Monday, May 03, 2010

Bully for Us

My home state of Massachusetts recently passed anti-bullying legislation. A lot of people I know were surprised I wasn't thrilled with this, but I wasn't. Frankly I don't see that it solves much. For it to be active somebody has to have already been bullied. I'd prefer we work from the other end.

There have actually been a lot of studies on bullying, which surprised me when I looked into it. None have come up with solutions that work. In my experience with young people, most of the psycho-babble stuff really doesn't do much good. Sit two kids down to talk it out and they give lip service, walk to opposite sides of the room, and go right back to picking sides and planning revenge.

The ONLY thing I ever found that worked when I was teaching? I was as hyper-aware as I could be of kids who tended to be targets, and I targeted them myself... from the other side. If a pimply kid was getting hammered and had no confidence, I would play him up, give him opportunities to be clever, and talk him up with the cooler kids. I'm still, to this day, surprised that kids like and look up to me. But I tried to live by the adage I stole from Dr. Charles Robinson, "they don't care what you know til they know that you care" and practiced it every day. Thank god it worked. If the cool kids hadn't trusted and liked me pointing out how talented Suzy was, or how funny Sammy was, never would have come to much.

I didn't fix everything, but I think by making it my business to pay attention and care... maybe I fixed a few things.

I do remember a woman coming to a school where I taught Psychology, English, and Journalism. She was there to speak about peer support. The kids hated her. They snickered through her presentation, made fun of her demeanor, and giggled a lot.

They dismissed her as a preachy dork. To be honest, she kinda was.

So how do we solve this issue? My only gut response is to watch, pay attention, and support the kids struggling socially while playing to the crowd at the same time. Don't alienate the leaders, but pick up the stragglers. Try to shove them onto common ground and show them how one can lead with humor, energy, and kindness all at the same time.

Other than that I got nothin... but I'm also certain legislating bullying is a pretty flimsy bandaid. And honestly? I would rather we avoid the wound to begin with.


  1. I don't know quite what I feel about this, other than something has to be done. Bullys tend to believe it their God-given right to torture others. How many tragedies do we have to see before these morally bankrupt children get it into their heads that it isn't cool to be cruel?

  2. I know that my own child's self-esteem was saved by staff members who noticed what was happening and made sure that I knew, too.

  3. I don't know if this is the answer, but something has to be done about bullies.

  4. I agree, Kristen. I think it's good that somebody noticed. Sad that it took so long to notice. Unconvinced legislation will make a difference... but maybe just the notice will?

    Something. Anything.

  5. One thing I read which I find interesting: the accepted wisdom for a long time has been that bullies have low self-esteem (and often are bullied themselves at home), so to cure their bullying, you tell them how great they are.

    But some recent studies have found that the majority of bullies think they're better than everyone else! And that's why they do what they do. And trying to cure a bullying egomaniac by telling him he's great does no good at all...

  6. Chrissy, I think your method is probably the best "cure" to bullying that I've come across. Heaven knows, all the other things I've heard--and tried to do myself, back in the day--never did. The worst advice I ever got was to ignore a bully, on the theory that not giving a reaction took the fun out of it and made them move on. Hah! What a joke that was.

    I don't think passing laws will work. All that does is address the issue after the fact. It prevents nothing.

  7. All of you shut up before I pound you in the face! hahaha I'm sorry. I'm tacky. Seriously, bullying freaks me out. :(