Four myths about bullying
Victims are responsible for bringing bullying on themselves
Bullying is just a normal part of childhood
Bullies will stop if you just ignore them
Victims need to learn to stand up for themselves
What are the signs that my child is a bully?
A desire to always be in control
Showing little or no empathy for others
Characteristics of bullies
Tend to have problems at home
May be the victim of aggressive behavior or abuse at home
Receive inconsistent discipline and/or poor supervision at home
Tend to be aggressive, self-confident and lacking in empathy
Bullies are those who use negative actions (generally physical or verbal aggression) against others.
Boys V Girls
Most research has focused upon boys rather than girls.
The little we know about female bullying is that girl bullies tend to use tactics different than their male counterparts. Girls often employ indirect bullying, such as socially isolating their victims by excluding them from the group, teasing, or spreading rumors.
Boys tend to use more direct tactics such as hitting, shoving, fighting, or aggressive verbal abuse.
Boy bullies tend to be stronger, larger, and more aggressive than their peers.
Some research suggests that bullies are also perceived as athletic, handsome, outgoing, and socially magnetic. Therefore, the movie stereotype of the bully as a defiant social outcast may be more myth than reality. Indeed, bullies tend to hang around other aggressive kids, and make up about 10 to 15 percent of the school-aged population.
When interviewed, grade-school bullies rate themselves as leaders, but the group they lead tends to be aggressive and cliquish, made up of those usually not accepted by more model students. They count on intimidation to raise and keep their status within the peer group. Even though bullies may be seen as hurtful to their victims, their intimidation often provides a certain social status. Other aggressive kids hang around them for protection and affiliation, and bullies are often rated as some of the most popular and socially connected children, especially in the elementary school years. The myth of the "low self-esteem bully" may be just that -- a myth, since aggression, especially in males, often equates with status and popularity.
Therefore, bullies, especially those who assume leadership roles, may be those who use aggression effectively. There's a great deal of competition for social resources during the school day (attention, friends, and allies), and effective bullies seem to be those who have learned to use their aggression to maintain their leadership role in the peer group.
Characteristics of victims
Tend to be quiet, passive children who don’t have many friends
Tend to be smaller, weaker, and shier than their peers. Kids with handicaps (physical, verbal, or learning), children who look different (are overweight, have unique physical characteristics, or who even are just consistently out of fashion) are picked on significantly more often than those who don't stand out.
Now let's take a look at who these guys are shoving around. Habitual victims (those who seem to be constantly picked on) make up about 18 percent of the school-aged population. Many of us have been pushed around or verbally berated by another kid while growing up, but today, nearly one in five kids seem to be victimized year after year.
Victims, especially those who endure teasing or taunts over an extended period of time, tend to develop low self-esteem as well as depression. Statistically, victims are the least attractive, socially inappropriate kids and generally are not aggressive in return. However, impulsive victims can overreact, feeding the bully's behavior by giving him just what he wants -- attention. This can be seen by the bully as further provocation and may actually heighten the taunts and teasing, especially if the victim reacts in a highly emotional manner.
When is it teasing and when is it bullying?
One of the common myths about bullying is that it is just a normal part of childhood. Everyone gets teased now and then without a great deal of harm, but bullying, characterized by repeated, intentionally hurtful acts, can have long-term consequences for the bully and the victim. These acts can be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual, and there is generally an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
What to do?
Teach bully-coping skills - Encourage your child when confronted by teasing or bullying to throw the aggressor off track by making a funny comment. For example, tell your daughter that if the perpetrator continues to tease her about her braces, to respond with something like "Oh, so you're the new braces monitor. I didn't realize that!" Or have your son manipulate the bully when being teased about his failed attempts at shooting hoops by saying, "Thanks for noticing. I appreciate your interest!" The point is that your child needs to learn to maintain his self-control in these uncomfortable situations, and by doing so he actually controls the bully-victim relationship. You should role-play various responses with your kids until they get good at it. The process can actually be fun!
Encourage social competence - Some victimized children may have deficits in social cognition or social competence. To avoid this, engage your child at an early age in playgroups or playdates, and consider preschool activities as well. As your child matures, continue to encourage group activities so that she learns how to enter into a new group of friends and to effectively work a crowd. Some kids need a boost in terms of learning socially appropriate behaviors, how to read and understand group actions, and how to start conversations even in awkward moments. Inclusion in group situations can go a long way in helping your child to feel more comfortable with others.
Help your child to fit in - Children who are socially aware tend not to be picked on as much by others. Sure, this is superficial and it shouldn't be that way, but until we succeed at changing how kids view popularity and they become more humane with each other. You can expose your children to what's important to kids their age -- be it sports, music, movies, or fashion. However, if it looks like your kid is not interested in typical gender- or age-related activities, help him seek out other avenues of interest. Odds are that he'll find a buddy on his baseball team or he'll make a friend through Cub Scouts. You can help initiate and cement friendships by talking with the teacher and finding out which classmates may be good matches for your child. Pursue this by contacting their parents and offering a playdate or a sleepover. Often, kids just need a jumpstart to a relationship and then it takes on a life of its own.
Be assertive about bullying at school - If your kid is being bullied at school, contact the administration about the problem. When students do not tolerate bullying (kids report aggressive behavior to school authorities, interrupt bullying behavior, or defend victims), the rates of victimization and bullying decline. It's possible that the school administration has been giving "implicit tolerance" to bullying on the belief that students must learn to deal with bullies themselves, or that coping with victimization is a normal part of growing up. It doesn't have to be, though. It's becoming apparent that when teachers, school administrators, and the students themselves do not tolerate bullying behavior, the incidence of this abuse decreases significantly. So don't be afraid to talk to school personnel about the issue -- it could save your child a lot of grief and misery!
Put it all together - Kids who have buddies, know how to be a good friend themselves, are compassionate with others, and are taught not to tolerate teasing and bullying tend not to become bullies or victims themselves. Encourage your child to pick friends wisely -- perhaps by looking for middle-group pals who will be true companions even when the going gets tough.
Create an environment of hope – Middle school, especially, is a challenging time for adolescents. Many are entering a brand new environment with new teachers and new classmates. The academic work load increases substantially, they’re dealing with growing bodies and puberty, and, in general, are wondering if or how they fit in. For many, it’s their first time dealing with the emotions related to girl/boy pressures. This combination adds stress, anxiety, and fear to an already tense and unfamiliar situation.
Neurologically their neuropathways are not as advanced as their physical growth.
The body’s reaction to all of this is to release cortisol–a hormone that regulates stress levels. Unfortunately, increased cortisol also lowers an individual’s ability to feel compassion, empathy and manage his/her moods. Elevated cortisol levels can interfere with learning and have even been linked directly to depression. It’s no wonder that an estimated 15-20% of middle school students are believed to struggle with depression, and it’s no surprise that middle school is such fertile ground for bullying.
Depression is the inability to see hope. When students live with high levels of fear, stress and anxiety, they often develop a belief that things may never get better. Hope, however, combats feelings of despair. Optimism can be both taught and learned.
Ask your child to raise one hand as high as they can (from a seated position). When they’ve done so, ask if they can raise their outstretched hand one or two inches higher (remaining seated). They will probably be able to do so. Have them put their hands down, then point out that you asked them to raise their hands as high as they could the first time. Explain that the reason they got their hands even higher is because they didn’t fully understand their potential. Tell them that you’ll be encouraging them to stretch to new levels of achievement from now on.
Teach connectedness – You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s a dog eat dog world,” or heard the term “self-made” applied to someone who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Our society loves to highlight instances of independent success. After all, if you want something done right, you better do it yourself…or so we often hear. The problem is that the idea of total independence while en route to triumph is a fallacy.
The world’s most successful people approach their relationships with others in a completely unique way. One such individual said, “If you can accomplish your dreams alone, you’re not dreaming big enough.” Highly effective achievers understand the importance of learning to work with others, for others, and even through others.
John Schnatter–better known as “Papa John” from the famous pizza chain–talks about how he once worked 18-hour days, exhausted, filled with stress, and with no time for his family and friends. When he finally realized what he was doing to himself, he decided to make a change, and ceased believing in the success fallacy of getting to the top all by himself. He began seeking ways to work with others, learned to delegate, and started to view the different perspectives and approaches to business that others brought to the table as positive contributions. He cites this shift in thinking as critical in his ultimate success.
One way to teach connectedness is to ask your students to research someone in history whose success was attributed to the ways they worked with others. Have them share their findings with the class. For example, when Abraham Lincoln was elected President, he did the unthinkable by appointing a number of his rival politicians to his cabinet. He believed it was important to utilize their wisdom and find synergies in these relationships to best serve the country. This resulted in a group who after vehemently opposing one another during the election, came together to steer America through its darkest days.
After guiding your students through some of these stories of connectedness, try creating more group projects that will allow them to put this concept into action. The projects themselves aren’t as important as the students working together toward common goals…which will ultimately keep them looking for ways to empower one another.
Model the virtues of vulnerability – Vulnerability means being able to be your authentic self and connect with others without fear and shame. The challenge is that many people view being vulnerable as a sign of weakness, so they put up walls to create distance from others. As educators, it’s important to model to our students that we ourselves have shortcomings, we’re working to improve them, and that we aren’t afraid to show them to others.
Self-compassion is awareness that we all have flaws, and that having them is a part of life that everyone faces. This recognition leads to increased compassion for others who are struggling with their own feelings of self-worth.
You can model the virtues of vulnerability by creating an environment where it’s okay (and even encouraged) to make mistakes and learn from them. Teach your students to empathize by understanding that everyone has imperfections, and that mistakes are an integral part of success. We want our students to be comfortable with all aspects of who they are.
Ask the students’ permission to make the classroom a safe place to take chances. Ask if they agree to support one another as everyone is trying their best and dealing with their own issues. If asked from a place of compassion, my experience is that they will welcome the opportunity to be in an environment that is non-judgmental. Ideally, this would become part of the school culture practiced by all teachers, staff and students.
When students get to know one another on an emotional and supportive level, they begin to see similarities between their own feelings and emotional needs and those of their classmates. This enables them to better identify with each other and have more empathy–a connection that significantly reduces any desire to cause misery or harm to another person.
Foster a community of kindness – People who are nicer and do favors and good deeds for others without any expectation of reciprocity are typically happier and more successful. In addition, individuals who practice an attitude of gratitude on a regular basis are both more fulfilled and kinder to others. Research also indicates that helping others is an authentic way to experience more meaning and significance in life. It’s one of the fastest ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
There are several, simple ways you can foster a community of kindness. You can initiate a practice of random acts of kindness in class, throughout the school, and in the broader community. Turn it into a project in which students perform good deeds, and then share how that made them feel–especially if they received any feedback from the recipients of their kindness.
To help your students experience more gratitude, ask them to make a list of things for which they’re grateful. Then ask them to make a list of the nice things others have done for them. Allow them to openly share what they have included on their lists. Make this a part of the weekly routine, and encourage your students to go through their days with eyes wide open to spot opportunities to be grateful. When they start to realize how much other people have done for them, it will bolster their self-worth and self-esteem. If they can learn to be genuinely thankful for what they have in life, they’ll be less likely to focus on or envy what others have.
The more gratitude they practice and experience, the happier they’ll be. And when we are happy, there is less room for anger. This state of gratitude leads to a desire to be more kind and caring to others. Isn’t this exactly what we want in our middle school classrooms and schools?
Changing negative behaviors and forming a positive culture in your school can be sustained if you create an environment of hope, teach connectedness, model the virtues of vulnerability and foster a community of kindness. When these principles are embraced, it creates an inhospitable place for bullying to exist. At a minimum, students are more intrinsically happy and better equipped to deal with challenging situations.