentations, we have the opportunity to do more activities with the students to talk about these topics. One of our most popular activities is called “What Would You Do?” During this activity, we read out different scenarios about dating violence or bullying. Then we ask students move to different corners of the room depending on whether they would do nothing (no intervention), step in on their own (primary intervention) or get help (secondary intervention). After each scenario, students get a chance to share what they might do.

Wow, does this activity get teens talking!

Whether we’re talking about dating violence or bullying, each student brings their own unique perspective into the conversation. Sometimes students disagree with their classmates’ suggestions for intervention; other times the entire class ends up standing in the same corner of the room. Many of the classes I visited at Foothill High and Amador High had a lot to say during this activity.

In one class, I asked students what they might do if they witnessed a guy violently shove a girl to the ground on their way to class. Many of the guys in the class said they would step in and confront the guy. In contrast, several of the girls said they would feel more comfortable getting help from a trusted adult or friend. A few of these girls mentioned that they would be afraid of getting hurt if they tried to confront a male student.

Then I told students to imagine the same scenario with one detail changed: “What would you do if you saw a girl shove a guy to the ground?”

Almost every girl said they would feel comfortable talking to the abusive student (in this scenario, another girl) by themselves. However nearly all of the guys said they would be hesitant to intervene. When I asked why, many of them said they wouldn’t know what to say or do in this situation. One student even admitted, “I’ve never heard of this happening to guys.”

This sparked a discussion between the students about assumptions or expectations we might have about who can or cannot be a victim of violence. Many of the students have been encouraged to take a stand against bullying in the past. But often our presentations are the first time students have had the chance to discuss what intervening might actually entail. As presenters, we encourage students to think of intervening indirectly, such as asking for help from a teacher or friend, as well as being assertive.

One of the handouts students fill out before we start our presentations. (via Instagram)

During the conversation, one of the guys mentioned that he would be worried about embarrassing the victim (another guy) if he told the abusive student to stop. So we discussed other ways he might intervene, such as getting help from a teacher so he didn’t have to directly intervene or checking in with the male student in private after the incident.

One of the girls who felt comfortable intervening even suggested, “You could ask one of us for help.”

Isn’t it amazing how one scenario can prompt so many different opinions? Many of the other classes had similar discussions about this particular scenario. As I tell the students, there is no “right” answer when we do this activity. There are many ways students can safely intervene when they see dating violence or bullying happen at their school.

It’s just a matter of getting students to consider their options.


3a92488 In addition to providing advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, Jessie is the newest presenter for our Prevention Education Program at Tri-Valley Haven. Learn more about our teen presentations our Teen page on our website.

Step Up! Don’t Stand By!

Rachel created this powerful image for our yearly t-shirt contest. Thank you, Rachel, for showing so directly the way words can injure!

 

Bystanders are kids and teens who witness bullying and cyberbullying in action, who do and say nothing. Very often they don’t know what to do. They’re afraid of retaliation or fear that their own group will exclude them for helping an outsider.  When you’re a bystander it’s important to know that by doing nothing you are sending a message to the bully that their behavior is acceptable.  

It isn’t!

And that’s not a message you want to send, nor is it a message you would want someone to send if you were a victim.  Yes, it is scary to directly confront a bully and sometimes it can mean taking a big risk. Whether you know the victim or not, there are things that you as a bystander can safely do to support the victim:

  • Don’t laugh or encourage the bully in any way
  • Stay at a safe distance and help the target get away
  • Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
  • Reach out in friendship
  • Support the victim in private
  • Include the victim in some of your activities
  • Tell an adult

There is strength in numbers.  Every school and every community has more caring kids than bullies.

These are just some of the ways that you can go from the “Bystander Effect” to instead being an EFFECTIVE BYSTANDER! STAND UP!  DON’T “STAND BY!”

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