Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some Thoughts on Bullying

I just read this nine page presentation on bullying which you may find informative if you're interested in this topic. It explains the basis for some bullying such as the pecking order and why bullying increases at the middle school level. However like all writing on bullying this falls short in the end.

I recall Barbara Coloroso saying in her book "The Bullied, the Victim and the Bystander" we all fit into one of these categories:

- Bully

- Victim

- Bystander (looks on and does nothing)

Additionally one person can also fit into more than one category. The child may be a victim of one bully but be a bystander when he sees another child being picked on. Some psychologists would say that child bullies are often victims of bullying at home (by their parents or older siblings) and that's what started the bully on the cycle of violence in the first place. Hypothesizing about these origins is of little concern to me. Outsiders cannot fix problems inside a bully-child's home.

Of primary importance to me, is helping the victim and changing the situation so the bully is given less opportunities to do their bullying. Also when bullying does occur, I'd like to see the adults in charge dole out appropriate consequences to the bully to send the message that they are not going to accept that behavior.

The solution given to victims by most experts is boiled down to main two things. First, stand up for yourself. A victim can only take so much so this repeated advice to "stand up for yourself when confronted" starts to ring hollow after just a short time. No matter how good the child's self-esteem is in their private life one can only take being physically hurt over and over for so long. Verbal taunting and abuse over and over, especially when done in front of other kids is humiliating and winds up tearing down the child's self-esteem. It's a bit of a back and forth to be boosted up at home then torn down on the school bus. So honestly I'm not a big fan of "make the child feel worthwhile at home and it will be alright' because, sorry, that's just not good enough to stop the bullying.

Second, they recommend that peers and adults become an advocate to stop bullying they see happening with other kids. Some (like Jay McGraw) feel the best case would be if bands of kids can come together to stand up to their bully-peer. The problem with their proposed solution is that many people (children and adults alike) will not stand up and accept the role of the advocate.
I have little confidence in new converts to advocacy. You can teach a child to stand up for themselves (be their own advocate) but with persistent bullies this doesn't work. The other kids who side with the bully ONLY because they want the bully on their side so they do not become the victim themselves will not then switch sides to stand victim in the role of advocate. Actually what can happen in real life, is if the victim stands up to the bully then the bully looks to their cohorts who can then join in then all of a sudden you have a group of kids bullying a single victim. Thus in a matter of seconds, those who were bystanders are now bullies too.

A child-victim can only do so much to follow the advice to stay away from the bully. The very fact that kids are in school together, riding a school bus, or playing on a team sport puts these kids in constant contact with each other. These kids must rely on the adults managing these situations to follow-through on stated anti-bullying policies that are intended to provide a safe environment for supposed positive childhood development and/or achievement of a quality academic education.

At the end the advice falls short. I have a pessimistic outlook for lowering or stopping bullying in schools and in groups. This is because the bottom line is the adults who work with children, such as most teachers, school administrators, and coaches are not usually of the ADVOCATE mindset. They are usually bystanders. Perhaps they like their jobs when things are going well but when faced with challenges such as dealing with bullying incidents some don't want to handle it. Even when faced with direct observation of the bullying or when they are informed that it is happening, they may be afraid of dealing with conflict and they would rather avoid dealing with it at all costs. These adults in authority who work with kids may say they enjoy working with children and that they care about them but the fact of the matter is that most of them let bad and sometimes dangerous behavior continue year after year with little regard for the damage being done to the victim.

Let's stop and do a fact check. Teachers and others getting paid to do a job to work with children usually have clear rules, policies and procedures for acceptable and non-acceptable behavior and how to handle bullying. In Connecticut we even have an anti-bullying law that outlines processes and procedures and mandates reporting to the state of bullying events. The sad fact is that usually those adults choose to ignore the policies and laws. The craziest of all is when Principals allow bullying to continue. Let's not even get into trying to figure out why some children of Principals, teachers and coaches are the worst bullies, I have no explanation for that, do you?

If you read the writings about bullying carefully you will find the evidence that the advocates are few and far between. I find the fact that many teachers, principals, and coaches do not fall into the advocate category pathetic and shameful. Given the numbers of adults who work with children the statistics for the numbers of advocates should be HIGHER. Adults who turn a blind eye to bullying but claim they love working with children should be ashamed of themselves. Rather than prop themselves up on feeling happy for the percentage of kids that are doing fine and ignoring the kids who are suffering under their care, they should look at where they are failing and work to reduce those numbers. Rather than saying "92% of kids are not bullied once a week" they should try to reduce the 8% of victims to a smaller number! (I'm using the statistics mentioned in the report I linked to earlier.)

Sadly too much literature about bullying is too hard on the victim, blaming them for not having enough self-confidence or being fearful to stand up for themselves.

I find that the literature about bullying goes much too soft on the adults in authority who choose to be bystanders. The adults should be pushed and forced to switch their mindset and to act when action is appropriate. I am sick of adults turning a blind eye. I am tired of people in leadership positions who lack the leadership skills to do their job well.

I'm tired of people who say they don't deal with problems as they "hate confrontation" or "dislike conflict". Dealing with a problem is just dealing with a problem, it is about communication, it doesn't have to be a 'confrontation'. Dealing with an issue does not require aggression. The person who chooses to deal with a problem situation is JUST doing their job--that's what they are getting paid for!

Schools, school buses, sports teams and Scout groups are supposed to be safe places for kids to do good, worthwhile things. Adults who accept positions of authority who work with children have a fiduciary duty to do right by the children in their charge that includes following rules, policies, procedures, and laws.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Do your job fully and responsibly, or find another profession!

Maybe by your leaving another more qualified person can take your job!


Books Mentioned in This Post

Read my review of Jay McGraw's book here.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post. See my blog's disclosure statement at the top of the sidebar if further information is wanted.


Carrie Schmeck said...

I have to say I agree with much of what you write. Having just removed my son from middle school (not for bullying), I might offer some insight into the adult reactions. I am not making excuses for them, but I think that often, they are confused by what is or is not bullying. There is that "oh, they're just kids" mindset. Also, with the sheer numbers of kids these teachers are supposed to be "teaching," they have little time to monitor every conversation, every untoward word, every bullying situation. It's a tough situation with no easy solution.

Thanks for your thoughts on it.

christinemm said...

Hi Carrie, I hear you. This post was fueled by anger with a situation with a 5 year repeat offender. I'll stop there. Not sure if I'll be blogging the personal story.

christinemm said...

3/25/10 a new study was published about bullying that says bullies pick their victims wisely.

Didn't everyone already know this? I sure did, from my experiences in public school in the 1970s and 1980s. DUH!

Laura said...

Very good posting! I couldn't agree more with what you've said.

I pulled my daughter out of school because of bullying (and some other factors) - the school refused to do anything with the girls and/or the parents of the girls who were bullying my daughter. I even worked at the school! They didn't want to offend anyone.... We now homeschool and life is much easier!