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Coaching Students to Report Harmful Behavior

teacher listening to student in an office setting

See something, say something has become more than a saying, it’s a movement. With the increasing dangers, threats, and bullying that occur on any given day, it’s imperative that children know how to report concerning incidents and behaviors with a trusted adult, and feel safe doing so. While these kids may understand that something should be reported, knowing how to start a conversation might be tricky to young minds.

Along with not knowing how to initiate the subject of threats with adults, the fear of peer backlash is also present. Children worry about being deemed a tattletale or a snitch by reporting things they see and hear to adults. What is particularly concerning is that a reported 75% of teens who have contemplated violence, suicide and other forms of harm reported confiding these thoughts with their peers.

Having communications tools in place can help children and teens come forward and alert parents, teachers and trusted adults to intervene and potentially thwart these harmful acts. Here are some ways to give your child the tools to come forward and make your school and community a safer place by embracing the see something, say something mentality.

Clarify the Difference Between Reporting, Gossiping, and Snitching

Make sure students understand the importance of speaking up when they feel a peer is contemplating or suggesting unsafe behavior. Some helpful ways to clarify the difference can be:

  • Reporting is when you speak up to keep a friend or peer safe from harming themselves or others.
  • Gossiping is talking about someone’s personal matters, whether true or untrue.

  • Snitching is saying something with the intent to get someone in trouble.  

Keep Calm

Body language can be just as important as words when talking to kids, especially if it’s not easy for them to open up. Listening, asking questions, and staying calm can all encourage the conversation to continue. Help them to feel safe and comfortable sharing, and try to avoid overreacting, even if the incoming information is startling.

Make Time to Talk

If your child knows something, a few scripted conversation starters can help get your child speaking up. Have questions ready such as:

“Do you feel that your school is a safe place?” 

“Have you seen a classmate do or say anything that made you feel worried or uncomfortable?”  

“What would you do if you felt pressured or threatened by a situation?”  

“Who are some people you would feel comfortable telling if you felt in danger?”   

“Do you know what adult to talk to at school if you need help and support?”

Remain Observant

Because it can be hard for kids to open up, watch for non-verbal cues that may indicate they know something. Changes in social behavior, sleep and appetite are among some of the signs that your child may need to talk about something they know or something that’s happening to them.

Review Safety Procedures

Help your child identify instances when they could help others by reporting any dangers or threats they may know about. Even if they haven’t experienced any personally, they will know to be on alert if an unsafe situation does arise.

Be Proactive

Don’t wait for tragedy to strike before starting conversations or watching for social cues. Make sure your child feels safe and encourage your child to come to you if they feel there is a potential danger. An open-ended conversation can give you a feel for what they’re seeing and experiencing when you’re not around.

The world students are growing up in is drastically different than anyone before could fully appreciate. As we encourage their participation to keep school communities safe, let’s not lose sight of how they may feel they already contribute. Even a simple gesture like publicly posting a screenshot of troubling conversation should be celebrated and valued as reporting it to an adult.