Bullying: Interview Q & A with an Expert


Below is an interesting article/interview with renowned anti-bullying expert, Dr. Jackie Humans.  She does a great job of addressing many issues associated with bullying, and I agree with much of what she says.  I have also added my commentary in BOLD to the areas where I either disagree or where I believe the reader needs more information/explanation.  And, for my daily shameless plug, I was the lead teacher on a lesson plan for dealing with bullying in Answer Keys: Teachers’ Lesson Plans for Successful Parenting.  I don’t think this makes me an expert, but I have done enough research to have an educated opinion.  I hope you enjoy the article/interview, and, as always, I would also love to hear from readers out there.  Comment below!

April 27, 2011  (taken from educationnews.org)

Author:

Michael F. Shaughnessy – It goes without saying that parents are responsible for the behavior of their children. Ideally, parents would welcome feedback about when their child is exhibiting bullying behavior…

Dr. Jackie Humans is an “ anti-bullying expert “ who has recently released a new book on 15 specific ways for children and adolescents to deal with bullies. In this interview, she responds to questions regarding this problem and addresses some ways to solve it.

1) First of all, how big a problem is bullying in the United States?

When the White House convenes a conference on bullying, rest assured the problem is huge.
2) Some kids are tall, some are short, some are thin and some are, well, obese, and obviously kids notice these differences. Is this bullying?

That depends on the way these differences are being “noticed.”  If two 6 year olds meet for the first time, and one is wearing a leg brace, it’s going to be noticeable.  If the child without a brace asks the child with the brace, “What’s wrong with your leg?” in a very matter of fact way, it’s not bullying.  It’s an age appropriate lack of social polish.

However, if the first child recoils at the sight of the second child and then runs to get her friends so they can all come back and laugh at the child with the brace, that’s bullying.

I’m not really on board with this example.  This is because I am not sure if laughing alone constitutes bullying.  It constitutes bad behavior that should be dealt with swiftly and harshly, both on a school and home level.  At the same time, however, the true definition of bullying involves more than pointing and laughing.  It involves the habitual degradation and harassment of another individual.  Now, that being said, the behavior outlined above could very well lead to bullying.  This is why the first occurrence needs to be dealt with quickly and needs to include not only consequences, but a teaching element.  Discipline comes from the root word “to teach.”  Children need to then be taught the correct behavior and be given opportunities to develop their ability to empathize with others.

3) Now, some bullies physically punch, hit and strike others- should the police be called?

If the incident occurred at school, the school should absolutely be notified.  Ultimately, the school may decide to notify the police if the injuries incurred were severe enough, or if the level of violence were severe enough (e.g., one child lifts another over his head and then slams him down onto a concrete surface.  Even if the target escaped with only minor injuries, this level of violence could easily have resulted in a catastrophic injury.)

If the incident occurred at a local park or anywhere off campus, then it would not fall under the school’s jurisdiction and would be a matter for the police to handle.

However, before calling out the heavy artillery, it would make sense to ascertain just how much damage has been sustained or was likely to have been sustained.  When targets, or their parents, acquire the reputation of making mountains out of molehills, it can only hurt their credibility down the road.

4) Unfortunately a lot of kids have these cell phones, and often rumors are spread- is this bullying or even something that the schools should be involved in (since much of this cell phone stuff goes on after school or on the weekends?

What you’re referring to is cyberbullying, which is still a new enough phenomenon that some school districts haven’t figured out when or if to intervene.  Schools are more likely to intervene when the end result is that the learning environment of one or more students gets disrupted at school as a result of cyberbullying that happened off campus.

Schools and districts find themselves in very difficult situations when bullying takes place after school hours, off campus or through the use of texting and social media.  Many districts have yet to develop policies that adequately address off campus abuse.  This is where parents are the key to the anti-bullying movement.  Parents need to be consistently communicating with their children about the appropriate use of the internet, cell phones and social media.  Parents need to monitor their child’s access (even for teenagers where cyber bullying is often a big issue) and continually work with their child to become a responsible technology user.  Parents need to keep up to date with what their child is doing online.  I also always recommend that parents arm their home computer with some form of parental control software that will tell them when and how their child is using the internet.  Family acceptable use policies are great too.  I also never recommend that children under the age of 14 (and sometimes even older) ever be allowed online without adult supervision.  This means no internet capable computers in bedrooms!!!
5) Many teachers have indicated to me that they believe some of these bullies are emotionally disturbed and should be put in special education- your reaction?

These teachers may be right in thinking that some bullies are emotionally disturbed.  However, the purpose of special education is to tailor the individual learning environments of students with learning disabilities in order to maximize their learning potential.  What would be most helpful to students with emotional disturbances would be for them to receive psychiatric care and treatment from a licensed therapist.

6) How much responsibility should parents have in this realm? Aren’t they a bit responsible for the behavior of their children?

It goes without saying that parents are responsible for the behavior of their children.  Ideally, parents would welcome feedback about when their child is exhibiting bullying behavior, sit down and discuss the situation with their child in order to get to the bottom of it, and then continue to work closely with the school to make sure their child is no longer bullying others.

Sadly, that’s not often the case.  Many parents tend to be unable or unwilling to see their child as a bully and end up blindly defending their child against accusations of bullying.  If the proof is incontrovertible, such as a printout of a cyberbullying episode, they may downplay the severity of their child’s behavior by claiming that the target needs to toughen up.

This is unacceptable.  Many districts are putting parents in jail if their child misses school.  However, there is no accountability for parents if their child bullies another student on or off of campus.  We must do more to build a bridge between the classroom and the family room so that educators and parents are working together to combat bullying.

7) When I went to school (yes, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth) teachers were ever-present- in the halls, the cafeteria, near the playground and buses. Have things changed- is there less supervision than ever? Or are all the teachers in IEP meetings?

Even back in the days when teachers did bus duty, cafeteria duty, and playground duty, bullying still went on.  This I know not only because I was a student back in the 50’s and 60’s, but because every person I speak with about bullying, even the ones a few decades older than I am, tell me stories about bullying they either saw or experienced when they were kids.

Personally, I don’t think increasing the level of student supervision is the answer. Bullies are smart enough to do their dirty work under the radar of adults, even when the adult is standing only a few feet away.  This is especially true for girl on girl bullying, because when it comes to being subtle, girl bullies can make guy bullies look like Troglodytes.

8) I have been involved in some of these “package“ programs that attempt to bullyproof one’s school- are these programs good, or ineffectual?

When ‘out of shape’ individuals make a commitment to become physically ‘fit’ they are more likely to meet with success if they employ a variety of approaches, rather than relying on a single strategy.  Diet and exercise work best in conjunction, and along with those two it’s a very good idea to get regular physical exams, avoid smoking, use alcohol in moderation, floss, etc.

Bullying is a kind of social ‘ lack of fitness’ that requires more than one approach.  Package programs tend to raise a school’s consciousness about why bullying is bad and often encourages bystanders to stand up for targets of bullying.  That’s great but it’s not sufficient.  It’s also important to focus on why kids are acting like bullies as well as to fortify targets so that they’re not much fun to pick on.  And it’s equally important to educate parents and teachers as to what to look for because bullying can be very subtle.

Education needs to begin at home!  The school is simply putting a band aid on a gunshot wound if parents are not doing their part to bring up children who are personally and morally responsible.  Schools cannot and should not be expected to parent, teach and create a moral compass for children.  No wonder academics are suffering.

9) I have been in some high schools and even middle schools where there are in my humble opinion- simply way too many kids in too small a place- does the school environment lend itself to bullying?

Of course.  Overcrowding makes everyone feel more stressed, and children, in particular, aren’t known for their extreme patience.

10) Your book focuses on ways to help kids deal with bullies- are you planning another book for teachers, counselors and principals?

I would love to write books for adults who work in educational environments as well as adults who work in corporate environments, where bullying in the workplace makes bullying in the schoolyard look like child’s play.

11) What are the five W’s for reporting bullying?

Who did it, What happened, When did it happen, Where did it happen, and Witnesses who saw it happen (i.e., bystanders).  Schools are often between a rock and a hard place when a child reports getting bullied, because bullies almost never own up to their bad behavior.  When a target of bullying can provide the school with a list of kids who saw the bullying, especially if 2, 3 or more incidents are outlined, then the school is in a much stronger position for verifying the truth of the target’s claims.
12) Some children seem to be more of a target for bullies- for example children with special needs- should the schools not be providing more adult supervision for children say with Asberger’s ?

Rather than just making a blanket statement that any child with a disability automatically needs special adult supervision, what I’d rather see happen first is for parents and teachers to try to empower these children, to the best of their collective abilities.  Some students have such severe disabilities that they are unlikely to ever be able to deflect bullying on their own.  Clearly, these children need and deserve our protection.  Others, like my daughter, are potential verbal black belts waiting to be let out of their cages.  The vast majority probably fall in the middle somewhere, but if we don’t first try to help kids solve their own problems, how will we ever find out whether or not they can?

13) Where can interested people get a copy of the book?

Thanks for asking!  Either by visiting my website: www.jackiehumans.com and clicking on the icon of the book, which takes you straight to amazon.com, or by going online to barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com and typing in “15 Ways to ZAP a Bully!” (Don’t try to type in my name if you’re using Amazon; their set up won’t let you find my book that way.)

14) What have I neglected to ask?

I appreciate your giving me the chance to address something that bothers me a lot, and that is the impact the media has had on the public’s perception of bullying.  A good rule of thumb is that when something makes the news, it’s not a commonplace event.  The fact is that physical bullying makes up a very small fraction of the total amount of bullying that occurs every day.  Yet because it is far more dramatic than other types of bullying, and makes good copy, physical bullying gets way overrepresented in the media.  This promotes confusion about the true nature of bullying.

The truth is that bullying never starts with one kid brutally assaulting another.  It doesn’t start that way in the schoolyard, or the prison yard, or anywhere else in between.  What bullies the world over do is ‘interview’ likely candidates for the role of being their special target.

The way they do this is by saying or doing something provocative as a way of testing the potential target’s reaction, to see whether they’ll react in an emotional way, either by becoming sad or fearful or angry.  Responding in any other way, whether by using humor or appearing bored or simply by saying something silly or nonsensical in response, takes all the fun out of it for the bully.

Physical bullying is what can ultimately happen after the target reacts in an upset way, each and every time the bully escalates the bullying.  Eventually, unless the bullying gets reported or otherwise stopped, a situation like this can progress to a serious level of violence.

The trick to beating the bully at his or her own game is to teach kids that whatever the bully says about them is just an excuse to get them upset because nobody’s perfect and everyone has something about themselves that they wish were different.   So no matter what the bully says, what the bully’s really thinking is, “I’d like you to get upset right now and can’t think of good reason why you should, so I’m going to pretend that what I’m saying is really awful and I sure hope you’re going to forget about common sense and conclude that it’s really awful, too.”

A really good way to teach children how to deflect bullying is by providing them with lots of options for handling bullies.  The best ways of ‘zapping’ a bully aren’t terribly hurtful, won’t get the target in trouble, and actually work.  What underlies every technique in my book (except the last one where I show kids how to report bullying using the 5 W’s) is that the target is not taking the bullying at face value.  Without an upset reaction from the target, it’s ‘game over’ for the bully.

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