by Lynn Meredith
ELBURN—This month’s community event, sponsored by the Elburn Lions Club on Jan. 26, featured counselors from The Center for Rural Psychology in Elburn who spoke on the subject of bullying. Lion’s member Chris Halsey put the issue in perspective when he told the audience about his days in the wooden school house in Elburn.
“We hit and got hit,” Halsey said. “We took the hits; we had to defend ourselves.”
Graduate intern Andrea Saul and Dr. Michael Mangus deal with bullying quite frequently in their offices when they counsel parents and children.
“It’s an evolving concept,” Saul said. “It’s not something new, but how we understand it has changed quite a lot.”
Bullying peaks in middle school, but it doesn’t begin or end there. Surveys suggest that 100,000 to 200,000 kids miss school each year due to bullying. Kids who are bullied often experience depression and low self-esteem.
The misperception remains that the kids who are least socially skilled are the ones being bullied, but in fact that’s not the case. Any child can be bullied, even someone who is popular and well-liked. Also, the abuse may not be physical, although physical aggression is one form of bullying. It can be verbal as in name-calling, relational as in spreading rumors and saying mean words or excluding a child, or cyber as in making unwanted remarks about other kids online.
“The critical role in preventing bullying is the bystander,” Saul said. “We know how to dramatically reduce bullying. One kid can simply say, ‘Stop it.’ This is what we want to happen in our community.”
It’s critical to teach kids to be assertive and not just ignore the bully. They need to learn not to be aggressive back but instead look the bully in the eye and them to stop.
Another solution is to create an atmosphere in the schools where everyone can get excited about the same goals of reducing bullying. Students should be praised for standing up to bullies and be made to feel proud for doing so.
“Kids don’t accidentally know how to handle these situations,” Saul said.
Zero tolerance, blaming the victim, and rushing to solve the situation as the adults in charge are not effective solutions. Asking a child what they did to get themselves bullied is not a good question, nor is it a good idea to confront either the bully or their parents alone. Instead, involve the kids in the solution and ask what they think would be helpful or what would make matters worse.
For parents trying to sort out whether their child was bullied or whether it was just normal peer conflict, they can ask a first question like, “Tell me what happened,” or “What part did you play in the conflict?” The parent can strengthen the child by finding places where that child can shine, like a hobby at home or involvement at a church youth group.
Bullying is not the same as teasing. Bullying is when teasing starts to go from fun to getting feelings hurt, and the bully doesn’t back off. Bullies can see that the other child is getting upset and continues with the behavior.
For kids who feel threatened by bullies, Saul and Mangus’ advice is to not stop telling adults until someone takes it seriously. Also, kids who are bullied during recess or on the bus should try to be near the adults in charge and friends they know will support them. Another way is to find unique ways to put the bully off-guard.
“What if next time a bully calls you names, you come up with a list of even funnier names. You can start laughing at the bully that he couldn’t come up with a better name,” Mangus said.
For more information and resources about bullying, visit bullying.org.