Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Tough Conversations with Kids (Pt. 3) - Anti-bullying tactics

A Google search of “teen bullying” will yield over 22 million results in less than a second.

If there is so much information, research, creative thinking  and efforts against bullying, why is it still a huge problem with our youth?
Maybe we need to recognize that there are categories of bullying, rather than putting it all in the same category:
Category 1 – Those who are being bullied by others (non-aggressor)
Category 2 – Those who are bullying others (aggressor)
Category 3 – Those who are both bullying and being bullied (reciprocator)

My research on this topic (besides some recent CDC info) is from talking to kids (children and teens) who complain of bullying and who are not sure who to talk to or what to do about it.

Other research here comes from talking to adults who either over or under-react when their kids tell them they are being bullied. After talking with families about this issue, here are some common denominators that line up fairly well with contemporary research on the topic.

First of all a quick question: If we could drastically reduce bullying from our children’s lives, would we actually save lives? Although it is dangerous to link teen deaths solely to bullying, the research says the two are connected.

According to the CDC (Division of Violence Prevention), Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Bullying can occur in-person or through technology.”
One of the most alarming truths of bullying is that it is related to a higher risk of teen suicide. The highest risk category for teen suicide is among those who both bully others and are also being bullied.  Those who are being bullied ‘reciprocate’ this behavior toward others in an effort to cope with their own stress and confusion.
With this information in mind, let’s consider some anti-bullying strategies that will likely have a huge impact upon this high-risk population in our nation’s schools.
Let me be clear: This article is not about how to eliminate bullying in general, but how to reduce bullying among our youth by reducing the category of our youth who are being bullied as well as bullying others.

1. Origins

CDC Research tells us that kids who are more likely to be a bully have been or are being bullied, so the question is, “Where are bullies being bullied?”
The answer to the golden question is right under our nose.
When a child complains of being bullied, we often look at outside sources, but often the source is in plain sight, like home, school, church, sports activities, or neighborhood friends. It is wise to look in obvious places before assuming that the source is “miles away”.
Again, we are talking about students who are bullying BECAUSE they are being bullied (not always the case). So rather than considering only where they are bullying, let’s consider where they are being bullied.
At home – Bullying at home can be done through words, tone, body language, and of course, through physical aggression. It can be “justified” by calling it discipline, but the point of discipline is not to incite fear or intimidate. The point of discipline is to teach, and a gentler approach is always a better one.
Action plan - As challenging as it may be, have a family meeting and ask everyone if they think bullying exists in the home. Root it out and hold it accountable. Some of the bullying that takes place in our schools starts in the home. If families discover this reality, getting outside help may be a good start. Once the family is able to discuss what moving forward looks like, they are more likely to experience success in eliminating all forms of bullying.

At School – Before we get too far down this path, let me take a different approach. I am not diminishing valid forms of bullying, but keep in mind which bullying category (reciprocators) we are considering here. Too much “bullying” is made into a major ordeal because we are not teaching our kids simple conflict resolution. Just because a student reports bullying does not mean that there needs to be a parent/teacher conference or automatic sanctions against the offending student. Although there is so much more to say on this topic, let me suggest some courses of action that actually work.
Action plan
1) Encourage kids to “just walk away” from other students who bully in various forms. Bullies needs an audience, so simply remove the audience and they will often move along.
2) Teach kids how to live in the real world by giving them conflict resolution skills like de-escalation, diversion, joining, or affirmation. We all could use reminders here on occasion, so get the whole family involved.
3) Educate kids on how to avoid being an easy target (talking too much, talking too loudly, “dishing it out”, trash talk, target-oriented body posture, unnecessary eye contact with bullies). Some kids actually do “ask” to be bullied without realizing what they are doing. So educate kids on strategies to make them less of a target.
4) Get kids involved in community at school (clubs, band, after school activities, sports). Kids who are involved in some kind of community are less likely to be bullied than those who are not because there is safety in groups.

2. Signs
Look for signs that your child is being bullied and take action immediately.
Not to ignore the aforementioned notion that there may be forms of bullying in our own home, there are signs that parents can observe with children that may indicate there is a power differential in their lives.
When another student is the bully
The most assumed and perhaps the easiest form of bullying requires that adults be adults instead of acting like a kid. I mean no disrespect toward parents who insist their child could never bully another child, but the reason that bullying in our culture is still an issue is because it becomes replaced with another issue. When adults make the bullying issue their issue, it is not likely that the behavior will go away.
·       If a parent wants to discuss bullying and your child is potentially involved, hear them out. Denial will not help the situation.
·       If you are confronted with information that assumes your child may have played a role in bullying, seek out an objective third party to help bring resolution rather than trying to work it out with another emotionally charged parent.
·       Use a confrontational experience to teach conflict resolution to your children. Hard lessons are better learned in a real situation than in a simulator.

When a teacher is the bully
Having had to actually arbitrate between teachers and families, this can be a tough one. Parents who enjoy more success here are the ones that work to build relationships with their children’s teachers, rather than the ones that are content with “drive-by shooting” tactics. Teachers are reasonable people seeking the best for our children, so a reasonable, respectful approach is always better.
When your child is the bully
Talk to them and confront the behavior at home in a way that does not create a “reciprocator”. Find out the reason for the aggression, or get professional help to get to the bottom of the behavior. Kids are not bullies for no reason, so deal with the problem, not the symptoms.

3. Alliances

Finally, form alliances in order to combat bullying at its point of origin.

Our children are not educated in a vacuum, so parents have the responsibility not to live in one. We need to build relationships with educators, administrators, other parents, and even our kids’ friends. These relationships take time and intentional effort to build, but they pay dividends if we are ever in a situation where we need to confront bullying. If our children see us operating like a sniper, they will follow suit. But if they see us forming alliances, eliminating the dark places for them to hide, we will reduce bullying in our society, starting in our homes.

If your family is dealing with bullying in any form, seek help if the task seems daunting. I have discovered that exposing the problem and finding each person’s role in the solution is the best form of intervention when it comes to rooting out bullying in our families.
These can be tough conversations, but the real tough stuff comes when we avoid talking about things that are isolating our kids from us, from one another, and from society. Bullying is not a personal issue alone; it is a societal issue that we need to address and deal with as close to home as possible.  So let’s talk and find what is really hurting our kids. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it is not there.

© 2017 by Tim Bolen, LPC
Tim is a professional counselor and marriage therapist and has a private practice serving two locations in Covington, GA and Loganville, GA. Tim works with adolescents and adults, and families in crisis. You may contact him or set up an appointment by visiting his Psychology Today profile. Tim specializes in marriage and family issues as well as offering various groups and workshops in the Newton County area. You can also visit his website for additional resources at TriCord Hope, LLC.