We’ve all heard the horror stories about bullying at school, and we all know children (our own or others) who have been victims of bullies. Many of us were victims as children! And we probably all know some children (our own or others) who actually do the bullying.
States are passing laws, and school systems have anti-bullying programs and policies, but it isn’t getting any better – it seems to be getting worse! What in the world is going on? Are we teaching children that every negative social interaction is bullying? Are children getting meaner? Are social media to blame? Are our policies back-firing?
Bullying comes from an imbalance of power – stronger, more popular, or more socially adept students are often the ones doing the bullying. We currently recognize three different kinds of bullying. The first one is physical aggression. This includes hitting, kicking, tripping and pushing, taking and/or breaking someone else’s things, and ugly hand gestures. The second type is verbal aggression. This includes teasing, name-calling, making threats, and taunting. The third kind of bullying is social. This includes leaving someone out on purpose, telling others not to be friends with a particular student, spreading rumors, and public embarrassment.
I have found two very different schools of thought about what to do about bullying. Both take bullying seriously and want it stopped, but each has an approach to stopping it is very different from the other. Here they are – what do you think? You be the judge!
The first one is the anti-bullying establishment view. This point of view is represented well by the Federal government (http://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html), the National Association of School Psychologists (http://www.nasponline.org/families/index.aspx, Bullies and Victims handout ), and the National PTA (http://www.pta.org/bullying.asp ). Basically, these organizations emphasize that the school is responsible for providing a safe learning environment, and that bullies should be punished and victims protected. Children and parents are encouraged to report all incidents, and school personnel are required to supervise and protect children at all times. Parents have legal recourse against schools if bullying is not prevented in the school environment.
If you are interested in reading about the anti-bullying laws in your state, the Stop Bullying website includes a section on State Policies and Laws.
The second point of view is expressed on the website Bullies 2 Buddies (www.bullies2buddies.com). Izzy Kalman, a school psychologist, theorizes that the best way to stop bullying is to apply the Golden Rule (in a moral sense, not a religious one). He believes that the incidence of bullying has increased because our current negative, punishing, legal approach only makes the problem worse. It does so because human beings are programmed to treat others as they are treated (not the Golden Rule!). He has evidence that actually applying the Golden Rule (treat others as you would want to be treated) is a powerful way to defuse bullying. Instead of “don’t act like a bully”, it’s “don’t act like a victim”.
He has several resources on the web page, the most interesting being a free manual for kids called “How to Stop Being Teased and Bullied Without Really Trying”.
So what to do?
- Go to the Stop Bullying website and check out the law in your state (almost every state has one).
- Check out your school system website and see if you can find the policy and procedures that administrators are supposed to follow when there is a bullying incident.
- Watch for warning signs that your child is being bullied, or is bullying others. There is an excellent list of warning signs in the article on the National Association of School Psychologist’s website.
- Take action! If your child is a bully, it’s time to take a serious look at how you are teaching family values and appropriate behavior. It’s also time to look at family behavior. Do the adults bully each other in the home? Do older siblings bully younger siblings? This is a time to step up and be honest – and seek professional help if necessary.
- If your child is being bullied, immediately have a conference at school and ask how the situation is being handled. Make sure that the policies and procedures are being followed. And then decide how you are going to try to help your child learn not to be a victim. There are lots of ways to help! Role-play what to say and do when confronted by a bully. Enroll your child in a martial arts class – this often increases confidence. Find a social skills training group, at school or in the community. Give your child an opportunity to become part of a group that can provide social protection – Scouts, church youth group, 4-H.