Story by Mercy's Laura Keep
If you look through the pages of your junior high or high school yearbook, chances are you’ll be able to identify at least a few people who were bullies. You may even recall situations when you, your friends or other students were targeted by a bully. You might even have been a bully yourself.
Today, with an increase in school violence, the safety and security of students is a top concern for parents, educators and the community. Bullying is no longer dismissed as an inevitable part of growing up. Instead, experts view bullying as a form of violence among children with serious physical, psychological and academic ramifications.
“We see children who used to enjoy school come to dread it,” said Dr. Fred de Miranda, Mercy Clinic pediatrician. “It can affect their grades and make them stop taking part in activities they once enjoyed.”
In an effort to curb bullying, Mercy and HealthTeacher – an online curriculum resource – are launching the first-ever interactive, pro-social mobile game. Awesome Upstander! is designed for elementary-aged children. It encourages young kids to race through a school cafeteria and bathroom to help rescue a target from a bully. Along the way, players must collect enough friends to stand up to the bully together.
“Awesome Upstander! offers a highly entertaining play experience for kids while teaching them they have the power to diminish bullying by banning together as upstanders," said John Herbold, VP Product of HealthTeacher. "Kids tell us Awesome Upstander! is fun to play and parents say it gives them peace of mind knowing their children are learning how to deal with an issue affecting the emotional and physical safety of their kids."
Filled with challenges, levels, hidden objects and fun sound effects, Awesome Upstander! is designed to engage kids just like other popular interactive games while promoting social good. The adventure introduces the concept of “upstanders” – people who safely and positively intervene in a bully situation – through a fun and entertaining play experience. Studies suggest it only takes the support of three bystanders to change the dynamic in a bully situation.
“Positive peer pressure can be just as effective as negative peer pressure. If a child takes a stand against a bully and other kids see that, then they are more likely to do the same,” said Dr. Josh Wilkinson, Mercy Clinic pediatrician. “Awesome Upstander! is a tool that can help start a conversation about bullying between kids and their parents or teachers.”
Bullying differs from healthy conflict because it occurs repeatedly over time, involves a real or perceived imbalance of power and takes various forms, be it physical, verbal or psychological. Bullying also occurs where adult supervision is scarce – in the cafeteria, hallway, bathroom, bus, playground or off school property.
Adults play a critical role in helping to prevent bullying by talking about it, creating safe school environments and identifying prevention strategies. But it’s also important that children feel empowered and understand how to work together with peers to address bullying situations. The hope is that learning these skills at a young age will better prepare children to address situations during the middle and high school years when bullying is most common. It’s also important to keep the lines of communication open so if a child encounters a real-life bullying experience, he or she will seek support from an adult.
AwesomeUpstander! can be played online for free at www.awesomeupstander.com or purchased in the Apple App Store or Google Play for $.99.
Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, nearly 300 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,700 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit www.mercy.net.
HealthTeacher is the interactive leader in youth health, creating games, apps and educational resources to make health awesome for kids. HealthTeacher's research-based products are designed to get kids moving and to develop healthy behaviors that last a lifetime. Reaching over six million kids through its fast-growing network of 11,000 plus schools, HealthTeacher’s interactive products are used by teachers, parents and kids to address important youth health issues, including physical activity, nutrition and social and emotional well-being. To learn more, visit www.healthteacher.com.