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Turning the Tables on the School Bully

Turning the Tables on the School Bully

I went to a crowded public school in an urban setting, so fights were an inevitable component of entertainment and horror on a weekly (if not daily) basis. But for every explosive outburst of violence, ass kicking, and exacting of justice, there were countless other cables of tension and hostility among individuals and groups of students that never fully developed into uninhibited ferocity. These were the instances of taunting, terror and simple bullying that dictated where to walk, who to be friends with, how to talk and in general shaped my fellow classmates for better or for worse (more often for worse).

While I was never really bullied (one classmate taunted me for a while, until I challenged him with a threat that was obviously so profoundly disturbing that he never talked to me again), I have seen it and, sad to say while I didn’t participate, I allowed it to transpire.

In July, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is set to release an updated version of an official policy statement on the pediatrician’s role in preventing youth violence and bullying. This comes on the heals of a long awaited reckoning that youth violence and the phenomenon of bullying is hardly a “normal” component of childhood and not something that should easily be dismissed as “kids just being kids.” One intriguing element of this policy revision is the adoption of a prevention model developed by Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway. Olweus prevention model, according to a recent New York Times article, ” focuses attention on the largest group of children, the bystanders” and thereby reveals the bully (or aggressor) as the person with the problem (not the poor victim getting pummeled), placing the bystander in the position of acting in defense of the victim. Considering that a quarter of all children report that they have been involved in bullying, either as bullies or as victims, this approach has the potential to make a huge impact.

But as we all know (and as I mentioned earlier) bullying is not always about explosive bursts of violence. Often it is manifested in the form of quiet taunts, vandalism, intimidation, and now (thanks to the internet) something called “cyberbullying” and even a video game. For the most part, bullying involves repetition; as the child is repeatedly targeted with physical and/or verbal attacks, often in the form of indirect bullying (rumors, exclusion, and general nastiness).

While I applaud the AAP for attempting to stay current on a widespread issue, as well as reframing the way we think about casual bullying, I wonder if this updated approach is not a little naive. Considering the multifaceted nature of bullying and youth violence, along with recent evidence that has linked bullying to undiagnosed emotional and conduct disorders, I can’t help but being reminded of the hugely laughable “just say no” anti-drug campaign of the 1980s.

No doubt, bullying is a huge problem that can, and will, follow children (both the aggressors as well as the victims) into adulthood; causing untold social and emotional problems. So, is the answer zero tolerance? Should we severely punish the aggressors and protect the innocent? Is it up to parents, teachers, or school administrators, to instill the sort of moral values that would make these incidents a rarity, and not the norm?

If anyone out there were the victim of bullying, or possibly the bully at some point in his or her life, we would love to hear from you?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

Read more: Blogs, Children, Healthy Schools, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

56 comments

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9:13AM PST on Feb 24, 2011

being bullied is a really tough spot to be in.. defending yourself is great but sometimes that even exacerbates the issue and when no one intervenes it send a message to the bullies that what they are doing is ok.

8:14PM PST on Dec 2, 2010

Trust me! A school can be "excellent" under grade academics...but what about Bullied Children....does that make an "excellent school"? And when innocent parents who have cried out for 'help' because their child is severely bullied and that bullied child duplicates what is done to them towards them from school...the parent doesn't know about why the child is unruly and violent and those parents "cry out for help" for a ten yr. old child...Do you think it is protocol, correct and justifiable for innocent parents to be condemned as emotional abusers by the system? They didn't know what to do for the child...even the very school didn't want to hear a child's cry when he/she was being bullied...or do you think it's correct for child to not be heard about bullying and he/she be called a lier? by teachers and principals? And the parents are said to go overboard when they are trying to stop bullying?

Read more: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/would-you-send-your-child-to-a-bad-and-diverse-school.html#ixzz1719Ou8y0

5:29PM PDT on Oct 6, 2010

it's too bad we all can't tell ourselves that bullies are insecure people who are miserable with themselves and taking it out on nice people but it's hard to remember that when they're bringing you down.

10:21PM PDT on May 23, 2010

The way that the parents of bullying children always take their side makes me feel as though they take some sick vicarious pleasure that their kid is "so tough"- like the sickos who enjoy watching their dog attack a smaller animal. Maybe we need to phrase it differently-"Mrs. Jones, Tommy can only feel better about himself when he picks on someone weaker than himself, how sad that he has to stoop so low to build up his self esteem..."

12:27PM PDT on May 23, 2010

Interesting, thank you

11:41AM PDT on May 23, 2010

We had a bully at work, who would find opportunity to bully a smaller co-worker. i had to confront the bully on a work issue, and she (being bigger and taller than myself) turned on me, getting in front of me, not letting me pass by. The super called a meeting. Bully (35yrs old) started to cry! and the super ( a man, was so embaressed...that was the end of the meeting.) I later quit. she's still there. But at least I don't go into work wondering when the next strike will occur.

11:29AM PDT on May 23, 2010

'The real struggle of the 21st century will not be between civilizations, nor between religions. It will be between violence and nonviolence. It will be between barbarity and civilization in the truest sense of the word.' writes Daisaku Ikeda [my Mentor].
Bullying is pernicious + undermines the integrity of human life.
Some people have resorted to violence to 'resolve' their problem; that has only expanded the cycle of violence + with all probability put the problem somewhere else. Bullies are cowards. They should be named and shamed in front of the whole school or work place; then given therapy + made to do compassionate work . . . something might sink in.
I had bald patches from tearing my hair out when I was 14/15! So I know what it is like. The bullied need to expand their life + develop self confidence (easier said than done but having a mentor or someone of genuine ability + standing would be of help).
Paedofile priests and child rapists are the ultimate bullies; as Dante said: "The lowest place in hell is reserved for traitors."

6:13PM PST on Mar 11, 2010

I told my little girl that if anybody was mean to her in school, on the playground, at the swimming pool or in the neighborhood, to tell me the FIRST time it happens. Don't do nothing and just hope it will stop; it won't stop, it will get worse. Inevitably, in third grade, some bigger boys started harassing her and her little friend as they walked to school, because she and her friend were of different races. Suddenly, it was four fifth grade boys against four very determined parents. We discovered these boys were abusing other people in the community, too. They came from terrible homes, full of mess, beer bottles, illiteracy, illnesses. But that did not excuse their behavior. As parents, our first duty is to protect our own children and after the fathers got together and one of them threw one of those boys into a mud puddle, their mean behavior stopped.

11:43AM PST on Mar 11, 2010

the only way to stop being a victim sad to say is to stand up for yourself. bringing in other people will only make you look more vulnerable as a target. Personal experience win or lose fight back just make the result unpleasant enough for the aggressor to leave you alone.

10:08PM PST on Mar 10, 2010

I was bullied all through high school, and I still don't know why. Maybe because I was the only girl who didn't straighten her hair, maybe because it's because I was quiet but not so quiet escpaed their attenention, maybe it's because I occasionally came to school with eu de le horse on my clothes. Anyway, it hurt at first, and I guess it kept bugging me, but I eventually thought 'seriously, get a new line. I've been 'horse' for years now, and I'm pretty sure I have a more fulfilling life than you'. Now I guess I'm a stronger, kinder and more well-rounded person. Just a little paranoid about my horse jacket touching my normal jacket.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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