Friday, January 23, 2015

Responding to Bullying

I discussed bullying and fighting in this recent post, where I promised to discuss the more insidious side of bullying in a later post. This is that later post.

I'm sure that parents, teachers, and leaders were concerned about bullying when I was a kid. But not like they are today. Bullying simply existed. It was something you had to learn to deal with. There were always kids that made you fear them. I mean in a bullying way, not like fearing the girl on whom you had a crush but that had no idea you had a crush on her.

You tried to stay out of situations where you were likely to be bullied. But sometimes those situations just couldn't be avoided. Or they caught you off guard. Like coming around the hallway corner and seeing a bully headed directly toward you right when there were no adults around.

Today anti-bullying resources are everywhere. Some of them are pretty good, such as this video:

Many efforts to prevent bullying are laudable. But sometimes they have a boomerang effect. Instead of stopping bullying, they can drive it further underground where it takes on even more treacherous forms, often in the form of (frequently anonymous) cyber-bullying.

Unlike the schoolyard bullies I dealt with back in my day, cyber-tormentors don't require physical prowess or social status. The bully and the victim don't have to be of the same sex. Girls can bully boys just as well as boys can bully girls.

Of course there are baddies that revel in playing the role of the bully. But many bullies don't realize that they are bullies. Bullying awareness programs are good at emphasizing the victim's point of view where the jerks in those videos obviously look like bullies. One guy in the video above only realizes his bully role after someone close to him is a victim, but many bullies never reach that level of self awareness. The view from the inside looking out is different enough that they don't see their actions in that light.

While we should do what we can to prevent and stop bullying, it is also important to realize that our efforts will fall short. Bullying will happen. This means that efforts are needed to teach kids what to do when they are bullied. Yes, we tell them to report the offense to adults. But we have to realize that sometimes kids will not see reporting as a viable potential solution. In some situations they are bound to think that it will make matters worse.

One of our children was repeatedly bullied in elementary school by this one kid and his homies. The school tried various counseling approaches, including involving the boy's parents. But nothing was effective. The boy's parents were beside themselves and tried various approaches at home, but nothing helped. The bullying continued until that class advanced to the junior high, where our child's path rarely crossed with his former tormentor's. So telling adults about the problem doesn't always help much.

Teaching children about coping with bullies has to go beyond just tattling. Delete Cyberbullying offers some tactics that can be helpful when dealing with online abuse. Stomp Out Bullying has a pretty good discussion about how a victim can respond to bullying, noting that each situation requires a unique approach. I like how Stomp Out Bullying offers a number of possible approaches that could safely be tried before involving an adult. This can help the victim become stronger and more independent, which is something we should encourage.

The key is empowerment. Bullies thrive on making their victims feel powerless. Lashing out increases the bully's power and decreases the victim's power. Responding in kind turns the victim into the same kind of despicable character that he/she loathes. Tattling can also increase the victim's sense of individual powerlessness. We need to do a better job of teaching kids how to restore power in their respective situations.

So, by all means, let's work aggressively on preventing and stopping bullying. But let's also be realistic in realizing that since bullying won't be eradicated, it is important to empower kids to adequately respond when they are bullied.

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