The You Have The Power! Bullying Prevention Peer Education Project (YHTP!) is a 10-week after-school program where trained high school age youth mentors, with adult supervision, teach elementary and middle school students about the characteristics, risks, and consequences of bullying, and bullying prevention.
For a number of reasons, people can approach the issue of bullying with apathy and skepticism. They may feel it is not an important issue because they don’t have personal experiences with bullying or don’t recognize when it happens in their communities. Or they may view bullying as typical and expected behavior, or a developmental “rite of passage” for young people.
However, it is possible for a person’s apathy and skepticism to shift into awareness, conviction, compassion, and action. This was the case with Mike Sousane when he became involved as a peer mentor with the You Have the Power! Bullying Prevention Peer Education Project (YHTP!) through his local high school.
“Yes, I knew bullying existed and that it happened but it had always seemed so distant to me. I didn't feel like activism in anti-bullying was needed.”
The 18-year-old recently graduated from Sherwood High School in Maryland where he was a youth mentor with YHTP! from his freshman to senior year. He initially became involved at the request of his friends and to earn community service hours.
However, he became passionate about the issue of bullying when he learned about the prevalence of bullying and the importance of knowing how to appropriately prevent and respond to bullying situations. He was particularly motivated after hearing others’ personal stories about bullying. Those reflections and experiences made him better understand the negative outcomes that can be associated with bullying.
“Once I began to get involved and really absorb some startling statistics and moving personal stories of elementary age students, I became more and more passionate. I started to act out of sympathy, not just out of a desire to look good.”
During his time with YHTP!, Mike mentored a number of elementary school children with his peers. One of the primary goals of the Project is to teach the children skills and strategies for preventing and responding to bullying. However, he found it especially meaningful when he noticed more immediate changes in the students’ attitudes and behaviors. One such occasion involved resolving a problem between two mentees.
“These two kids specifically had a rough past…one had been bullying the other throughout the year. This began to show during the program sessions. Eventually it became worse and Mrs. Glass (the sponsor) and some other teen mentors talked with the two kids about their problems individually. When we later brought the two kids together, they quickly realized that they had more in common than they thought and actually started talking. Several weeks later you could see them hanging out together, playing basketball.”
Through his mentoring role, Mike learned that a person does not have to have a personal experience with bullying to take the initiative to promote bullying prevention. He was driven by the desire to encourage kindness and helpfulness towards others, instead of judging and bullying. And he understood that seemingly small actions and contributions can have a larger impact.
“It doesn't take much to make a big impact. Even if it’s not immediately apparent, kindness and basic courtesy towards others makes the world a more harmonious place for everyone. Even if you aren't bullied yourself or notice it yourself, showing others you care can have the biggest impact of all. Don't automatically assume problems will simply resolve themselves or that they aren't there just because you don't see them. They are still there and won’t resolve themselves. But your actions can still go a long way toward solving them, even if you don’t realize it.”