Part Three of a three part SPECIAL REPORT
By Joseph Johnson, Editor in Chief
He was walking to his next class and was just outside the boy’s restroom, when two pairs of hands reached out and grabbed him. The two thugs dragged the 13 year old into the “john” and shoved him up against the wall.
While one pinned his shoulders against the wall, the other proceeded to punch the teen repeatedly in the abdomen. Their assault was interrupted when a 14 year old walked into the room and demanded they stop. The two bullies left the winded 13 year old, and ran out the door.
The year was 1974, and I was the 13 year old boy.
I was relentlessly bullied throughout most of my childhood and early teens. Although it did not happen very many times, there were occasions when the attacks were ended because a peer intervened.
In any given situation of bullying, there are three sets of “participants”:
1) The victim
2) The spectators/bystanders
3) The bully(s)
It would be fair to say that each one of the participants has probably been “educated” against bullying. I am certain that all of them are aware that it is “against the rules.” Much time, thought and effort has been put into creating these rules.
On December 1, 2013, Missouri Senator Scott Sifton introduced Senate Bill (SB) 560. the purpose of the bill was to modify school anti-bullying policies that were already required to be in place. Amongst other provisions, the bill would require “a process for discussing the policy with students and training employees and volunteers.” In other words, simply having an anti-bullying policy in place is not enough; taking action to assure that the folks the policy effects are aware of it, is also required.
I am pretty certain most people know that bullying is wrong. Do we really need a “policy” in place to protect our children?
On the Joplin R-8 schools website, under “safety and security” bullying is addressed. It gives some statistics in regards to bullying and shares some “signs” that may indicate a child is being bullied. It also suggests that if your child is being bullied, you should “take action.” There is really not much information though in regards to exactly what “take action” is suppose to mean. Taking action typically means little more than telling someone so they can in turn, “take action.”
Most of this “action taking” sadly occurs after the fact; perhaps while the victim is nursing their broken body.
Any action taken prior to the incident is focused on prevention, which like most “prevention” campaigns, is failing. It seems to me, that the best time for taking action is when the bullying is happening. Sadly though, the only action that usually happens then is the assault upon the child.
In order to prepare this story, I did a tremendous amount of research in regards to the causes and prevention of bullying. Most of the information was pretty redundant, especially when it comes to prevention. And based on the continued rise and intensity of bullying instances, the programs, policies and campaigns appear to be failing in their efforts.
I also spent some time talking to students ranging from elementary age to high-school. Their responses were telling. The “rules, videos and handouts are a joke” is what one enlightened high-schooler informed me, while a 3rd grader shared that “bullies don’t follow rules. That’s why they’re bullies.”
The five most common preventative/action steps I came across during my research were: 1) Teach your children not to bully, 2) Teach your child to avoid bullies, 3) Encourage your child to report bullying, 4) Encourage your child to move in groups and 5) Talk to school authorities. Again, according to the statistics, these measures seem to have little effect.
Sadly, prevention campaigns tend to be like that. We can teach fire safety, but if we see a house on fire, shouldn’t we take some immediate action?
EMPOWERMENT v. PREVENTION
I am becoming increasingly convinced that empowerment is much more beneficial than prevention, when it comes to the act of bullying. As I stated earlier, in any given situation of bullying, there are three sets of “participants”: the victim, the spectators or bystanders and the bully(s). These are the ones who will determine how the situation will ultimately play out. If we can begin to focus more on empowering the “participants”, then we may be able to stop bullying in its tracks.
Empowering the victim: This might very well be better called, “empowering the potential victim” which is basically any child. There are many ways to accomplish this, and it begins at birth. Promoting a positive self-awareness in our children will help them to develop a sense of value early in life. They will be aware that they do not deserve to be bullied. Teaching appropriate ways to assert themselves will also teach them not to become victims. Standing up to the bully has proven to be effective in many instances. This is a time when the proper choice of words are important. Saying, “YOU need to stop now!” has much more power than simply saying, “Stop” or “leave me alone.”
I also firmly believe that we should teach our children how to defend themselves if their words do not stop an attack. This is an area that tends to be skirted, especially in school or public policy. But the hard cold facts are; if we teach our child appropriate ways to physically defend themselves, then we are also potentially saving them from what are becoming increasingly brutal bullying attacks.
Empowering the spectators/bystanders: An unfortunate reality is that when bystanders see bullying taking place, they take no action whatsoever. The reasons behind their passivity may vary, including a belief that their peers may disapprove of their action, they may not really be able to do anything to help or they may become the next victim. The truth is, by doing nothing, they are in all actuality doing “something”: Making the problem worse. By watching and doing nothing to intervene, they may be inadvertently endorsing the bully’s behavior. Some will actually encourage the bully, which is also damaging.
In any given bullying situation, there are more bystanders than bullies, and there is power in numbers. And the truth is, other children are able to influence the actions of a bully to a greater degree than teachers, parents or other adults. If just one child will make a stand, others are likely to step in as well. The majority of young people disapprove of bullying and are waiting for someone to take that first step to stop it.
Empowering our children to speak up when they witness a bullying situation may very well be the difference between another child being injured or rescued. Examples of phrases we can empower our children with are:
“Stop it! That is mean!” – If your child verbalizes disapproval of the bully’s behavior, then other children are likely to agree with them and join in the intervention.
“Stop! A teacher is coming!” – Now we all know that we should not teach or encourage our children to be dishonest. But weigh the differences in potential outcomes by them making a statement that could create enough of a distraction that may break up the bullying situation. It could potentially save another child from a beating.
“Stop! You are going to get in trouble!” – This step my be just enough of a statement to remind the bully that what they are doing is against the school’s rules and may cause them to stop in order from getting in trouble. This works especially well with younger children.
“Why is everyone standing around watching this?” – Is a way to empower others to step up and take action to stop the bully’s behavior. Adding, “Let’s leave!” to the statement may also help since many bullies are encouraged when they have an audience.
Another action that the bystander can take is to provide a means of escape for the victim. Saying something like, “Let’s get out of here,” while inviting the victim to leave with the group is a very powerful way to shut the bully down, while showing support for the victim.
Children need to remember that there is safety in numbers and that most children want to stop the bully, but feel powerless to do so. One child speaking up can make all the difference.
Empowering the bully: Many children who bully others do so because they have not been taught appropriate coping skills, or social behaviors. In part two of this special report, I addressed some of the factors that “create” a bully. Recognizing the potential bully early, may be the time to intervene before their negative behaviors ever start. By reaching these children at this early stage, we empower them to make correct choices.
Empowering parents: When it is all said and done, the child’s first line of defense is their parents. Parents need to be empowered to approach school officials if their child is being bullied. And if their concerns are not being taken seriously, or appropriate action is not taken on behalf of the school, then they need to go up the ladder to the school board if necessary.
No parent should have to worry whether or not their child is safe when attending school. The method in which the parent takes action and clearly communicates to the school that they will not accept anything less than a proactive approach by the school may make all the difference. I had to deal with this a couple of years ago when my son was faced with a bully at school. I had a meeting with the school and expressed in no uncertain terms that they needed to stop the behavior or I would.
It never happened again.
Join the 4-State Anti-child Assault and Bullying Task Force on Facebook by clicking here.