Aug 5, 2008 — Many adults recall being bullied or witnessing bullying during their school years and assume that the phenomenon is a given in any school situation. But according to Dr. Rona Novick, associate professor at Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and incoming director of its Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Division of Doctoral Studies, research shows there are positive steps that parents and educators can take to combat bullying.
Novick, who joined Azrieli in 2007 and will assume her new position as the head of doctoral studies in January 2009, is a licensed clinical psychologist with a PhD from Rutgers University. She said bullying and related problems such as taunting, name-calling, and social exclusion are more serious than most adults acknowledge.
“It is common that children who are harassed and bullied suffer severe long-term effects, including depression and suicidal feelings,” Novick said.
Her classroom-based program called Bully Reduction/ Anti-Violence Education and Social Leadership Development (BRAVE) has been widely implemented in both public and Jewish schools around the country and will soon be piloted in Israeli schools.
She has vast experience in the field of education and child psychology (she is also associate professor of child and adolescent psychology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine), and helping children deal with various forms of violence is one of the hallmarks of her career.
She has dealt with the effects of 9/11 on children in numerous articles, and has treated children in area hospitals including Long Island Jewish Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center. Her current project is part of a career-long goal to bring psychological expertise into the classroom to help educators make better decisions. “Bullying is a social issue that requires a social context and an audience,” said Novick. “Often that social context is the school peer group.”
Novick pointed to statistics that say 85 percent of bullying cases are witnessed by other children, with typical reactions ranging from ignoring the bullying to taking an active part in it. Encouraging those witnesses to at least not join in, and at best help stand up for the bullying victim, is a key part of her program.
The BRAVE program begins with a mock trial of cartoon-character bullies and bystanders accused of bullying, which “allows students to explore the definition of bullying and come to understand the impact ‘innocent’ bystanders have when they do not become involved in helping those victimized.”
Novick said it is also important to give teachers and administrators appropriate tools for dealing with bullying, as some of the best procedures may be counterintuitive. “Schools may want to publicly take bullies to task. In doing so, however, they may actually make the situation worse for a victim,” she explained.
A better way to respond to a case of reported bullying, Novick said, would be to assign the bully an adult mentor who could serve as a role model to “help them see the error of their ways, and corral their smarts and their energies for positive rather than negative social action.”
Since January, Novick has been doing carefully controlled research on bullying and the viability of her BRAVE program at five Jewish middle schools across the country. The application of the program in Jewish schools is supported by the Institute for University-School Partnership at Azrieli.
The program includes student workshops to help children find the appropriate responses to real-life bullying situations. Later, trained BRAVE instructors conduct monthly sessions with students to further ameliorate bullying in the school and build students’ coping skills.
Novick said preliminary results appear to indicate that the phenomenon of bullying is as prevalent among Jewish day schools as it is in comparable public schools. “Our schools are in no way immune,” said Novick, the author of Helping Your Child Make Friends and editor of the book series, Kids Don’t Come With Instruction Manuals.
“We teach the notion of bein adam l’chaveiro [treating one’s fellow man properly] as part of Torah values, but we still see children bullying and taunting their fellow students. “If we’re teaching it, why aren’t students getting it?” asked Novick.
Her program addresses bullying as the primary focus, but the point is really about creating a more socially responsible generation of Jewish youth and giving children the leadership skills to stand up for those who are being harassed.