Let’s Talk About Bullying

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November 4, 2019

Camila Quintero, MS., School Counselor

Registered Mental Health Counselor

(Divine Savior Academy – Doral) Bullying is not a new problem, but society is starting to understand the major impacts that it has on our youth. It is now considered a serious public health problem. The rising number of school violence cases, including suicide and school shootings, now highlights the serious, and sometimes deadly, consequences of bullying.

Not All Unkindness is Bullying. Here’s Why We Need to Teach our Kids to Differentiate.
Awareness of the issue is increasing. So, it is important to identify and recognize true bullying behavior. 
Clinicians and educators are facing a new challenge: The “B” word is being thrown around like confetti by students and parents. I often hear in the hallways, “Stop bullying me!” as a replacement for, “Stop bothering me.” As a mental health counselor, this is worrisome. 
Why?
“When we fail to distinguish between bullying and ordinary meanness, we trivialize the very serious cases of peer abuse,”  Eileen Kennedy-Moore, an author and clinical psychologist, wrote in an article in Psychology Today. When children and parents begin using the word, “Bullying,” for any mean behavior, it reduces the seriousness of the word. Children’s development of resiliency is also hurt in the process. Because real bullying behavior is such a serious issue, we must treat it as such and intervene immediately. 

So, What is Bullying? 
There are no cultural, age, or gender barriers to bullying. Bullying comes in many different forms, and it can happen to anyone. It is frightening, uncomfortable, and can affect individuals of all ages, but is most evident in school-aged children.
Florida Anti-Bullying Laws include the following definition of bullying, cyberbullying and harassment:
Systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students and may involve teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, theft, sexual, religious or racial harassment, public or private humiliation and destruction of property.
To be considered bullying, the behavior must include:

  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once, or have the potential to happen more than once.
  • Intentionality:  Behavior is purposeful with deliberation to hurt or harm.  
  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. It is not bullying when two kids with no power imbalance fight, have an argument, conflict, or disagree.

Other considerations:
Unequal levels of emotional upset.
The child doing the bullying is likely to show little or no empathy or caring for the other child. The child who is being bullied typically displays some level of emotional distress. 

Why Do Children Bully?

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, students engage in bullying behaviors for various reasons including: 

  • Gaining power over others.
  • Experiencing excitement.
  • Getting attention and popularity.
  • Problems at home.
  • Obtaining material possessions.
  • Joining the popular crowd.
  • Imitating someone who is perceived as “cool.”

Why Don’t Youth Intervene or Defend the Target of Bullying? 
Have you ever walked around downtown and seen an individual lying on the sidewalk? Did you stop to ask that individual if they were okay? Have you ever driven by a car accident? Did you stop or call 911? 
We all assume someone else will help.
The bystander effect is when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. The larger the crowd, the less likely for anyone to intervene or provide help. 
There are many reasons why youth, or bystanders, don’t intervene:

  • Fear of retaliation 
  • Fear of losing social status
  • They are not friends with the target of the bullying 
  • They believe adults will make bullying worse
  • They do not know how to help

Parents: Developing Resilience and Dealing with Bullying. How to Help From Home?

  • Understand the difference between bullying and normal peer conflict.
    Talk to your child about the difference between mean/rude/unkind behavior, and true bullying.
  • Coach your child to handle teasing, rude, unkind behavior or Bullying.
    Use role play to teach your child HA, HA, SO strategies. 
    • Help: Find an adult for help.
    • Assert yourself: Use I-statements such as, “I don’t like that. Stop it right now.”
    • Humor: Children doing bullying behavior are looking for an emotional response. Instead of getting mad, use humor.
    • Avoid: Stay away from the child doing the bullying behavior.
    • Self-Talk: Think good things about yourself. Whenever someone says something rude or mean, remember all the good. “ I don’t care that he called me dumb. I got an A on my science test.”
    • Own it: Respond by agreeing with the unkind comment made, “Yeah this is a bad haircut. The mower got out of control this weekend.” This will teach confidence.
  • Model Positive Social Behavior and Social Skills.
    To prevent bullying behavior from developing, it is important that they grow up in loving relationships. Children model behavior from their first teachers: parents. Our children need to see us modeling kindness, not criticizing others, and not judging others. Give them specific phrases to develop assertiveness during conflict such as, “Hey, stop doing that. I don’t like it.” Role playing is the best way for children to learn social skills, positive self-talk, and a growth mindset.
  • Avoid the Bystander effect. Teach your kids to become an Upstander:
    Studies show that when students intervene correctly, they can cut bullying behavior at the root. Coach your child in how to intervene when they witness unkind, mean or bullying behavior. The best strategy for an upstander is to partner with the victim and remove her/him from danger. Go stand next to the target and say something like, “Hey, let’s go play somewhere else,” or “I have been looking for you, let’s go to a different table.” Children doing bullying behavior love attention and an audience. Removing the target will cut bullying from the root. 
  • Teach Empathy:
    Nurture empathetic imagination by asking questions such as, “Have you noticed anyone sitting by themselves during lunch?” “How do you think he feels?” “What would it feel like to always be picked last?” “You mentioned Johnny always says mean things to other kids, why do you think he acts this way? How do you think he really feels?”
  • Cyberbullying:
    Parents play an important role in cyberbullying:
    • Keep your computer in a busy area of your home. 
    • Know your children’s screen names and passwords. 
    • Regularly go over their friends’ list with them. 
    • Bring up the topic of cyberbullying and ask if they have experienced or are seeing it. 
    • Coach them on what to do if cyberbullying happens (report and block). 
    • Assure them that you will not blame or punish them for telling the truth. 
  • Get Involved:
    If you have concerns about a true case of bullying happening in school, reach out to the school. Share all the information you have gathered, to tackle this issue as a team.

The key to preventing bullying is to help ALL children learn to behave in kinder ways, and develop resiliency. The beautiful thing about the Christian school setting is that no one is alone in this process. As said in an article in the Association of Christian Schools International by Stephen Meier, “The administrator is one part of a triangle. Parents and students make up the other two parts. In the center of the triangle is Jesus Christ, working in and through us.” 
Christian teachers have a powerful tool, God’s Word, to use in combating bullying. Christian educators are in a unique position to point children to the perfect model, Jesus Christ. May we all encourage our students in their lives to treat others with love and compassion as Christ has loved us (Isch & Loomis, December 22).

Resources:

https://www.pacer.org/bullying/

https://www.stopbullying.gov/

References:

 Fox, J. A., Elliott, D. S., Kerlikowske, R. G., Newman, S. A., & Christeson, W. (2003). Bullying prevention is crime prevention. Available: http://clearinghouse.adhl.org/resources/BullyingPrevention.pdf Stop Bullying Now: http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov
Garrity, C., Jens, K., Porter, W. W., Sager, N., & Short-Camilli, C. (1997). Bully Proofing Your School: Creating a Positive Climate. Intervention in School and Clinic, 32(4), 235–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/105345129703200407
Kennedy-Moore , E. (2014, October 0). Is It Bullying…Or Ordinary Meanness? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/growing-friendships/201410/is-it-bullyingor-ordinary-meanness
Lazarus, P. J. & Pfohl, W. (2010) Bullying prevention and intervention: Information for Educators. In A. Canter, L Paige & S. Shaw (Eds.)., Handouts for Educators and Parents 3rd Edition. Bethesda, MD. National Association of School Psychologists.
Loomis, C. (n.d.). School Bullying . The Lutheran Educator 43(2), 41. Retrieved from https://mlc-wels.edu/library/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2015/12/luthed432.pdf

Staci Landwehr
Staci Landwehr
Staci Landwehr is the Communications Coordinator at Divine Savior Academy, Doral.