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Kids on the margins need unpacking of societal norms

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Brian Ach /National Center for Learning Disabilities/AP

(Read caption) Kids on the margins have long had to deal with societal pressures and the need to conform to certain norms, but continued instances of bullying shows we need to do better. David Long, Tina Long, and "Bully" director Lee Hirsch are seen at the National Center for Learning Disabilities benefit dinner on April 18, 2012 in New York City. Mr. Hirsch was encouraging parents to download the NCLD's anti-bullying toolkit.

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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: “What do women need to do to conform to female norms?” she rhetorically asks her audience? Mahalik found that, in the US, the top answers were “be nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources for appearance,” she says. “When he asked what men in this country need to do to conform with male norms, the answers were ‘always show emotional control, put work first, pursue status, and violence’.”

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. “Use all available resources for appearance” is normative in females.

Hmm. Bringing these norms out into the light may help….

  •  It may help us see that violence, vying for status, and striving for appearance ideals are far from “just kid stuff”
  •  It may help us ease the burden on schools and parents just a little, and
  •  It may help us stop wasting time on blame games and start focusing on solutions to social aggression, such as social-emotional learning, the lion’s share of bullying prevention. SEL, or simply social literacy, teaches us to detect and manage our feelings so that we’re able to interact more harmoniously and effectively.
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