Dr. Walter Roberts, an anti-bullying expert from Minnesota State University-Mankato, stopped by the office today for a talk with Karen Snyder, Heather Anderson, and myself. He was in town to talk with the Miler-Dwan Foundation, and we were delighted to spend an hour with him sharing information that impacts parents and schools alike. He is the author of “Bullying from Both Sides” and is a frequent speaker at schools across the state.

Dr. Roberts directed our attention to a just released study on national trends that paints a troubling picture of the culture in our nation’s schools. Nearly half of the nation’s high school students say they were a victim of bullying in the past year. A full 33% say that violence is a big problem at their school and 24% say they do not feel safe.

With a such a bleak landscape, where do you start? While the climate varies greatly at different schools around the city and state, Dr. Roberts said that all organizations need to be open and purposeful about addressing issues of student culture. Too often, he said, school leaders would rather duck the difficult or messy conversation to avoid upsetting students, faculty, or parents. Unfortunately, he said, when you look the other way it can often encourage even more disrespectful or disruptive behavior in the future.

He echoed the same advice for parents. Setting clear expectations for children may involve difficult conversations now, but those boundaries are exactly what kids need (even if they don’t know it). Part of their job is to test limits … so we need to give them something clear and concrete to bump up against. If we do not, then risky behavior can quickly escalate into dangerous behavior.

Our student issues may seem mild in comparison those that make the headlines today, but Dr. Roberts visit helped reiterate the importance of continued conversations about expectations as part of a healthy school culture.