By David Joel Miller.
As bullying changes so should our response.
Most kids will be bullied sooner or later. We used to think that there was something that the victim was doing. It would make us feel safer to think they had done something wrong and if we teach kids to avoid that mistake then our kids will be safe. Like blaming the rape victim, blaming the victim of bullying has not helped reduce the number of incidents. The amount seems to be growing. So is the type.
Our fear of violence in the school has led to crackdowns on violence. We have zero tolerance policies. Bring a weapon to school and you get kicked out. Hit someone and you will be suspended maybe even expelled. There is no such thing as a “normal” fight between kids anymore. This has reduced the rate of physical bullying – somewhat. It has not reduced the rate of emotional bullying.
Bullying is not always from outside the family. The most devastating form occurs when family members, those who should have protected you, become the bullies. Relentlessly harassing a family member, the name calling and the feeling of rejection all take their toll.
Kids have come into the psychiatric facilities as a result of a suicide attempt and they tell me their family has called them fat and dumb for years. They finally just gave up. This form of emotional bullying is also emotional abuse. It can and probably usually should be reported to the Child protective services as child emotional abuse. Besides intervening in the family we need to help the victim to get past the trauma of the abuse. But bullying is everywhere.
The new face of bullying is the anonymous face of the internet, cyber-bullying. It is also the acts of kids rejecting and excluding other kids. There is a lot more name-calling and cruel posts online.
Recently Psychotherapy Networker presented a webinar on bullying featuring Stan Davis as part of their parenting skills series. I try to catch as many of their presentations as possible. Most of the programs are designed for professionals and include continuing education units (CEU’s.) They also make some presentations available free of charge, but only for a short time. For more information on Psychotherapy Networker and their webinars see: http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/
Davis tells us that the old approach to bullying is not working. Education for bullying, as in education for drug abuse does not solve the problem. Kids know they shouldn’t bully, with or without an education component.
The kids who tell me at age 8 that drugs are bad and they learned in school that you should never do drugs; I see them again in their teens after they have had an overdose. Same thing with bullying.
If we really want to create a climate without bullying, or less of it anyway, we can’t excuse or alibi bullying when it happens. We need a consistent message that there is zero tolerance for emotional bullying just like the zero tolerance for physical violence. So far society is not consistent with this message at home or at school.
Drugs are cool in movies and on T. V. so are in your face put-downs of others. Kids are learning to bully from what they see others do and lacking any amount of self-control they imitate the reality shows and the movie and video game bullying. Like the way, drunk driving stopped being OK as a result of a concerted campaign by MADD we need a campaign to make bullying a not acceptable activity.
Davis also mentioned that the best antidote for bullying is friends. The more a child belongs and feels like a part of something the less likely they will be affected by bullying. The most victimized are the most alone and once they become the victim they are more likely to be shunned by others, who are afraid to become victims also.
Connection reduces the impact of trauma whether it is from bullying or from a natural disaster. We know from other sources that people with a serious mental illness, like schizophrenia, which have partners at home that support them are half as likely to end up in the psychiatric hospital. Kids who have friends are less likely to be permanently harmed by bullying.
Resiliency is also a source of protection when someone is bullied. Resilient people seem to be able to screen out the verbal insults and the put-downs Screens, says Davis, keep out the injury, but we need help from our friends to keep the screens of protection clean and repaired.
So the summary here is that more bullying today is non-physical like insults and rejection and to protect against this more friends and resiliency are what is needed.
See also: Bullying, Families, and Resilience
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