What are the odds of a bully or his parent not being aware he’s one?
A small group of experts believe that bullying is just a point on the “aggression” scale, and that all human beings can be placed somewhere on that scale.
In other words, all of us are capable of being a bully. In fact, we all behaved like one at some point in our lives.
That doesn’t justify the extreme actions of a bully. It also doesn’t take us off the hook as a society. We still have to do something. In all honesty, when you look at it carefully, it means we have to do a lot more than what is normally recommended by those who just see it as a school problem.
I believe those experts are onto something. The extreme bully is different from the rest of us only by the degree of his or her aggressive tendencies. We MUST see ourselves in their behavior in order to approach the problem in a way that has the best chance of really controlling it. Doing so also avails us of the most powerful tool we have against the bully…and that’s compassion and deep understanding. I think that’s the view worthy of what I call a “Life-Parent.”
I can remember being one of the “lightweights” everyone only noticed inside a classroom. Even there, I can remember the meanest guy in class hitting and harassing me whenever the teacher wasn’t looking. I can remember how alone I felt. It seemed as if everyone thought he was really cool, and what he was doing obviously made me the laughing stock. It took a while for someone to come to my defense, but that’s another story.
A year later, they placed a new student named Joe in my class. Joe was bigger than the bully, but really quiet, and didn’t react quickly to anything. In fact, I never saw him react at all. Guess who started picking on him in school?
No. It was me.
I met Joe one Saturday morning in town. This is what I had been waiting for. Now I was going to make my mark and have something to boast about come Monday. I put my dukes up and hit him. He had this surprised look on his face, but he balled his fists and took his stance.
I knew I was faster. I darted in and before he could move, hit him in the stomach. Whap! Then I danced back out. I did this three times in a row before Joe could take the puzzled look off his face. I was winning!
Joe must have figured out that whatever my problem was, my skinny frame couldn’t do him much harm with all my speed. The fourth time I came in Joe leveled me with a right to the jaw and my world went dark.
And that’s how my bullying career lasted for four days. Books and good grades at least made my teachers and family happy. Can’t please everybody. So I stopped caring too much what classmates thought of my fighting prowess out of pure necessity. That was the path my life took.
But you see, Joe wasn’t that dumb a choice for a victim. I just had the good fortune (or not-so-good, depending on how you look at it) of weighing less than 4o pounds at the age of eight. I had the good fortune of having an army of brothers who certainly weren’t “light-weights.” Finally, I also had the good fortune of being exceptional in school at things that grown-ups care about. That’s a lot of good-fortune.
But its not the likely path for most boys that age in similar situations.
So the truth is that, all things considered, if strong steps are not taken at home and elsewhere, pretty much all children get aggressive to some degree. Some are just born with a more aggressive temperament that calls for more guidance from us. What we have to do is identify exactly what those strong steps are. What are the things that minimize aggression in each and every child? What do we have to do as a community to empower families to do those things? It’s that simple.
But simple doesn’t mean easy!
Whenever a problem this large is in the public eye, a great number of quick-fixes, expert opinions, and knee-jerk reactions will pop up. Everyone seems to have an answer.
It’s a good thing to have so many eyes looking for solutions. However, the very fact that there are so many different views on the subject tells us something about the difficulty of real long-lasting success. Ask Counselors and other folks working directly with the problem in schools about evidence-based programs against bullying, and you’ll quickly find out there aren’t that many that actually work long-term. In modern societies, laws and the rights of the child dictate that even the bully has a right to an education, so knowing the bully’s identity doesn’t necessarily give you the means to put a stop to his behavior. What if the guidance is not in place at home and we’re dealing with a naturally aggressive youth?
What’s NOT helping?
The bully has a whole lot working on his/her behalf. There’s the all-powerful “no-snitch” rule that comes from thuggish street-life subcultures. There’s online anonymity, compulsory education regulations, negative peer-pressure, paralyzing fear on the school grounds, and availability of “victim-types.”
And we’re not even touching all the social/economic variables that make things difficult for parents to be supportive the way most of them wish to. We hear all the success stories about poor and single-parents making a difference… that sort of thing…but they don’t tell you that for every one who does, there are 4 more whose kids become part of the dismal statistics in some places where they build more jails than schools.
That’s the reality.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s ignorance–community ignorance. When entire communities don’t really understand the complexity of the problem, all the bully has to do is bide his time while it’s in the public eye.
For the vast majority of schools, every time they think they have the problem licked, in less than a year it comes roaring back. School managers therefore find themselves having to maintain a high degree of alertness among their teachers and staff. No one wants to admit that this is extremely difficult, and bound to wane at different periods of any given school year. Lest we forget, this is school we’re dealing with – not law-enforcement. Show me a school-culture that is highly vigilant all year round, and I’ll show you a school not paying enough attention to academic performance. In the firestorm of publicity, it becomes politically incorrect to admit the truth. We’re all pretty much just doing the best we can, but only for a few months at a time.
You see, the culture of schools is such that if they take pride in academic outcomes for their students, focus necessarily has to turn to academic performance. It is very easy to say that’s not good enough, and that schools have to do both.
Well actually, they do do both, but even the very best schools can’t maintain both at very high levels throughout the school year without major help. That just the nature of the beast. The “bully-problem” goes off the radar for a few months, and the next thing you know, it starts to happen more frequently as teachers are pushing towards educational goals. Getting staff and teachers to switch focus again actually results in lower motivation and school morale as teachers get burnt-out.
There are three variables we have to always keep in view. Unfortunately they don’t all get the attention they need. The first one gets most of the attention from the Press. They approach the problem as primarily a school problem because that’s where the violence actually occurs.
The Press touches on the second variable almost in passing. This one has to do with the level of violence being tolerated or even promoted in the home. We’ll be dealing with this in a separate blog-post. It’s actually where we need to be putting most of our efforts, but we keep complaining about what schools are not doing.
The third variable is almost always ignored. The more aggression that is acceptable in the wider society, the harder schools have to work to maintain peace. If your school is situated in an economically depressed district, you’ll have more problems – period. The school will therefore need more of those outside resources I referred to earlier. All the quick-fixes you read about or see on TV do help, but they need to be coordinated and sustained. And that requires more than what schools have to throw at the problem without that outside help.
To lick the bully problem, we have to first understand that if the problem is rampant, its only a symptom of a deeper problem. That deeper problem has to do with a culture of violence that has to be replaced by a shift in how our cultures teach children problem-solving, conflict resolution, and what I’ll call “low-level violence.” Again, this will take yet another post, which we will be dealing with on our sister-site, “Teach Life-Skills.”
Suffice to say here, it takes:
- a three-pronged approach directed at homes, at schools, and at the wider community
- coordinated, continuous effort
- all of society’s institutions lending a hand
- publicity and community education
- financial and political commitment at the highest decision-making levels
Give Strong Guidance
There’s a lot of good things written all over the internet about what you can do in the fight against bullying in schools. Take heed of them. But we should get more knowledgeable and serious about getting on top of the problem in a way that works beyond just a few months. Along with all of those things, we therefore need a shift in our thinking about what rampant bullying in our schools is actually telling us. Out children are not only being neglected when it comes to giving them guidance at home and school. We are actively teaching them some of the same values we are trying to stomp out.. values that feed the natural tendency for many children to be aggressive in the absence of self-esteem and essential life-skills.
Strong guidance doesn’t include one-way lecturing or preaching. We’re talking about parenting and leadership skills. Its about leading them to come up with the answer themselves, leading them to start applying the solutions, then reinforcing them relentlessly.
So the long and short of it is that the “bully” problem isn’t a matter of tackling a certain group of students or youth in our societies. It’s about parenting in ways that speak to our the better side of humanity’s nature, and about giving up methods that model hitting and “might-is-right” values. It’s about soliciting the collaboration of the entire society in promoting empathy and compassion in all of us.
There are many ways to contribute to the cause. We should all be interested in learning more, and getting involved. You can start by using one of the share-buttons below to spread this post. Then, if you haven’t done so already, you can download and read our free E-book to learn about the type of approaches we advocate for the home. With your assistance, We’ll be developing avenues for making your communities more aware, while making a lot more information and training available.
Do you agree that we can all fight against bullying in smarter ways that work long-term? I’d really appreciate your opinion in the comment-box below.