An Epidemic of Cruelty
By Noami Drew
time I work in schools I hear stories about how kids are so mean
to each other. This is confirmed by many experts who are now saying
there is an epidemic of cruelty among kids in our country. In fact,
The Sesame Workshop recently came out with a study about what children
ages 6-11 are most afraid of. At the top of the list was bullying.
How have things gotten to this point?
facts are alarming. 1 in 7 kids are bullies or victims of bullies
and 5 million elementary/middle school kids are directly affected
each year. One quarter of all bullies end up with a criminal record.
160,00 kids a day miss school for fear of the way they will be treated
loses when bullying takes place: the bully, the victim, and the
observers. Each time you look the other way, you enable bullying
to continue. Bullying can diminish ability to learn in school. It
is possible to get a handle on bullying, but the whole school community
needs to get involved.
BETWEEN BULLYING AND TEASING
Bullying happens when a stronger, more powerful person hurts or
frightens a smaller or weaker person (or someone who is perceived
to be that way) deliberately and repeatedly.
differs from teasing in two ways. When someone bullies, they have
the intent to do harm, whereas teasing can be intended as playful
even though it often ends up hurting the other person. Also, bullying
is persistent. Teasing can be an on-again, off- again thing. What
we need to remember about teasing is this: if it hurts the other
person it is NOT okay. Often the person who does the teasing will
tell the person who is being teased to be a good sport or have a
sense of humor. If the teasing hurts, this is an unreasonable request.
No one should ever be expected to tolerate words or actions that
make him or her feel demeaned.
STEPS PARENTS CAN TAKE IF YOU THINK YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED
If you suspect your child is being bullied and he denies it, ask
the following questions:
- Are there any bullies in your class?
- Who does the bully pick on?
- Why does the bully pick on certain people?
- Are you one of them?
Believe your child if he tells you he is being bullied.
intently and determine if the behavior he tells you about is persistent
and demeaning. If you feel that what your child describes falls
into the category of teasing, ask what measures he has taken to
alleviate the problem. See if there is anything he is doing to encourage
the teaser, and role-play ways he can address the situation himself.
If it continues, talk to the teacher.
what your child describes actually turns out to be bullying, then
go to step 3.
Contact your childs teacher. Ask him or her to:
- Monitor the safety of your child.
- Give the bully consequences.
- Stay in touch with you.
Do things to build self-esteem and confidence in your child.
Teach your child assertiveness skills.
tall, looking the person directly in the eye, steadying the voice,
rehearsing a response -- all this can be learned and practiced ahead
of time, and needs to be. Enrolling your child in Aikido or Karate
can help build confidence, but it is important to tell your child
NOT to use these disciplines in a physical way against the bully
unless attacked. .
If your child has trouble making friends, address this issue with
the school counselor. See if you can determine what is keeping your
child from sustaining friendships and then work on these issues
Be extra supportive. Check in with your child often.
If your child is being bullied, he will need larger doses of your
support than usual. Make extra time to be there for him. Allow him
to express his anger, fear, frustration, and sadness. Encourage
him to write a journal about it. Most importantly, let him know
he is not alone and that the bullying is not his fault.
Make sure no bullying goes on in your home.
When kids see bullying of any kind in their homes (between spouses,
between siblings, parent to child), it makes them more susceptible
to being either the bully or the victim. Be aware of this and take
whatever steps you can to alleviate the situation if it does take
place in your home. No one deserves to be bullied.
Remember -- you are the most important ally your child has. It is
your role to intervene if your child is being hurt or victimized.
One of the most damaging myths is that bullying is a kids-will-be-kids
kind of problem. This is simply untrue. Kids who are being bullied
need the support of the people around them.
Facts About Bullying
is not just teasing. It is a cruel way that one person tries to
assert power over another.
is not a normal part of growing up. Bullying can lead to depression
and suicide. If we look the other way and justify it as normal,
we enable the problem to continue.
the bully doesnt help. Sometimes ignoring them inflames them
bullies do not have low self-esteem. Studies have found that some
bullies actually have high self-esteem. Bullying fuels their sense
an adult about being bullied is not tattling. Encourage kids to
stand up for themselves and others.
makes the situation worse. Kids need to be assertive, not aggressive
in standing up to bullies.
Your Child Can Do If He/She Is Being Bullied
Stand tall, look the person in the eye, and say firmly: Leave me
Stop it! Then walk away with your head held high.
Use an I message like: I dont want to be spoken to that way.
There is no truth in what you are saying.
again, walk away with your head held high. Do not engage in a bicker
session. The bully will always win. Keep your dignity by standing
tall and proud.
Do not take their behavior personally. Bullies are always looking
for victims; you just happen to be the one they picked this time.
Even if you are scared, stand tall and look brave. Take slow deep
breaths and repeat a calming statement like: I can handle this.
Join other people. Being alone attracts bullies.
Tell an adult and ask for help. This is not tattling. You have a
legitimate right to get seek help.
Teachers Can Do to Handle Bullies
Confront the behavior.
Give a consequence.
Teach them how to manage their anger.
Have them make amends to the person they hurt.
Teach them how to channel their energy in a positive way.
Contact parents if problem continues.
Arrange for counseling if the problem is ongoing.
are practical measures parents and schools can take to deal with
the problem of bullying head-on. Parents, encourage your school
to institute a bully-proofing program. Bullying is a systemic problem
and needs to be handled school-wide.
of the most important things schools and parents can teach children
is to stand up for each other -- to intervene when someone is being
picked on. Teach your child to do this respectfully yet assertively.
Interveners are the most critical piece in stamping out bullying.
Best to intervene with a partner. Doing this with someone else gives
moral support, plus sends the bully a message that the child he
is picking on is not alone.
to your child about ways he or she can be an intervener. Helping
someone who is being hurt builds courage and character and will
counter the cruelty we see going on among our youth.
Remember, peace begins with each of us.
Drew is the author of The Kids Guide to Working Out Conflicts
as well as Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain
World (Kensington Publishers); Peaceful Parents, Peaceful
Kids (Kensington Publishers); Learning the Skills of Peacemaking
(Jalmar Press); and
The Peaceful Classroom in Action (Jalmar Press). Her books
are available through: www.LearningPeace.com