FARMINGTON — When today’s students see bullies picking on someone, they won’t just sit back and melt into the nearest wall. They’ll stand up and do something about it.

That take-charge approach was on full display Friday, when high school and middle school students from across Franklin County traveled to Franklin Memorial Hospital for the 11th annual Youth Summit, sponsored by the Healthy Community Coalition of Greater Franklin County.

This year’s summit focused on giving students the tools to respond to bullying in safe and respectful ways. Working in small groups, students learned how to defuse harmful situations ranging from in-class taunting to cyberbullying.

Many of the adults who spoke at this year’s summit encouraged the students to take a proactive role in banishing bullying from their schools. Chris Gorman of the Maine Youth Action Network told students that they have the ability to upend the social dynamics that embolden bullies to pick on vulnerable students.

“If you can change that imbalance of power by having the majority of students not accepting it, then the balance shifts and the bully is in the minority,” Gorman said. “That’s when you can make a huge change.”

Parents and teachers can denounce bullying all they want, Gorman said, but true change comes only when the students themselves take steps to change the status quo.

“What works is having young people realize that they have the power to create a culture in their school that they want,” Gorman said. “So why not have a culture where everybody feels safe and valued? They have the absolute power to do that.”

That power isn’t immediately apparent to students who find themselves facing an intimidating bully, Emily McHugh, an eighth-grader from Mount Blue Middle School, said.

“A lot of kids don’t really have the confidence to say anything, I don’t think,” McHugh said.

After listening to adults like Gorman and their fellow students, McHugh and others at Friday’s youth summit seemed to recognize that the power to stop bullying lies in their hands. That power will be tested soon, as many students said they planned to take action against bullying in their own schools.

Autumn Clair, an eighth-grader at Mount Blue Middle School, said she won’t be afraid to do the right thing when she returns to school. She hopes her classmates — many of whom know she missed class for a bullying summit — will follow her lead when she returns.

“People know that we’re here today to learn about this — everyone knows about it,” Clair said. “So I think they’re going to understand more — that we’re going to do something about it, and we’re not just going to watch.”


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