Hardly a day goes by without a news story about the consequences of bullying in our country, especially among school children. In a national study of bullying, the researchers found that nearly 30% of sixth through tenth grade students reported moderate to frequent involvement in bullying, either as a bully themselves, the victim of bullying, as both bullies and victims.
Bullying can involve physical actions such as fighting, shoving, kicking or hitting. But, it can also manifest in activities such as harrassing (either in person or electronically), rejecting, excluding, gossiping, threatening, intimidating, embarrassing, degrading, spreding rumors, making fun of or name-calling.
Research has further shown that students who are bully-victims are at increased risk for negative outcomes throughout childhood and adulthood including feeling lonely and avoiding wanting to attend school. They are also at greater risk for anxiety and suicidal thoughts which can persist into adulthood. Bullies themselves are more likely to exhibit conduct problems and delinquency, to be physically aggressive with their dating partners and to be convicted of crimes in adulthood.
Our schools and state governments are responding to bullying in various ways with numerous interventions. Many states have enacted bullying legislation and most schools have implemented some sort of program to deal with this growing problem. Many programs are modeled after the work of Norwegian researcher Dr. Dan Olweus, who developed one of the most popular anti-bullying programs. Research on the effectiveness of his programs show mixed results, however, with the majority of intervention outcomes showing no meaningful change in bullying.
Another approach is being used by psychologist Izzy Kalman who developed a program called Bullies to Buddies. He basically believes that instead of involving governments and school-wide intervention programs, (which he believes makes things worse), we should instead simply empower victims to respond more effectively to the bully. This is very consistent with our approach to anger management: even if provoked to be angry, it is the responsibility of the angry person to deal with his angry feelings and to find ways to deal with the “problem-person or” problem-situation” more effectively.
There are limitations to this approach, of course. It certainly doesn’t apply if there is a vast power difference between the bully and the bully-victim (such as a normal person picking on a developmentally disabled child or a 17 year old picking on a 4 year old); it also doesn’t apply if there is severe physcial violence, assault or child sexual harrassment issues.
But, for the vast majority of bullying, according to Mr. Kalman, a school psychologist, research has shown that there are a number of characteristics and behaviors that put children at risk for victimization. Teaching children how to change these behaviors and characteristics often eliminates the bullying problem immediately. More specifically, there is mounting evidence that helping bully-victims should involve the following two components:
- Respond differently to the bully (instead of the usual response of fear, defensiveness, anger, or retaliation) Examples would include avoiding signs of weakness (like pouting, crying, whining) as these responses are often what the bully is looking for. The easiest thing to do is to simply walk away, or to react calmly to bullying. Often, if the child responds with behavior indicating he doesn’t care that much, the bully’s wind is taken out of his/her sails. Empower your child with role plays that teach her body language and verbal tools she can use to deter a would-be bully. “No! Back off! Stop bugging me!” can help communicate a level of assertiveness that will make a child less of a viable target.
- Change your child’s perception of himself/herself so he/she doesn’t perceive himself as a helpless victim of the bully. This may involve improving your child’s self-esteem, and helping him/or develop a more optimistic/empowered attitude toward their ability to deal with adversity and stress.
For a parent/child consultation with Dr Fiore for help in developing strategies to help your child deal with a bully (or if your child IS the bully), call 714-745-1393 or email Dr Fiore at [email protected] Consultations available in both Long Beach and Orange.
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