From the Simple Steps to Safer Kids Series
Think bullying is a phase most kids will outgrow on their own? Think again. Although many people believe bullying is normal, studies show that’s far from true. The way a child is “wired,” how he is disciplined, and the manner in which his school deals with aggressive, controlling behaviors all play key parts in making or breaking a bully.
Most bullies possess a hostile, sometimes paranoid, view of others. They often see malice and ill will from their peers where none may be intended. They have problems relating to others and, without good social attitudes to help them control their urges, they simply don’t consider anyone else’s feelings. I’ve always thought a bully’s power play was to compensate for a poor self-image. But, psychologists say most bullies have a positive view of themselves. It may be that their poor social skills don’t allow them to see that their peers don’t like them; they just fear them.
Bullying: What’s it About and Where Does it Lead?
- The most common place for bullying is school, especially less supervised areas of the playground, crowded hallways, and restrooms.
- Boys bully by shoving, kicking, hitting, pushing, and making fun of their victims.
- Girls usually start rumors or use name-calling to socially isolate their victims.
- According to Norwegian Ph.D. psychologist Dan Olweus, 60% of boys identified as bullies in sixth through ninth grades had received at least one court conviction by age 24.
- Kids who aren’t bullying often do little to stop the bad behavior of bullies, thus endorsing the victimization.
- Many children who endure bullying drop out of school. A few take violent revenge against their tormentors and innocent victims.
How to Help Your Child—Whether He’s the Bully or the Bullied
- Start by asking your child how he is treated by his peers, how his friends treat others, how he treats his classmates. Ask for specific examples of behavior. Even if your child is not having a problem with this issue, talk with him about how he can impact someone else’s bullying problem. Kids who stand by and observe, or cheer on, bullying are contributing to and prolonging the behavior. Often, all it takes is one person to say, “Stop.”
- If you discover your child is being bullied, talk to his teacher to try to determine what steps can be taken. Discuss options with your child. A victim’s best defense against a bully may be to simply walk away. On the other hand, humor can often disarm a bully. Help your child come up with some witty, non-aggressive things to say in the situations he’s found himself in. Help him develop friendly relationships with classmates because a child is more likely to stand up and defend a friend.
- If you sense that your child may be bullying others, address the issue—don’t idly hope it will go away. Discuss your child’s behavior with his teacher. Talk with your child about the fact that bullies lead unhappy, often criminal, lives and that they usually don’t outgrow their social problems. Model healthy ways to resolve conflicts at home. Help your child find something in which he excels, then encourage and support his healthy endeavors.
- Consider martial arts training for your child. Everyone, bully, victim, or bystander, can benefit from the self-discipline taught at a good school. In addition to learning self-defense at Dragon Kim’s Tae Kwon Do, my son and I are taught to respect and protect ourselves and others. Our instructor says he’s seen hot-tempered, angry students do a 180-degree turn in their attitudes. “You must learn good concentration and good discipline for Tae Kwon Do,” says 8th degree black belt Master Jin Young Kim. “It’s good for everyone. And it builds self-confidence.”
Intervention and Education are the Keys
According to principal James Bleecker, just a little intervention resulted in a significant decrease in bullying at Oklahoma City’s St. James Catholic School. “We didn’t have a big problem with it here,” Bleecker says, “but we were already working on resolving this issue when the School Bullying Act was passed.”
Oklahoma’s School Bullying Prevention Act, effective November 1, 2002, seeks “to provide an environment free of unnecessary disruption which is conducive to the learning process by implementing policies for the prevention of harassment, intimidation, and bullying.” It requires schools, public and parochial, to have a formal plan in place.
Bleecker says, “We talk to the kids and the parents about the importance of reporting problems to a teacher or to another trustworthy adult at school. Our teachers know that the most effective time to intervene is the first time the bullying behavior takes place. All of our teachers have attended a workshop on bullying and we’ve educated the students about the problem. We all know that the key to resolving the issue is education—not punishment. This year, we’ve had almost no problems in this area.”
Clearly, communication is critical to resolving the painful issue of bullying. The behavior doesn’t begin in a vacuum and it won’t end without action. Develop a no-tolerance rule for bullying in your home and talk to your child’s school. They should be doing the same in their environment.
- “The Wounded Spirit” is an open discussion about the author, Frank Peretti’s, childhood battle with a disfiguring medical condition and the kids who made his life miserable because of it.
- Dragon Kim’s Tae Kwon Do: 1816 E. 2nd Street, Edmond, 341-1016.
- · Read the entire School Bullying Prevention Act at www.bullypolice.org/ok_law.html.
Denise Springer is a speaker and freelance writer. Her books, “Confident Parenting in Frightening Times: How to Safeguard Your Kids from Cradle to College” and “Confident Teaching in Frightening Times,” may be ordered by mail.