A recent bullying incident in Liberty, Missouri has emboldened a local business owner to step up her efforts to protect children from an all-too-familiar problem in schools: Bullying.
“Don’t worry about it,” just doesn’t work, says Melissa Wenenn.
Wenenn runs Pride Martial Arts with her husband, Senior Master Jack Wenenn. Martial arts has been known for building confidence and respect in children, as well as teaching self-defense skills. These skills are even more relevant today with the changing face of bullying.
“Today there are more ways to bully,” says Wenenn. A generation ago, bullying usually involved gossip or physical confrontation that was limited to school or the playground. Today, the effects of bullying follow children home as social media platforms such as Snap Chat, Facebook, and Twitter make targeting victims available from anywhere.
Bullying isn’t a new problem, but has attracted the media spotlight with several recent events. In Liberty, Missouri, a middle school sixth grader was severely beaten and hospitalized by another boy in the school cafeteria. The boys’ parents had informed the school, even by certified letter, over a month prior to the incident.
While much attention has been placed on tightening school policies, and the school administration’s response to the beating, bullying is a much more complex issue, which requires a more comprehensive response.
Wenenn has introduced local schools to the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program, a system designed to teach teachers and students how to prevent incidents like in Liberty.
“One of the problems is that not all schools have a definition of bullying,” says Wenenn. Without a clear definition, it is difficult for teachers and administrators to prevent or respond to bullying.
The OLWEUS system defines bullying as having three important components:
- Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions
- Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time
- Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength
This clear definition will make it easier for teachers to separate bullying from the times that “boys will be boys.”
“It’s harder and harder for teachers and even school counselors to know how to handle this issue without knowing what to do and having set procedures all the way down to the classroom. Having something district-wide will be beneficial to protect not just the children, but the teachers as well.”
While having these procedures will be essential to school systems, Wenenn makes it clear that bullying will not be solved simply by enacting policies. Ultimately, bullying can be prevented by focusing on the targets themselves: the children.
“’Just look away’ works for a little bit, but doesn’t work long term, and when someone is saying degrading things to you, you can only ignore it for so long.”
The OLWEUS training that Wenenn has implemented in her own business has already shown results. Children who have taken her martial arts training, along with the Bullying Prevention, have already developed more confidence, and have been better able to handle bullying at school.
Wenenn’s goal is to share the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program with all local schools, to reduce the effects of bullying for all children. Her passion for fighting bullying stems from her own childhood, giving credit to her mother.
“I was not the popular one. I was the one everyone came to when they needed help with their homework. But my mom, who was a single parent, instilled in me that ‘you’re never going to be anything in this world unless you believe it.’ That was something that was instilled in me every day, day in and day out.”
“By having someone there who was always going to say ‘everything was great,’ even if it wasn’t great to me, was powerful. Making sure that your child believes that who they are and no matter what their differences are, they are the best they can be. If you can help a child embrace those differences, then hopefully that gives them tools as they get older.”
For more information about Melissa Wenenn’s bullying prevention efforts and the OLWEUS Program, visit the Pride Martial Arts website at: http://www.karate4kidskc.com.