Washington Family Magazine : October 2015
washingtonFAMILY.com October 2015 11 Bullying always involves more people than the bully and the victim. Bullying is a social phenomenon, and in order to stop it, everyone needs to be involved. In most bullying incidents, studies show that four or more additional peers are present.1 Some assist by joining in the ridiculing or cheering on the bully from the sidelines, and others encourage the bully by showing signs of approval such as laughing or just watching and doing nothing. 1. What to do? Parents and teachers need to encourage kids to play an active part in their school community by providing opportunities to be positive role models of good character, exemplifying the values that connect people rather than divide them. Service projects that engage children across age levels and peer groups break down self-made barriers, create conditions to develop positive peer cultures and help kids become upstanders rather than bystanders when it comes to bullying. Adults should prevent bullying behaviors, not model them. Most parents and teachers don’t want their children or students to be victims of bullying. However, the authority and power adults have and need to guide and protect can also be used destructively. Correcting bad behavior is necessary, but putting kids down, indicating they are bad kids or mocking their failings is bullying behavior that children pick up on and may learn to use on others. 2. What to do? Correct the behavior, not the whole child. There is a big difference between, “You didn’t do your homework, and we’ve talked about that before. What happened?” and, “You don’t listen to me! What kind of a student do you think you are?” Bullying and conflict are not the same thing. Conflict inevitably happens between people trying to get their needs met, and this can result in disagreement and hurt feelings. When people have strong disagreements, aggressive behavior and responses may appear similar to bullying. But there is an important difference. In situations of conflict, both parties have a degree of power, and there is a dispute over resources or decisions; there is no intention to victimize a person based on some characteristic such as their ethnicity or physical attributes. Also, for bullies, the reward is largely social – increased status, power, attention or revenge – not about an event or tangible reward. Kids are still learning how to navigate the complex world of friendships, which also leads to disagreements. Part of the growing-up process is learning how to solve these problems. 3. What to do? Don’t assume every conflict requires identifying a bully and a victim. Conflict is a natural part of being human, and conflict resolution is a skill children and adults need practice navigating with care and resourcefulness. Make sure your family and school teach and have learned basic conflict resolution skills. To break bullying cycles or patterns, learn to talk compassionately. Picture this: One student with a speech impediment is being belittled, teased and often interrupted during his classwork. To address this pattern, his classroom teacher facilitates an intentional conversation designed to both break the pattern and help the children involved understand the impact of their behavior. In talking about being mean, the teacher also engages and reinforces the natural sense of empathy with which we are all born, but we all have to learn about and practice by being compassionate with different people in different contexts. 4. What to do? Compassionate communication helps in navigating interpersonal relationships. But if bullying behavior persists, intervention is called for. The victim will need specific support, and the perpetrator will require specific consequences. TEXT PHILIP BROWN 1. O’Connell, Pepler & Craig. Peer involvement in bullying: Insights and challenges for intervention. Journal of Adolescence. 1999 (22), p. 437-452.