by Ron Graham

We have, in North America, an anti-bullying movement that consists largely of special events and personality-driven organizations and initiatives. So: what happens when the event ends, or when the personality leaves town or gets out of the business of helping kids? This is just like…

evangelist?

evangelist?

A classic problem of evangelistic crusades: what to do with the converts. They’re all fired up and ready to do good in the world, and the crusade leaves for the next town. (Definitions: “evangelistic” == “seeking converts” and “crusade” == “special intentional initiative designed for that purpose.”) My job here is to look at what many evangelists have learned to do well, and to apply it, because we are dealing with bullying the same way: we are trying to convert kids from bystanders (or worse) to anti-bullying crusaders.

I don’t mean to cast gloom on the Western world’s anti-bullying fervor, but make no mistake about it: this is a crusade, and many of the converts are kids, and nearly all of them are inexperienced. If they are left to themselves, how many of them will really hold on to their fire the first time they are tested by a bullying situation?

This is why a kid will make an “It Gets Better” video and then commit suicide several weeks later because… well, it just didn’t get better. Why an inspirational speaker may go to a school and then find kids are begging him within a couple months to return. Why a celebrity who records an anti-bullying video and later moves on to the next cause leaves broken hearts behind, wondering what happened. Why a small group of kids may start an anti-bullying group at school or via Facebook, and within days get discouraged because of a lack of Likes. It’s not that any of these anti-bully crusaders are doing a bad job. It’s that there’s no real follow-up in place. This is another lesson learned from the evangelicals: good follow-up must be the product of a plan, and it must be intentional.

Someone must think about it before the speaker comes – maybe months before. Someone must be laying groundwork before the movie shows locally. Someone must have a plan for a group that has only six people, because those six can rock their world as surely as a group of 25 or a hundred or thousands. But someone must think about it.

I would say the churches should take a lead here, because after all, evangelism is their thing. Many churches understand follow-up, having learned the lessons of decades of special-event frustration. But two problems arise: (1) public schools can’t usually have formal relationships with churches, and (2) churches simply aren’t taking a lead here the way they should be. In some cases, evangelical churches actually encourage bullying. So until they decide to defend kids, they’re actually worse than useless.

The problem with schools taking the lead is simple: teachers are often over-worked already, and their workload will soon be increased by anti-bullying laws in their districts, if that hasn’t happened yet. Lay the aftermath of a special event on the teachers without advance planning, and even those most loyal to the cause will not appreciate it.

So here’s the most likely solution: the burden of follow-up for new anti-bully crusaders has to be shared by the community (because the kids are the businesses’ customers), the schools (because most incidents are still in or near a school), the parents, and the kids themselves. There’s where you find your follow-up team, and its support (in case instructional materials and/or seminars must be prepared) and until you find that team and convene it, you won’t do the kids any favors with your special events.

So let’s assume you have your follow-up team in place. And that you have scheduled that special event speaker or rally or viral video recording or group showing of Bully. Now you have to make sure you have something to teach those newly-turned on to the bullying problem – those who want to make a difference, but who have only energy and slogans and no real knowledge.

What do you do with them? Once again, well-prepared, experienced evangelical event-throwers (and there are several you can find on the Internet) offer answers:

  • Make sure you know who they are. Get names and a back-story, in case a kid new to the movement has actually been bullied and needs help – or can inspire.
  • Make sure they know how to reach you, and anyone else on the team who can help them. Include school counselors, the suicide help-line, and (if you use one) contact info for any consultants who help you design training materials.
  • If there are follow-up meetings, especially of new school groups, make sure new crusaders are invited in-person or via handwritten note. The personal touch does not go to waste here. Let older students reach out to the younger, or to students new to the school.
  • Once they’ve started attending the meetings, make sure they’re OK – that they’ve had a look at and understand any training materials you use, that they have no personal bullying problems, etc. Let them know that they have friends in the group. Remember that many bullied kids feel friendless and alone – that is something you can deal with early and hopefully for good.

Do this right and you’ll produce your own special events next year – and teach others how.

Ron Graham is co-author of No Such Thing as a Bully. With Kelly Karius, he designs training materials for, and acts as a consultant for anti-bullying programs.