Bullying: Advice to Parents and Teachers

October 28, 2010

A survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics reveals that half of high school students in America say they have been bullied. While clearly this is an issue which teens now have to deal with on school campuses, it would be misguided and a mistake to see this strictly as a youth issue. True, youth are the victims and perpetrators of bullying on school grounds. However, bullying is a behavior which is socially learned and reinforced by peers, and adults, and the society.

Hence, a broader approach is needed to address this issue outside of just blaming the individual. Just as we expect and are demand that youth be held accountable for their behavior-take personal responsibility- so must adults and society. The more central issue is where are the youth learning the type of behavior that leads to bullying, and who are their role models: “Reality TV” (The Bad Girls Club); war-Iraq; sports, boxing, hockey, football; family (domestic violence), political discourse (“man-up”). Adults are the true authors of teenage acts of bullying in that adults are responsible for the socialization of children and youth, and from protecting from harmful presentations and models (“The Bad Girl Club”) that teach, encourage, and reinforce bullying, and more importantly, thought and behavior which leads to acts of bullying.

What is to be done: Steps to reduce and minimize bullying

First and foremost understand what is really occurring.

  1. Don’t confuse bullying with other forms of normative adolescent group behavior- consistent with adolescent development, youth will develop cliques and peer groups (sometime competing with other peer groups).
  2. At its root, bullying as more do to with physical and emotional abuse and cruelty. What is occurring today is characterized more by efforts to humiliate, embarrass and terrorize youth through scandal, rumor, or misinformation.
  3. It is paramount that the pathway of bullying be addressed. The pathway to bullying start at an early age with teasing (normative for children) and progress (as children get older and approach adolescence) to acts which seek to humiliate and destroy the reputation and personality of the youth.
  4. As youth progress through the pathway of bullying, their acts of bullying takes on a more anti-social character.
  5. Punishing and “zero tolerance” policies will temporarily stop the behavior, but will have no predictable effect on future behavior. Certainly, consequences or sanctions are in order. However, do not rely on them as correctives or solutions.
  6. Monitor what your child is watching or listening to. In most cases trying to censor will not work. Discuss with them. For example, whether a “Reality show” or a song, as your child question, if it were you would the statement or act be okay? Ask, what other ways could the situation be handled? Then teach the new way, role play the new way, have your child role play the new way and then given them feedback and praise.
  7. Parents and Teachers, model the behavior you want from your children and students. Daily, reinforce through praise and sometime reward act and behavior which show respect and empathy for others.

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