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Bullying at School and Beyond

How do we help our children with bullies?

The topic of bullying seems to be front and center in South Pasadena – a renewed focus on an age-old issue. 

I remember in seventh grade, I got into a fist fight with Cheryl Gibson. I had told her to stop pushing people who were waiting in line to get on the bus, and she told me I was going to “get it.”  On the ride home, all the kids were egging us on, hoping for a show at our stop.  Cheryl and her cronies got off first and waited for me.  When I got off, I was faced with endless demeaning taunts, a specialty of middle school kids. 

Not taking to being called a chicken too well, I cast my books on the ground and threw my first punch.  We got into full-on, physical thrashing. I think my nail tore her lip, and she started bleeding.  She began to cry and, accompanied by her cronies, went home.  I held back my tears until I was alone in my room at home.  Prior to the incident, Cheryl and her friends had regularly bullied me (the psychological sort).  At a large school such as the one I attended, I didn’t think reporting would make a difference.  In fact, I think it might have intensified the bullying had I reported it to the school authorities, since it would have shown that I couldn’t deal with the situation on my own.

Recently, there have been a number of seminars held at our schools for the benefit of both students and parents.  I attended the Bully Prevention Parenting Seminar held at Marengo Elementary just last week.  The speaker of the seminar, John Abrams, publicized himself as the “busiest assembly entertainer in all of Southern California, doing over 400 shows a year.”  He was also a magician.  Abrams went through the three markers of bullying (imbalance of power, intent to harm, and threat of further aggression) and the three types of bullying (verbal, physical, and relational) and the tell-tale signs of a child who is either “The Bully” or “Being Bullied.”  He also outlined the bullying cycle and how we, as parents, can provide support with our unconditional love to our children in these situations.

In terms of directly dealing with bullies, he suggested reporting the bullying to the school in writing and going up the chain of school district command if not resolved.  He also provided a couple of sample responses to the bullies that don’t escalate the incident – i.e. saying “I’m out of here” and “I know.”

I came away dissatisfied.  The battle I had with Cheryl as recounted above was clearly an example of physical bullying, and, when faced with physical threats, self defense is sometimes necessary, with reporting to school authorities afterwards. 

The seminar speaker, however, extended the definition of bullying to include a wide range of mistreatment, including the kind of “bullying” depicted in the movie Mean Girls that came out a few years ago.   If “not being treated the way one wants to be treated” constitutes bullying and requires intercession by parents or school authorities, then aren’t we starting to undermine our kids’ ability to deal with unpleasant people on their own without adult intervention? 

Bullying takes all forms and can happen anywhere -- in the home, at work, and in social situations.  Most of us have been bullied at one time or another, and we need to arm our children with concrete tools to deal directly with bullies – feel-good admonitions to “love unconditionally” and “promote self-esteem” do little but make adults feel warm and fuzzy.  Although it’s nice to provide a loving home and “give” our children a strong sense of self, parents can’t ultimately follow their kids through life and deal with bullies on their behalf.  How do we help our kids remove the threat of bullying from their lives? 

The issue here is that we, as parents, are often conflicted about the “right way” to raise our children.  We were advised by Abrams to come up our own responses to bullies and role play at night.  But the devil is in the details.  How should we counsel our kids to respond to the bully face-to-face?  When should they adopt harder tactics and end the bullying once and for all, by, for example, fighting back with either words or fists?  When is walking away more appropriate?  The ultimate goal here, I think, is to raise a child who is able to deal with these kinds of situations on his or her own and make the right decisions under the pressure of the moment.  If we can arm them with tools to use now, then they can start learning how to deal with the bullies they will confront as adults, personally and professionally. I don’t have the answers to what these tools should be, but this is the kind of discourse we should start now.

By the way, after the hand-to-hand combat with Cheryl, she stayed away from me.  I am not suggesting violence is the right response, but the goal is to stop the bully from bullying.  The challenge is to figure out the most effective way to accomplish that goal.  The best is if we can help our kids reach the goal on their own.

Ron Rosen March 08, 2011 at 07:53 AM
There was a segment on bullying on Dateline NBC on Sunday evening. They put actors in with unsuspecting "bystanders" to see whether the bystanders would join the bullying or try to stop it. It's a complex matter of group dynamics and individual qualities that determines whether bystanders go along with bullying or attempt to stop it. It does seem that bullying has been overdefined, but so has everything else. I was raised before seatbelts, and before wall outlets and table edges were unprotected. In junior high, my friend and I were "held prisoner" in a restroom by some "hoodlums" during recess. It was a frightening experience, and we learned several lessons from it, but I don't think we ever considered telling our parents or school authorities. I don't think it happened again because we learned to avoid those situations.
Jenny March 12, 2011 at 11:21 PM
There was a seminar held at the middle school in our district with the topic of bullying several months back. Some parents at my son's elementary school took this as an opportunity to raise concerns about incidents of bullying they witnessed at the school or anecdotes of bullying they heard from their children. Other parents and the school principal were smart in responding that those concerned parents should spend more time volunteering at school so they can take action to stop the bullying and not just complain about it. Needless to say, this is a hot topic. As my son is getting to the age where I think bullying is more prevalent, and he has more a mellow personality, I do worry if he will be bullied and how he will handle the situation. Though he says he doesn't play with mean kids or have problems with them, my husband is constantly teaching him to be "tough." He thinks being "tough" whatever that means will solve all problems. Ultimately, we want to teach him to be tough in his character and stand up for himself, and if necessary, physcially defend himself. Just hope my daughter won't end up getting into a fist fight like my sister!
East Coast Mama March 13, 2011 at 03:54 AM
I sometimes wonder if the no bullying message is getting misused by the same people that were probably the "mean girl" type bullies themselves when they were younger. I do not question that there are clear cut instances of abusive and illegal behavior that cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. I can't help but wonder, however, who the bully really is when I hear a group of mothers discussing the bully of the week in their child's pre-school class. Somehow these women seem to be enjoying the conversation just a bit too much.
Michelle March 14, 2011 at 01:05 AM
I completely agree! Sadly, there are times when the only way to defend yourself is physically. Our kids are going to have to deal with unpredictable situations so we need to prepare them with as many options as possible. My daughter's school has a peace-building program that is designed to prevent the bullying in the first place. This program is not only for the children but also for the parents because a lot of behavior is learned in the home environment. We must attend parent's meetings that teach the same lessons our children are learning. It is a good way to remind us of what are kids go through on a daily basis and to start a dialogue between parents and children. We can't always be with them so we need to give them the tools in advance.
Geral Sosbee September 10, 2011 at 06:46 PM
The reality of 'bullyism', a national trait THE usa HAS BECOME OVER THE CENTURIES A NATION OF BULLIES,ASSASSINS AND HOMICIDAL SOCIOPATHS. Until the parents accept this fact, the children will continue to imitate the national character of this God forsaken country.A few links in evidence: http://sosbeevfbi.ning.com/profiles/blogs/fbi-homicidal-sociopath-orders-kill-yourself-geral-sosbee http://www.sosbeevfbi.com/hatemailpartsix.html http://www.sosbeevfbi.com/part4-worldinabo.html http://www.sosbeevfbi.com/geralsosbeearmyf.html hate messages: http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2011/09/theyre-all-out-to-get-me.htmluntry.

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