Kids on the margins need unpacking of societal norms(Read article summary)
Kids on the margins have long had to deal with societal pressures and the need to conform to certain norms. But a recent focus on bullying and gender norms is a reminder that society needs to do a better job of recognizing and responding to such pressures.
Brian Ach /National Center for Learning Disabilities/AP
In her latest TED Talk, social work research professor Brene Brown at the University of Houston cites the work of psychologist James Mahalik at Boston College: âWhat do women need to do to conform to female norms?â she rhetorically asks her audience? Mahalik found that, in the US, the top answers were âbe nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources for appearance,â she says. âWhen he asked what men in this country need to do to conform with male norms, the answers were âalways show emotional control, put work first, pursue status, and violenceâ.â
Those survey responses certainly gave me pause. Think about these gender norms in the context of youth bullying prevention, whether psychological or physical. Violence is normative in males, we see. âUse all available resources for appearanceâ is normative in females.
Hmm. Bringing these norms out into the light may helpâŚ.
- Â It may help us see that violence, vying for status, and striving for appearance ideals are far from âjust kid stuffâ
- Â It may help us ease the burden on schools and parents just a little, and
- Â It may help us stop wasting time on blame games and start focusing on solutions to social aggression, such as social-emotional learning, the lionâs share of bullying prevention. SEL, or simply social literacy, teaches us to detect and manage our feelings so that weâre able to interact more harmoniously and effectively.
The Youth Voice Project, which surveyed more than 13,000 students in grades 5-12 at 31 schools around the country, seems to bear out the appearance piece (it doesnât distinguish between genders in its results). The Project also shows that marginalization at school echoes marginalization of all kinds at the societal level. It found that 55% of kids whoâd experienced moderate-to-very-severe mistreatment cited âlooksâ as the focus of mistreatment and 37% âbody shape.â
After those focuses came âraceâ (16%), âsexual orientationâ (14%), and âfamily incomeâ (13%). ["Moderate" was defined as âbothered me quite a bitâ; "severe" as âI had or have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying myself because of what happened to meâ; and "severe" as âI felt or feel unsafe and threatened because of what happened to me.â About a fifth of all students surveyed had experienced regular victimization (2 or more times a month) and of that one-fifth, a little more than half were experiencing moderate-to-severe mistreatment. Here's my post on the study .]
From recognition to compassion
What to do? Well, a significant first step, I think, is recognizing what underlies the problem and responding intelligently to that. To begin to recognize together the âidealsâ weâre all conditioned to have and the pressures on everybody â male, female, young and older â to âfit inâ and conform to them is huge. Right there, we have cause for compassion (for ourselves, too) and empathy. At the school level, itâs clearly going to be social-emotional learning, or social literacy, that really gets to the underpinnings of bullying (in social media environments, social literacy is logically just as essential to functioning effectively as media literacy and digital literacy). What we gain in social literacy we gain in safe, constructive activity in social-media as well as home, classroom, and workplace environments.
âThe argument that teaching children how to recognize and manage their emotions should be part of the standard curriculum of schools is backed by science,â writes psychologist Susan Rivers, associate director of The Ruler Approach SEL program based at Yale University. Social-emotional literacy in school clears space for learning as well as relating with each other better. âA systematic process for building emotion skills and cultivating mutually supportive relationships is the common element among schools that report an increase in academic success, improved quality of relationships between teachers and students, and a decrease in problem behavior,â Dr. Rivers continues. âTeaching children to say no â to drugs, to alcohol, to sex, to bullying â has little scientific support.â
Laws and policies may provide some support, unless they have a strictly punitive focus. The best support they can provide is to promote socially literate approaches to schoolsâ investigations into and handling of bullying incidents, ideally calling for social-emotional learning at schools â in other words, adding social literacy to digital and media literacy instruction. These three literacies overlap more and more. Theyâre the three-legged stool not just of new media literacy but of efficacy and success in this digitally informed, networked world of ours.
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