Photo credit: Lee Hershfield
Children of Immigrants & Bullying at School
Lorella Praeli was an academic star in high school, was outgoing in her classes and brought home shining grades. Her mother had no idea that she was being cyber bullied.
As a child, Praeli was injured in a car accident in her native Peru when she was just 2. Forced to undergo an above-the-knee amputation, she wears a prosthetic right leg. During high school, other students called her names because she was Hispanic and because of her leg.
“They would create false online profiles using my name and harass me online,” Praeli recalls. “They’d call me a border-hopper.”
Like many immigrant children, Praeli kept the bullying to herself.
“It’s a combination of being embarrassed and worried. There’s not as much awareness about bullying in Latin America as there is in the Unites States,” Praeli says. “I didn’t want to tell my mother about being cyber bullied because she was already overprotective as it was.”
Before long, Praeli learned about the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the world’s biggest organization focused on combatting anti-Semitism, raising Holocaust awareness with advocacy and programs that counteract hatred. She began to work with ADL to help educate her classmates about the ways that words can really hurt.
Praeli is just one of millions of Hispanic students who have been bullied in school. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 27.6 percent of Hispanic students have reported being bullied, says Claudia Rodriguez, assistant project director of ADL’s Florida Region.
“But students don’t report bullying for many reasons. They may fear the consequences of telling on someone, or they may feel that adults don’t care,” she says. “They may think that telling their parents will burden them.”
Praeli agrees, saying that many Hispanic children won’t tell their parents that they are bullied because of role reversal.
“Children can take on the parental role in some ways because their parents lack English skills,” she says. “Children know that life is hard for their parents. They want to make things easier on them, and not add to their stress. Immigrant children often try to handle the bullying on their own.”
Know the Warning Signs of Bullying
Rodriguez teaches parents and teachers the signs that indicate that their children and students are being bullied. A child may begin skipping school, complain that he or she is “sick” every day, or may close their laptop abruptly when the parent walks into the room.
A child who is suddenly easily angered, begins to snap at their parents, or become uncharacteristically disrespectful, could also be dealing with bullying.
“Talk to your children and ask them about their day,” Rodriguez advises. “Really listen to them.”
ADL’s anti-bias and anti-bullying programs give parents information, both in English and Spanish, about identifying the signs of bullying and how to help their children report bullying when they see it. In addition, ADL provides numerous tools and programs to combat bullying in the community.
ADL’s No Place for Hate® Initiative supports schools, communities and organizations in efforts to create safe, respectful and inclusive environments for all. Through trainings and workshops, the campaign empowers schools to promote respect for individual and group differences while challenging prejudice and bigotry.
ADL’s trainings not only build awareness, but offer tools to help students recognize and handle bullying.
During ADL’s “Voices of Bullying” activity, participants read aloud bullying statements. Sometimes the students feel uncomfortable reading the hurtful statements, but the activity builds empathy by having the participants discuss what actual bullying victims endure. After the activity, the students create action plans to come up with strategies to employ when they encounter bullying.
ADL also helps participants learn how to avoid being bystanders.
“Bystanders may think that the bullying isn’t their problem, or they may fear ramifications by speaking up, but we are all obligated to speak up,” Rodriguez says. “Even one person can make a change.”
Following the No Place for Hate® Initiative, participants pledge a “Resolution of Respect” to combat prejudice and make a promise to do what they can to stop it. After going through the program, schools have the opportunity to implement programs based on the trainings. Then ADL evaluates the school’s progress, and gives schools the official No Place for Hate® designation.
After a Miramar, Fla., school participated in ADL’s CyberALLY™ training, the school created a Facebook page to build awareness of the subject. The school achieved its goal of attracting 500 Facebook fans months early. Today, over 1,000 schools and 82 communities have been designated as No Place for Hate® .
What’s more, ADL is working to teach children acceptance at a very early age. ADL’s Miller Early Childhood Initiative is designed to prevent the seed of prejudice before it starts to take root.
Launched almost three years ago, the Miller Early Childhood Initiative has a training component in which a facilitator works with a parent and child. The facilitator leads different activities in which the parent and child talk about differences and similarities among people to hone in on the message that everyone is special. The exercise culminates with the parent and child looking at themselves in the mirror.
“At the age of 4, children can already make their first prejudiced statement,” Rodriguez says. “Children aren’t born with hate and prejudice; they learn this behavior.”
As part of a related research study conducted by Barry University, a group of students were shown a photo of a Hispanic boy and asked whether or not they would play with the little boy. Prior to receiving the Miller Childhood Training, 70 percent of the participants affirmed that they would play with the little boy, Following the training, the percentage of participants that said they would play with the little boy climbed to 86 percent. About 27 percent of the group’s of participants were Hispanic.
“We have to change the idea that bullying is just a ‘kids will be kids’ issue, that bullying is just part of growing up, or that children are just kidding,” Rodriguez says. “Over time, targets of bullying can feel that they deserve this treatment, and even accept it. This behavior has to be stopped to avoid determinant consequences.”
You can obtain a comprehensive tool kit for combating cyber hate and cyber bullying, sign up for trainings and receive info on programs offered by contacting the ADL regional office closest to you. For more information, visit adl.org.