Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Bully

The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander
The Bully
 Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are big; some are small; some bright and some not so bright; some attractive and some not so attractive; some popular and some disliked by almost everybody.
      Bullying is a conscious, willful and deliberate hostile activity, intended to harm. The four markers of bullying are:
      1.  An imbalance of power
      2.  Intent to harm
      3.  Threat of further aggression
      4.  When bullying escalates unabated—terror
      Bullying is not about anger, or even about conflict. It's about contempt—a powerful feeling of dislike toward someone considered to be worthless, inferior or undeserving of respect. Contempt comes with three apparent psychological advantages that allow kids to harm others without feeling empathy, compassion or shame. These are:
      1.  A sense of entitlement—the right to control, dominate, subjugate, and abuse another human being
      2.  An intolerance toward difference
      3.  A liberty to exclude—to bar, isolate, and segregate a person deemed not worthy of respect or care
      Adults sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between teasing, which is normal social interaction, and taunting, which is a form of bullying. The differences are:
      1.  Allows the teaser and person teased to swap roles
      2.  Isn't intended to hurt the other person
      3.  Maintains the basic dignity of everyone involved
      4.  Pokes fun in a lighthearted, clever, and benign way
      5.  Is meant to get both parties to laugh
      6.  Is only a small part of the activities shared by kids who have something in common
      7.  Is innocent in motive
      8.  Is discontinued when person teased becomes upset or objects to the teasing
      1.  Is based on an imbalance of power and is one-sided: the bully taunts, the bullied kid is taunted
      2.  Is intended to harm
      3.  Involves humiliating, cruel, demeaning, or bigoted comments thinly disguised as jokes
      4.  Includes laughter directed at the target, not with the target
      5.  Is meant to diminish the sense of self-worth of the target
      6.  Induces fear of further taunting or can be a prelude to physical bullying
      7.  Is sinister in motive
      8.  Continues especially when targeted kid becomes distressed or objects to the taunt
 Seven steps to stop bullying
      1.  Discipline (including the three Rs: restitution, resolution, reconciliation)
      2.  Create opportunities to "do good"
      3.  Nurture empathy
      4.  Teach friendship skills
      5.  Closely monitor TV viewing, video games and computer activities
      6.  Engage in more constructive, entertaining, energizing activities
      7.  Teach ways to "will good"
The Bullied
The one thing that all kids who are bullied have in common is that a bully or a bunch of bullies has targeted them. Each one was singled out to be the object of scorn, and thus the recipient of bullying, merely because he or she was different in some way.
      The warning signs that a child is a victim of bullying are:
      1.    Shows an abrupt lack of interest in school, or refuses to go to school
      2.    Takes an unusual route to school
      3.    Suffers a drop in grades
      4.    Withdraws from family and school activities
      5.    Is hungry after school
      6.    Steals money from home
      7.    Makes a beeline to the bathroom when arriving home
      8.    Is sad, sullen, angry, or scared after receiving a phone call or email
      9.    Does something out of character
      10.  Has torn or missing clothing
      11.  Uses derogatory or demeaning language when talking about peers
      12.  Stops talking about peers and everyday activities
      13.  Has physical injuries not consistent with explanation
      14.  Has stomachaches, headaches, panic attacks, is unable to sleep, sleeps too much, is exhausted
      15.  Plays alone, or prefers to hang with adults
      Kids don't tell adults they are being bullied because:
      1.  They are ashamed of being bullied
      2.  They are afraid of retaliation
      3.  They don't think anyone can help them
      4.  They don't think anyone will help them
      5.  They've bought into the lie that bullying is a necessary part of growing up
      6.  They might believe that adults are part of the lie—they bully, too
      7.  They have learned that "ratting" on a peer is bad, not cool
 If your child is bullied, don't:
      1.  Minimize, rationalize, or explain away the bully's behavior
      2.  Rush in to solve the problem for your child
      3.  Tell your child to avoid the bully
      4.  Tell your child to fight back
      5.  Confront the bully or the bully's parents alone
 If your child is bullied, do:
      1.  Say "I hear you; I am here for you; I believe in you; you are not alone in this."
      2.  Say "It is not your fault."
      3.  Say "There are things you can do."
      4.  Report the bullying to school personnel
      The four most powerful antidotes to bullying are:
      1.  A strong sense of self
      2.  Being a friend
      3.  Having at least one good friend who is there for you through thick and then
      4.  Being able to successfully get into a group—and get out when it does not serve you well
Parents should report the bullying incident in the following manner:
      1.  Arrange a meeting for you and your child with the appropriate person at the school
      2.  Bring to the meeting the facts in writing—the date, time, place, kids involved, and the specifics of the incidents—and the  impact the bullying has had on your child as well as what your child has done to try to stop the bullying that didn't work
      3.  Work with your child and school personnel on a plan that addresses what your child needs right now in order to feel safe, what she can do to avoid being bullied and to stand up to any future bullying, and whom she can go to for help
      4.  Find out what procedures the bully will be going through and what kind of support the school is expecting from the parents of the bully

      5.  If you feel the problem is not being adequately addressed by the school, know that you can express your concerns and let the teacher and/or administrator know that you will take the next step to the school district board office and if necessary—especially in the cases of serious abuse and racist or sexist bullying—to the police.
      Schools have a clear role in preventing and stopping bullying. A caring school:
      1.  Gathers information about bullying at school directly from students
      2.  Establishes clear school wide and classroom rules about bullying
      3.  Trains all adults in the school to respond sensitively and consistently to bullying
      4.  Provides adequate adult supervision, particularly in less structured areas, such as on the playground and in the lunchroom
      5.  Improves parental awareness of and involvement in working on the problem.
The Bystander
      Bystanders are the third group of players in this tragedy. They are the supporting cast who aid and abet the bully, through acts of omission and commission. They stand idly by or look away, or they can actively encourage the bully or join in and become one of a bunch of bullies. Injustice overlooked or ignored becomes a contagion that infects even those who thought they could turn away.
      Bullying is challenged when the majority stands up against the cruel acts of the minority. Establishing new norms, enforcing playground rules, and increasing supervision are policy decisions that can help reduce the incidents of bullying. Since much of the bullying goes on "under the radar of adults," a potent force is kids themselves showing bullies that they will not be looked up to, nor will their cruel behavior be condoned or tolerated. Kids need not by bystanders. They can become active witnesses, standing up for their peers, speaking out against injustices, and taking responsibility for what happened among themselves.
      With care and commitment, adults can rechannel the behaviors of the bully into positive leadership activities; acknowledge the nonaggressive behaviors of the bullied child as strengths that can be developed and are honored; and transform the role of the bystander into that of a witness, someone willing to stand up, speak out, and act against injustice. A daunting task, but a necessary one.
Helping Teenagers with Stress
 The following information comes from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
 Physiology of Stress
      Some teens become overloaded with stress. When it happens, inadequately managed stress can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use.  When we perceive a situation as difficult or painful, changes occur in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger. This "fight, flight, or freeze" response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or a sense of dread.
      The same mechanism that turns on the stress response can turn it off. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down. This "relaxation response" includes decreased heart and breathing rate and a sense of well-being. Teens that develop a "relaxation response" and other stress management skills feel less helpless and have more choices when responding to stress.
      Parents can help their teens in these ways:
      ▪Monitor if stress is affecting their teen's health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
      ▪Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
      ▪Learn and model stress management skills
      ▪Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities
      Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:
      ▪Exercise and eat regularly
      ▪Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation
      ▪Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco
      ▪Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques)
      ▪Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite, firm and not overly aggressive or passive ways ("I feel angry when you yell at me" "Please stop yelling.")
      ▪Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress, such as giving a speech..
      ▪Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks.
      ▪Decrease negative self-talk: challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts. "My life will never get better" can be transferred into "I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help."
      ▪Learn to feel good about doing a competent or "good enough" job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others.
      ▪Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress.
      ▪Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way.
Tattling vs. Reporting
“He called me a name!”-“She cut in front of me in line!”-“They threatened me!”
Surely, in this day and age, we want children to tell us when someone is breaking a rule, someone is getting hurt, or something dangerous is happening.  However, we want to avoid sending our children a mixed message.  Sometimes, when a child tells an adult what is going on, the child’s information may be categorized as tattling.
What is your definition of tattling?  According to Macmillan Dictionary, to tattle is “to reveal the secrets, activities, or private affairs of another.” Children tattle for countless reasons:  to get attention (negative or positive), to feel like they are better than someone else, to get someone in trouble, to get someone else to solve their own problems (ex. who gets to watch which program on TV), etc.  Nevertheless, it is extremely important for your child to learn when to tell an adult immediately and when to try and solve the problem on his/her own.
Sometimes “telling” can help prevent something tragic from happening at home or at school.  How can we encourage kids to tell us when they are truly afraid or someone is in danger, and yet not hear about it every single time a child “cuts” in line or “looks at him/her funny.”  What is the difference between “telling” an adult and “tattling” to an adult?
Frequently, the very thing a tattletale says is, “I’m telling...!” So, after careful research and consideration I have changed my focus from distinguishing between "Tattling versus Telling” to “Tattling versus Reporting.”   This is how I explain the difference: 
 “You have probably all seen reporters on television telling us about important world events, and have all read articles written by newspaper reporters about things happening in our world.  YOU, too, can BE a REPORTER!  At home and at school, when you see something newsworthy you have the right and the responsibility to “report” it to an adult.  To determine the difference between tattling and reporting, just answer these three short questions:
     (1) Is someone’s BODY getting hurt or something dangerous happening?
     (2) Are someone’s FEELINGS really getting hurt?
     (3) Is someone’s PROPERTY getting damaged?  
If your answer is YES to one or more of these questions, it is your job to be a “reporter” and tell an adult right away!”
Through different mediums, your child has learned about tattling and reporting at school.  In real situations at home, you can reinforce this skill by asking your child these three questions.  For example, when a child comes to you and tells you that a sibling  “... won’t let me watch my television program,” ask your child those three questions (body, feelings, property).  If their answer is NO, encourage your child to further ask themselves: 
     (A) Am I telling to get this person in trouble (tattling) or to help the person (reporting)
     (B) Have I done everything I can do to help? (Problem-solving). 
Then talk with your child to problem-solve and determine what they can try before they come to you to solve their problem.  Please, make no mistake; the purpose of this article certainly is not to discourage children from going to adult when they genuinely need an adult’s help.  If your child is being bullied or harassed we encourage him/her and you to find  help.  Rather, these three questions can empower your child to take responsibility for trying to solve their problems first (unless body, feelings, or property are at stake).  In doing so, your child will develop lifelong problem-solving skills that will make them more successful in life.  Perhaps even more importantly, the child-parent and child-teacher interactions that result from such an exchange are a lot more positive and productive than the reactions incurred by the adult solving the child’s problem for them over and over again.

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