KC prof among group considering ways to minimize harassing behavior

The news is shocking for parents and students. A new survey by the American Association of University Women reports that 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

It’s especially relevant now, following revelations at Penn State, where the actual abuse of children appears to have gone on within the view of university staff and students.

While what is known about the Penn State matter represents extreme behavior beyond the scope of the survey, it offers an opportunity for discussion of a likewise worrysome situation that also needs to be addressed.

Students who engage in harassing behavior oftentimes think they are being funny, but nearly a third who are victims said such harassment made them feel sick, affected studying or made them reluctant to go to school at all, according to the survey.

It doesn’t have to be this way, say Arizona State University child developmentalists who are working to change the ways that boys and girls interact and engage each other through early intervention in schools. 

Professors Richard Fabes, Carol Martin, Laura Hanish and Kimberly Updegraff in ASU’s School of Social and Family Dynamics are developing the Sanford Harmony Program that is designed to enhance relationships among girls and boys.

The program combines cutting-edge research, best practices, tested curricula and training programs, and the dissemination of these to improve the ways that boys and girls think about and treat one another.

“The main goal…is to help teachers bring boys and girls together so that they have opportunities to develop the skills and experiences that form the basis for positive and respectful interactions,” Hanish said.

In addition to Hanish’s work with the university, she and her husband own a Chicago-style pizza restaurant in south Tempe.

The ASU work, though, is her top priority.

“We are currently implementing the (Sanford Harmony) program in two Kyrene elementary schools and two independent preschools in the southeast Valley.

“The program is the only one of its kind that is designed specifically to help boys and girls learn more about each other, develop positive attitudes and behaviors toward each other, and inspire mutual respect and cooperation in their everyday lives.”

According to Hanish, learning new ways to handle relationships has great long-term value.

“Being exposed to a variety of ways to work together and interact promotes flexible thinking and social problem solving,” Hanish said. “We find that when boys and girls form harmonious relationships, the learning and teaching environment is improved.”

The goals of the are to conduct comprehensive research to understand the factors that contribute to the development of negative attitudes and behaviors toward the other sex by some children and adolescents and to develop cost-effective, community-based prevention and intervention programs that promote positive relationships between boys and girls.

Hanish and the other ASU researchers are also working on testing, marketing and disseminating these programs and adapting them for use in a variety of settings.

“We have engaged in a careful process of testing the program components, refining the program components and re-testing to ensure that the program is successful,” Hanish said.

“Once we are certain that it is ready, it will be made widely available.”

For more information about the program visit http://sanfordharmonyprogram.org .