I am continuing my comments on bullying with this blog – but first a thanks to The Cold Spot by J.G. Faherty – the ghost story about bullying which got the whole thing started in the first place.
Some practitioners are troubled with the proliferation of bullying programs in our schools (for instance, see Bully Nation by Susan Eva Porter). Their argument is interesting: we’ve adopted a bully-victim mindset that makes the problem worse and not better. According to this viewpoint, labeling one kid a bully and the other a victim has unfortunate consequences. First, the “bully language” is overly simplified and doesn’t address the nuance of the situation and the kids involved. Second, by being labeled, the kids are assigned and seen as fitting the role – which is very hard to escape. As a result, they are either demonized or pitied, and they cannot learn from experiences and grow from the experiences. For the “victim”, this produces victimhood and does not promote resilience. For the “bully”, there is no chance to reinvent him or herself. Third, labels make all kids the enemy – they are pitted against one another (when really, this is an adult problem in terms of how we should structure environments and deal with problematic behavior). Finally, developing anti-bullying programs, which often have zero-tolerance policies, sets up kids to fail – because kids, being kids, are bound to make mistakes in the future.
The folks who see anti-bullying programs as problematic would like to see the bully-victim language discarded. Instead, the emphasis should be on helping kids who are on the receiving end (I’m trying to avoid the “v-word”) develop resilience. Teaching and developing resilience would involve helping kids learn how to deal with unpleasant situations, develop coping skills, assertiveness skills, social support and communication skills, etc. – anything that would lead to personal growth. For the kids who perpetrate the unwanted behavior (avoiding the “b-word”), a pattern of responding should be set up which insures safety first (for all kids) and includes swift consequences for misbehavior – and consequences which “fit the crime” (this includes clarity of expectations – kids need to know ahead of time what is expected of them, and they need to know that consequences will be applied consistently). In all cases, adults are there to support the kids, remain calm, and model and demonstrate appropriate problem solving behavior.
The advocates to eliminate or move away from anti-bullying programs raise some interesting points. The methods for dealing with the behavior seem on target to me. I don’t know how well their approach would work in a truly dangerous or intimidating environment, especially with older teenagers. I can report on a case with which I am familiar where a therapist took such an approach in helping a child who was bullied unmercifully. The therapist worked with the child to develop coping skills and resilience skills to address the painful distress and isolation of being a target. The results were phenomenal. This kid came out of the counseling with a stronger sense of self, an awareness of personal strength, an awareness of how to deal with unpleasant people, and a renewed sense of assertiveness. This is not to say that the experience became a “piece of cake”. The kid had to deal with some very difficult things – but that kid dealt with them and matured as a result. While this success was remarkable, I am not convinced that we should move away from anti-bullying programs. For me, the jury is still out.
All of these thoughts as a result of a horror novella called The Cold Spot… I hope Mr. Faherty is pleased that his work generated these thoughts. Bullying is a very sad and frustrating problem, and he captures the issue in a unique way – within a ghost story and then some. Whatever the form of the narrative, we need to be constantly reminded of how kids are hurt – and in some cases very deeply – on a daily basis from peers while right under the noses of adults.