Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bully, Bully, Bully

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“You wouldn’t believe what happened last night at Allison’s basketball game,” my tennis league friend said. “When the referee wasn’t looking this girl punched my daughter in the stomach. I wasn’t there. She told me when she got home.”

In recent years, society and especially schools have experienced an increase in bullying incidents. Although schools require “no tolerance” policies to discourage bullying, they are difficult to enforce. It takes more than words on paper to stop bullying. The challenge is to figure out how to stop bullying incidents before they escalate or cause long-term problems for the targeted students.

Recently I heard about bad things happening in my daughter’s small-town American middle school, but most of the girls I interviewed for Living Happily Ever with your Daughter Today reported a safe environment. When I asked my daughter about the increase in “incidents of violence” at her school, she didn’t know what I was talking about, though she did report school officials had closed the restrooms located near the lunchroom because of the fights.

“There are no bullies in my school,” one girl told me, but proceeded to describe how she had been verbally attacked by a girl at school. Another told me there are girls who do make threats, but her school administrators don’t tolerate it. “Most of the time it’s just girls being mean,”
she said.

“There are rude and cruel girls, mostly saying mean things,” another girl told me. She felt her school administrators don’t punish appropriately. One sixth-grader reported, “There are girls at my school who have been mean to me. They called my house and were mean.”

While many children are not affected by bullying, if your child is the victim of bullying—fights, beatings and “mean girl” behavior, including verbal and emotional attacks—you know the effects can be life-impacting.

Bullying does not respect age, color, education or experience. A bully’s targets are usually unsuspecting and undeserving. Timidity, passivity, and submissiveness encourage bullies because their goals of intimidating, overpowering, and frightening their target are easy to achieve.

My business partner and former high school teacher Linda Allen told me recently, “Taller, prettier, smarter, better, sexier, cooler—all those comparative and competitive words that end in “er”—motivate the bully to prove his/her perceived superiority over his/her target.”

“From a teacher’s perspective, bullying often mirrors the student’s home life and family experiences. When intimidation, insults, and physical abuse are the family communication strategies, the student learns to use such behavior with his peers and teachers to get what he or she wants—from attention and influence to a tangible object,” Linda said.

Linda believes there are no quick, simple solutions to eliminate bullying. “Responsible adults must take the lead in modeling appropriate behavior and educating both the bully on correcting his behavior and the target in developing skills to deal with bullies.”

If your child is grappling with the bully issue, here are some helpful tips offered by bullying expert Stan Davis, a school counselor and author of Schools Where Everyone Belongs and Empowering Bystanders: Don’t blame the targeted child. Find out what your child has already tried.

If a necessary, talk to teachers, counselors and administrators at the school and ask them to ensure your child is protected. Ask them to give consequences to students who bully and to supervise the situation more closely. Encourage your child to keep talking to adults and asking for help. Finally, if your child is isolated and needs more peer support, help them find other ways to meet and befriend others.

Allyn Evans
info at allynevans.com

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