Bullies always have reasons they think are good enough for why they harass and abuse their targets. It’s always the fault of their targets. Bullies think their excuses and justifications should relieve them of any consequences for their behavior.
They are that narcissistic and self-deluded.
What’s wrong with these pictures?
Walter shoved the little kids around at school. He waylaid them in the halls, in the schoolyard, in the cafeteria and in the bathrooms. Walter said the other kids weren’t nice enough to him and, anyway, they were exaggerating how much pain he’d caused. His principal knew that Walter wasn’t likeable and that his father abused him, but not in ways that could be reported to the police. His principal’s anti-bullying strategy was to tell the other kids to be more understanding of Walter’s situation, to be nicer to him and to wait for Walter to outgrow his problems.
Sonja was well-known as the nastiest girl in school. A few other girls, who admired her certainty and righteousness or were afraid of her, did what she told them to do. They helped her make sarcastic remarks about other girls, shove them, harass them and pick on any of the physical or mental qualities they called “defects.” Sonja claimed that the other girls had started it by being nasty to her and that they deserved what they got. Anyway, she was only having a little fun. Her principal knew Sonja was actually very insecure and was always criticized by her parents. Nothing she ever did was good enough for them. Her principal’s anti-bullying approach was to encourage Sonja’s targets to be more understanding of her, to try to win her affection and friendship, and to wait for her to learn to be nice, despite the examples she had for parents.
In both cases, these principals had accepted the excuses Walter and Sonja had given. They also accepted the socially-acceptable, psychological explanations for Walter and Sonja’s behavior as excuses and justifications so that there should be no consequences for them. They had it hard enough at home.
There were no consequences for Walter and Sonja: no detention, no suspensions. Since nothing happened to them, they never had reason to change. In fact, since they were allowed to continue their bullying, they had gained more power at school.
In addition to the principals not protecting their students, the principals made no attempt to rally all the students to do something about them. When people can’t get the responsible authorities to protect them, they are given only a few simple choices: submit to the bullying or become vigilantes and take justice into their own hands. Of course, those principals will punish them, even though they never did anything to Walter and Sonja.
Of course, in order to make the point, I’ve simplified the cases I’ve presented. But the point is simple. Any complications and difficulties only mean that we may need more determination and cleverness to implement an effective plan. But those complexities don’t change the direction we need to go. They may mean that we, as parents, may have to bring great pressure and publicity to bear on principals who won’t stop bullying.
When Benni Cinkle was 13, she appeared in a YouTube music video that went viral, receiving over 200 million views. At first, Benni was ridiculed by millions around the world for her awkward dancing, often referred to as “That girl in pink that can’t dance.” They called her names and told her she should kill herself.
A few of the printable names she was called were “lame, terrible, awkward, horrible, stupid, freak, loser, awful, worthless, annoying, fat and ugly, dumb.” Other comments included, “She should probably look into suicide,” “Please just die” and “I’ll bet she wants to kill herself now.”
Did she let the jerks drag her down? Did she lose her self-esteem and get depressed? Did she commit suicide?
Instead of reacting defensively, Benni didn’t take it personally. She kept her spirits up. She met their criticism with humor, honesty and understanding. She was open and didn’t hide. Soon, anonymous cyber bullies became fans and Benni's online reputation as an approachable, down-to-earth teen began to grow. In the months following her unexpected popularity, Benni received tens of thousands of requests for advice from teens around the world.
Realizing she had been gifted with a platform that offered international reach, Benni decided to use her 15 minutes of fame for something positive. So she:
Started “That Girl in Pink Foundation” as a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide. TGIP focuses on any issue that may directly or indirectly lead to teen suicide, including: Teen Depression, Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, Teen Self-Mutilation, Teen Gay/Lesbian Support, Child Violence, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Violence, Eating Disorders and Teen Pregnancy.
Authored “That Girl in Pink’s Internet Survival Guide,” offering teens strategies for handling life online.
Organized a flashmob dance to raise donations for American Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief.
Organized a walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that included hundreds of kids from 14 countries walking with her, virtually.
Recorded her single, “Can You See Me Now,” and donated profits to TWLOHA and GLSEN.
Visited schools across the U.S. delivering her “Don’t Just Stand There” anti-bullying presentation.
A nine-year-old, third grade student from Colorado Springs was recently suspended for fighting back against another student who had bullied him repeatedly The target had complained to school authorities, but they had not protected him.
Both boys were suspended for fighting. The school defended its actions: "If a student is involved in a physical altercation on school property, they are automatically suspended. District 11 schools employ many anti-bullying teaching techniques … and none of these methods include violence or retaliation," the school said in a statement to KDVR.
Of course, they'll suspend you because teachers and principals who don't protect kids are do-nothing jerks and jerks do jerky things and they don’t wan to risk making a wise judgment about who the bully is. When you get suspended, act contrite. Say you're sorry, promise you won't fight again. When no one is looking, wink at the bully to let him know that you'll beat him up again, if necessary.
If you follow this plan, you'll get at least four wonderful things:
While you're on suspension, I'll take you to Disney World for a big celebration. After all, winners of Super Bowls get to go; why not winners on the playground?
I also tell them that there are some caveats to my advice:
If the bully is much bigger than you or if there is a gang of kids, we'll devise a different plan
When you're old enough (maybe high school) that kids are carrying weapons, we'll devise a different plan.
But the take-home message is always to give the responsible authorities a chance, but if they don't do their jobs, solve the problem yourself. Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to protect you. Use your own power. Say “That’s enough!” Say “No!” Stopping bullies is more important than never using violence.
Sawyer Rosenstein, 12 -year-old seventh grader from New Jersey, was bullied for months until the bully punched him and left him paralyzed. He received a settlement of $4.2 million from the school district. A claim against the bully has also settled, but details are confidential. And, Sawyer is still paralyzed for life.
Reports from the New York Daily News and the Morristown Personal Injury Blog make clear that:
"Additionally, the same bully that injured the boy had previously injured another student, yet no serious action was taken."
New Jersey has a strong anti-bullying law. Nevertheless, his experience “shows that schools have a great responsibility to make sure that these laws are enforced in order to prevent students from being injured by bullies on school property.”
“The Board of Education released a statement Wednesday denying any wrongdoing and saying that it was the district’s insurance carriers that decided to enter into the settlement and will pay it out. ‘The district’s character education and harassment/intimidation/bullying initiatives and reporting practices are leading edge,’ the statement said. ‘All programs in this area far exceed all of the criteria established by the state of New Jersey.’ … The board said the settlement did not include any admission of liability or fault on the part of the district.”
What’s wrong with the school board’s basic assumptions?
Little children usually can get away with charm, potential and promises. But as we cross past approximately 5th grade, we enter the time when those qualities count less and less, and results count more and more. That’s a hard transition for many people to make. When we get to be adults, we’re evaluated by the results we produce.
Following the rules or processes is a minimum standard. The correct standard, by which school authorities should be judged, is whether they get results.
Thomas Alva Edison once said, “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” Of course large organizations like school districts need rules and processes. But those are judged by whether they produce the desired results, not by whether they’re being followed. Following processes is never enough; results count.
What can you do if you’re a parent trying to protect your child from such irresponsible incompetents?
Mean girls, like mean guys, can make middle and high school a wounding, scarring misery for many kids.
We’d expect elementary school friendships to change as girls develop different interests in boys, studies, athletics, music, art and science at different rates – especially interests in boys. We’d expect old friends to drift apart.
But the verbal, mental and emotional consequences of put-downs, teasing, taunting, cutting-out, ganging up, harassment, hazing, bullying and abuse can be devastating. Scars can last a lifetime.
Alicia and Cory were best friends for years but in middle school, Cory changed. She became boy-crazy and Tammy became her best friend. Alicia wasn’t interested in boys at that time so she and Cory started drifting apart. Nothing unusual or wrong with that.
But Tammy made it a problem. She and few friends targeted Alicia and insisted that if Cory wanted to be Tammy’s “best friend,” Cory had to join in the attacks on Alicia. Cory didn’t resist. As soon as Cory gave in, Tammy upped the stakes and kept making Cory be more and more vicious in order to join the gang.
Alicia had never done anything bad to Tammy or to Cory. Neither would talk with Alicia about why Tammy had singled her out. Tammy was simply a bully; each year in school she aligned herself against a scapegoat who she used to rally a clique around her as a leader in devising more and more cruel attacks. This year was simply Alicia’s turn. Since nothing bad happened to Tammy during her years at school, she didn’t see any reason to stop.
When Alicia talked with Cory, Cory cried, but didn’t stop her attacks.
What can Alicia and her parents do?
Alicia didn’t talk about the bullying but her parents could tell there was something very wrong. They dragged it out of Alicia. They could understand Alicia and Cory’s different interests and growing distance, but they were appalled that an old friend was so vicious toward Alicia.
Alicia’s parents knew Cory’s parents very well so they decided to talk with them. They didn’t know Tammy’s parents so they did not approach them. Cory’s parents were upset at their daughter, but after lengthy discussions they decided to minimize the bullying. They said that Alicia would have to deal and they were happy that Cory had gotten in to a popular crowd.
While Alicia’s parents were exploring other avenues, like talking to the district administrator, they knew that their immediate task was to help Alicia develop an attitude that would diminish the emotional hurt. They knew that kids who took the put-downs to heart usually suffered all their lives. More than the crying, loss of appetite, falling grades, sleepless nights, negative self-talk, anxiety, blame, shame and guilt, low self-confidence and self-esteem, and depression and maybe even suicidal tendencies often followed such relentless attacks. Indeed, Alicia had begun to take the viciousness personally. She wasn’t ugly but she wasn’t beautiful; she was skinny and she hadn’t started developing breasts yet; she was good-natured and social but not in the clique of the most popular girls. She began to think that there must be something wrong with her because she was picked on and didn’t know how to fight back – being nice, appeasement and following the Golden Rule hadn’t helped. Since the adults didn’t protect her, she thought that maybe there really was something wrong with her and she’d be a loser and alone all her life. Her parents and family loved her but maybe, she thought, in the outside world, she’d be victimized for life.
Alicia was not one to fight back with fists, arguments or even sarcasm. The tactic that fit her personality and comfort zone was simply to mutter “jerks,” laugh with scorn and walk away with her head held high. And she remained laughing and happy because she knew who the losers were. While that infuriated Tammy, Cory and the others, there were a number of other girls who responded to Alicia’s attitude of confidence and self-esteem, and to her smile and good cheer. She slowly collected her own clique of friends.
Alicia also built a mental movie of a future in which she was loved and had a loving family. She could see that she looked like her mother, who’d married her handsome father and that they loved each other. She had hope that she could also do as well. Therefore, she also judged the boys who circled around Tammy and Cory as jerks. She knew they weren’t good enough for her. Her self-esteem and confidence grew. Other kids noticed that she seemed more secure and sure of herself. Since she was nice and friendly, many wanted to be friends with her.
Alicia also realized that she would not want to be friends later in life with most of those middle school kids. As much as they had seemed important to her before, she decided that she’d make her own life, following her own interests so any middle school friends were probably temporary. That took much of the sting out of Tammy and Cory’s continuing scorn and harassment.
If you worry that your child will be bullied in school next school year, but you don’t know what to do until bullying happens again in September, you’re missing a golden opportunity this summer. Summer is the best time to organize in order to protect your children on day-one.
Seven tips for what you can do this summer:
Don’t wait until there’s an incident or a history of incidents.
Make sure your district administrators and school principals have clear and strongly worded policies and programs to stop school bullies. Make sure they have emergencies procedures to institute swift and effective investigation and action. Does the program start on day one? What initial assemblies will be held with students? How will they be involved in on-going programs? What training will teachers and all staff get to help them recognize and stop sneaky bullies? How will hot-spots be monitored – buses, bathrooms, lockers, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds? What support will teachers and staff get to protect them from angry, bullying parents? How will they deal with the first boundary pushers so that the message of zero-tolerance gets out?
Learn what constitutes evidence and how to document it. Learn how to support proactive principals. Learn what you will need to do to motivate lazy, uncaring, colluding or cowardly principals. Do you know what media and legal pressure will stimulate your principal to act? Talk to a lawyer now so you’re prepared.
Publicize the policy and program before school starts. Organize parent-principal-teacher assemblies to gain buy-in to the school’s program and processes. Encourage parents to educate their children about not bullying and about what to do when they witness bullying.
Rather than buy a packaged anti-bullying program that ends up buried in a storeroom, stimulate school and district officials to create their own, based on what will be effective for your specific school situation. Expert consulting and coaching are necessary to implement an effective program.
The Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal report that, “Facebook and Time Warner are ganging up on bullies to address a problem that torments millions of children and young adults. The partnership announced Tuesday calls for Facebook and Time Warner to use their clout to raise awareness about bullying and encourage more people to report the abuses when they see them.”
They recognize the need. Facebook also recognizes the economic problem if they allow massive amounts of bullying to flow through their pages. Eventually parents will force their kids off Facebook or will start suing Facebook for carrying the content.
The present educational efforts will sway many kids and their parents by sensitizing them to the issue and encouraging them not to be drawn into bullying by the truly relentless bullies. But these sensitized kids will be encouraged to come forward if, and only if, responsible adults – school district administrators, principals and teachers – respond swiftly and firmly, and protect the kids who speak up.
As a parent, there’s a lot you can do this summer. Don’t count on Facebook and Time Warner to do all the work to protect your children. Don’t count on advertizing/educational campaigns to protect your children
Don’t waste your time with nit-picky detractors and critics who have nothing better to offer. Some people will say that they can only do this because Most Precious Blood is a private school or that the program takes too much money or that other school principals and staff don’t have the time. Nonsense.
We all remember: Colorado was home to the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. But as Jessica Fender reports in the Denver Post, “More Consistent Anti-Bullying Program Urged for Colorado,” after 11 years “good intentions have devolved into an uncoordinated approach that ignores best practices in some instances and leaves state authorities with no clear picture of how well the myriad policies work.”
As, “Susan Payne, [who] directs the state's Safe2Tell effort, [says,] ‘One of our issues is there is no consistency. While each school has to have a bullying policy, their policy is unique to their school.’”
Instead of thinking about which component is the most important, let’s look at what’s necessary in a different way. Think of what we need to stop school bullying as if you were imagining a target with a bull’s eye in the center. Everything in the bull’s eye is necessary. If you leave out one of the elements in the bull’s eye, you won’t be successful.
Effective, well-written laws to specify what’s illegal; that is, what’s bullying. Without these laws, people like Lori Drew, the mother who set-up the Facebook page and led the attack that caused teenager Megan Meier to commit suicide, can get away with that behavior. Or the kids who tormented Phoebe Prince, Asher Brown, Jon Carmichael, Ty Smalley, Jaheem Herrera, Brandon Bitner, Samantha Kelly, Billy Lucas, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and so many others in 2010 until they committed suicide, will also get away with it. Don’t limit the laws to include only protected categories of victims based on race, sex, religion, sexual preference, etc. Be inclusive about the abuse, no matter who it’s directed against. Maybe the phrase about protected categories should be, “…including but not limited to…” Laws should contain provisions against verbal bullying and cyberbullying, as well as physical violence and abuse.
Require all schools to have programs designed to stop bullies. These programs should contain a sequence of swift and firm steps to remove bullies from schools and school activities like sports. The steps should focus on protecting targets first, and rehabilitating bullies only after they’re removed. Effective anti-bullying programs also educate bystanders to become witnesses. That requires spelling out what witnesses should say and do, who they should report to and how principals and teachers will keep them anonymous and protect them. Effective programs also include close contact with police, especially in cases of cyberbullying and physical abuse.
Require training for everyone involved with school children, including bus drivers and cafeteria monitors. Increase recognition of the more subtle but very pernicious forms of verbal and emotional bullying. Increase awareness of the difference between episodic arguments and even fights between kids versus destructive patterns of taunting, harassment and physical bullying. Give all staff specific steps to follow in documenting and reporting bullying.
Colorado’s Safe2Tell program is a wonderful effort to help kids come forward anonymously and to bring legal pressure to bear on bullies, their parents and school officials who need to act.
Of course, laws, policies, programs and training are merely the necessary guidelines on paper. What makes them effective are dedicated people who are concerned and courageous enough to stop bullying.
Consulting and coaching within individual districts and schools does produce effective programs, stimulates the leadership of strong principals and energizes the support of good teachers and staff. In addition, there is a natural weeding out of people who choose not to act effectively and shouldn’t be put in positions of responsibility for children’s welfare and education. Effective programs develop and highlight models of great adults acting on behalf of children.
We don’t need to wait until there are more studies about why bullies bully. We don’t need to wait until we have more studies to define all the consequences of bullying that turns targets into victims. We don’t need to wait until we can write perfect laws, policies and programs.
We know enough about the stress, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, negativity, and loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, to know that the effects of being a victim can be life-long. Just as successful school bullies tend to become bullies as spouses and parents, and bullies at work, so victims of school bullies tend to become victims as spouses and parents, and at work.
We know enough to act now to stop bullies. We do need to act before more lives are ruined while we analyze, debate and vacillate. I’d rather err on the side of protecting targets at the risk of being to harsh on a kid that wasn’t really a relentless bully, than the present situation that errs on the side of protecting bullies and leaves targeted children isolated, unprotected, helpless and thinking that suicide is the only way to end the abuse and pain.
In his article in the New York Times, Erik Eckholm, points out that, “Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance.”
The article continues, “Rick DeMato, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, [who] opposes the curriculum changes in the school district in Helena, Mont. [has led] angry parents and religious critics…[to] charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden ‘homosexual agenda,’ implicitly endorsing, for example, same sex marriage.”
Stealth bullies win when they can change the subject to fit their agendas; when they can distract you from your subject and make the focus of discussion be something they want to discuss and over which they think they can win.
For example, suppose you complain about your date or spouse’s public or private sarcasm, put-downs and nasty, mocking humor. If he’s a stealthy, manipulative bully, he might change the subject by saying that you’re hypersensitive and you over-react, or that you hurt his feelings by complaining. If he can get you to focus on whether you’re hypersensitive or have no sense of humor or on making him feel better, then he wins and you lose. You’ll never get him to stop making those remarks.
Or suppose you’re angry that he hit you. If he’s a stealthy predator, he might complain that you didn’t communicate that in a supportive way or that you over-reacted or that you started it and you provoked him or that he felt put-down by your anger, which reminded him of his childhood. And that’s the only thing he wants to talk about. If he can get you to focus on your poor communication or his hurt feelings and past trauma, he wins and you lose. He’ll never have to talk about your pain when he hit you and, since he has a good excuse for hitting you (his past trauma), he doesn’t have to change.
Therefore, you must take charge of the agenda. Make him focus first on his sarcastic put-downs or on his hitting you. And you have to be satisfied by the result before you’ll discuss his agenda. If he doesn’t satisfy you, don’t go on to his agenda. Go as far away as you can.
What does this have to do with the anti-bullying policies and programs we started with?
The initial agenda in those schools is stopping harassment, bullying and abuse of kids or adults. The reason given by the bullies to justify their verbal, emotional and physical attacks was that their targets were gay or lesbian. I pay more attention to the actions than to the excuses and justifications. The agenda is stopping the bullying and violence. The agenda is stopping the negativity, pain, anxiety and depression bullying causes. The agenda is stopping the targets’ loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, and the increasing number of bullying-caused suicides.
Some people want to make the agenda be a torturous and emotionally-charged discussion of whether schools can be allowed to promote a pro-gay and pro-lesbian agenda. And whether parents or educators control what’s taught in schools.
If those stealthy bullies can get you into those discussions, you’ll never stop school bullying. They won’t have to stop their children from bullying and abusing other kids. They feel that bullying and violence should be condoned or at least tolerated because the bullies have good reasons to torment their targets. Since, they think, being gay or lesbian is a sin, if one of the targets becomes a victim and commits suicide, the world is a better place.
So keep the focus where it should be: anti-bullying programs that stop bullies. When I’m called in to help schools develop effective programs, I always challenge dissenters to come up with a better program to stop bullies before we talk about areas that would distract us from the main agenda.
Which professions, in their teaching schools and in their on-the-job practices, foster or tolerate the worst and most flagrant forms of bullying? I don’t know, but teaching is right up there with doctors and lawyers and others I may be overlooking.
I see two kinds of principals running two very different kinds of public schools.
By the way, not only public schools, but also colleges, universities and professional, post-graduate training schools (teacher training, medical schools, and law schools) are hotbeds of faculty harassing and bullying students, and faculty bullying other faculty. Don’t believe me? Check out the law suits and blogs. Ask the teachers, doctors and lawyers you know personally. Ask about arrogant, narcissistic, abusive control-freaks.
How do teachers bully other teachers?
Senior individuals, including principals, have power and control over junior teachers and will misuse that power for personal reasons, including sex. One variant is, “Suck up to me or I’ll sabotage your career.” Another is, “I’m powerful and I enjoy making you squirm.” Or, “They did it to me and now I’ll do it to you.” And, “It’s for your own good. It’ll make you stronger.”
Often, cliques of senior or even junior teachers try to run the show. One variant is, “Join our clique and suck up to us or else.” Another is, “Don’t change my perks or the status quo, and don’t threaten my job. Don’t expose our failures or dirty laundry even though we’re not changing. If you do, we’ll get you.” Their favorite tactics are to ostracize the offender and to blame all the problems on him or her. These vicious gangs will try to silence or remove offenders for nitpicky, trumped up reasons.
What can you do if you’re managing such an environment?
In my experience, successful change starts from the top down.
At a college, university or professional school, it takes a very powerful and very politically astute new administrator or new department head to change the environment. The new person will have to weed through his staff slowly and carefully, replacing the worst bullies and narcissists for legal reasons and in legal ways. He’ll have to have support because there will be widespread personal attacks and law suits.
At a public school, change requires a new principal supported by the district administrators and school boards. The new principal will have to be a master at enrolling a core group of supportive teachers and the media, and maneuvering around the union. Entrenched people, like infected splinters, are hard to reach and remove. But persevering and savvy principals can set a new tone in their schools.
What can you do if you’re a target?
Notice the signs. If you’re ignored, blamed or attacked in public, especially in front of students, you’re being set-up to be the target of a public media campaign as a troublemaker who needs fired for the well-being of the school. There’s no negotiating with these righteous predators and flying low won’t get them to back off. You won’t get the union to back you.
Hire a good lawyer who knows how to get the right publicity – not the school lawyer. Being right won’t prevent a smear campaign, full of innuendos and lies, against you. Learn what to document on your home computer.
You’ll probably end up looking for a job in another state with one of the few district administrators who can see the truth and are willing to take a chance on a “potential troublemaker.”
Bill Cosby is right.
On a special anti-bullying segment on Larry King Live, Cosby lashed out at the bullies who tormented Phoebe Prince for months before she committed suicide. He also took on the teachers, principal and school administrators who said that they didn’t know what was going on.
For months, Prince was assaulted, pushed and shoved, called a “slut” and a “whore” and even had soft drink cans thrown at her – all in school.
The eight students involved are all being prosecuted. Already two students have been expelled from the school and other students will face felony charges in connection with their actions against Prince.
Among the charges against the teens are statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly. Prosecutors accuse the students of tormenting Prince “relentlessly” online and in school, often in plain sight of school administrators, right up until the day Prince hanged herself.
On the day Phoebe Prince took her life, one of the bullies wrote the word “accomplished” on Phoebe’s Facebook page.
Of course, many failing principals, teachers and administrators hide behind the phrase, “We didn’t know.” That shows why the most important thing you can do as a parent is often to document your contact with those supposedly responsible adults who actually won’t help you or your child.
Then they’ll hide behind the same plea that was given by the mother of one of the accused bullies, another girl, “Prince was not fully innocent and they’re teenagers. They call names.”
Can you imagine if principal Smith, standing with the teachers, superintendent Sayer and school committee chairman Boisselle before the assembled parents of South Hadley High School in Massachusetts back in August had said:
We’ll ignore this whole problem of bullying despite many studies showing that:
When we allow harassment, bullying and abuse the victims who are left unprotected by the responsible adults suffer from increased anxiety, stress, shame and depression, and low self-confidence and self-esteem for life.
Bystanders and witnesses who don’t come forward or who aren’t supported by the authorities suffer from guilt and shame their whole lives.
Bullies who get away with bullying in youth tend to become relentless adult bullies as adults, in their personal lives and at work.
We won’t have school policies that prohibit bullying or a program that trains us to recognize bullying in the school. We won’t patrol the classrooms, hallways, bathrooms or cafeteria to see if bullying is occurring. We won’t work with the police to do anything to the bullies. When incidents occur we’ll say later that we weren’t responsible because we didn’t know.
We won’t involve students in recognizing and reporting bullying to us. If we accidently hear about any bullying, we’ll minimize it and pretend its just “kid stuff.” If you tell us about your child being bullied, we’ll tell you that we’re too busy to do anything about it and we don’t want to violate the rights of the bullies.
The bullies in our school are really good kids with anger and self-esteem issues of their own. They just haven’t had good enough parenting. That excuses their behavior. We have to be more sympathetic toward them than toward their targets.
And imagine him finishing with, “Now, parents, we’d like you to hire us, vote for us and pay increased taxes to support your local school and its staff. We’re going to be your top executives but we won’t know what’s going on.” Do you imagine the parents at South Hadley High School leaping to their feet with wild applause because they thought that their children would be protected in the next academic year?
Of course I start with the bullies themselves and their parents, who turned a blind eye and will now protect their little darlings. They’ll blame Phoebe Prince for being a weakling. As if they think that what the teenagers did was okay and Phoebe should have taken it like a good victim because it was her fault.
I also say the same about the supposedly responsible adults at school who failed in their primary responsibility; creating a safe environment in which character and values are modeled by adults and in which academic learning can be maximized.
Maybe the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince will finally wake us up. Maybe the articles in the New York Times, Huffington Post, People magazine and dozens of others will wake us up. Maybe the long list of charges against the bullies and tormentors will finally goad the public to demand strong action. Maybe charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment and stalking will get a stronger response from the district attorney than, “The inactions of some of the adults at the school are troublesome.”
Phoebe’s suicide is another red alert. But we know that hundreds of other children in our schools are being bullied, harassed, tormented and abused every day. And parents and school officials are not protecting these targets of bullying. Some of these kids will gain strength by fighting back effectively against these predators.
Others will be overwhelmed and destroyed by the bullying, but even more, by the lack of protection by the very adults who have taken on the responsibility to protect them. These kids will grow up concluding that they are helpless and their situations are hopeless. They will grow up with debilitating, negative self-talk, with anxiety, stress and depression, with little confidence and low self-esteem.
We don’t need more suicides to remind us of what we saw at our own schools, what we see in our adult personal relationships and the interactions we observe at work. We know the depths to which humans can sink. We know how alert and courageous we must be to prevent the worst consequences.
A huge number of people failed in Massachusetts. Start with the two boys and four girls between the ages of 16 to 18 who have been charged as adults. Continue with the three minors who have been charged as juveniles. Continue with their parents. Their parents failed to teach and control their children. Of course it’s difficult to teach and control teenagers. But will those parents now defend their venomous children or will they stand with Phoebe Prince?
I think the greatest failure is that of the school authorities, especially the principal and the district administrators who set the tone for the teachers and staff. They pretend to be education experts. They pretend to be worthy to teach children. Yet none would stand up for Phoebe or for the other girl in school who was bullied by one of the accused teenagers.
We know that there are difficulties and that they will hide behind the lie that “we didn’t know how bad it was.” So what? Personally as a parent and grandparent, professionally as a coach, consultant and expert on how to stop bullies I say that these people represent failure and should be forced to go into jobs in which their tasks don’t matter.
Would you want someone who pleads “difficulties” as an excuse for their failures when your life is on the line – for example, a school bus driver, a doctor, a pilot, a cop, a fire fighter, a repairman of train tracks, a quality control worker on an assembly line for your medication, pacemaker or your car’s brakes or accelerator? I wouldn’t give them the responsibility. All that education has been wasted on them. And maybe the type of education currently in how-to-be-a-teacher courses is a waste.
Whether the abuse is cyber-bullying, physical violence, sexual attacks or the many varieties of mean and vicious verbal and emotional abuse – the spite, gossip, rumor-mongering, ostracism, targeting or mocking – there will always be “experts” who say “it’s not so bad,” lawyers who say that it’s too difficult to write enforceable laws, and there will always be difficulties in stopping harassment, bullying and abuse. So what if there are difficulties? If we can’t overcome those difficulties, we don’t deserve the responsibility and trust, and we will reap the bitter fruits that will await us in our hours of need.
“Be nice to kids when they’re mean to you and before long they will stop being mean. This is known as the Golden Rule and is the solution to bullying.”
“Don’t tell on kids who upset you.”
“Don’t get angry at kids who upset you. Make it clear that they can insult you all they want and it doesn’t bother you. After a few days they will stop.”
“If kids bring you nasty rumors, don’t defend yourself.”
“If a kid hits you and you’re not hurt, act like nothing happened. If they keep hitting or pushing you, ask them calmly, ‘Are you mad at me?’ If they aren’t, they’ll stop hitting you. If they are angry, they’ll tell you why. You can discuss the matter, apologize if appropriate and they will also stop hitting you.”
Dr. Kalman doesn’t work with the targets of real-world school bullies. His advice is great for the targets of nice kids who are bullying one time because they’re having a bad day.
But real-world school bullies will be delighted by kids making Dr. Kalman’s responses. Real-world bullies are relentless predators who look for weak and isolated prey. You can’t stop real-world bullies by being nice, understanding, kind and rational, or with the Golden Rule. Real-world bullies take your use of the Golden Rule as a sign of weakness and an invitation to bully you more. Real bullies don’t have the empathy to stop abusing you because your feelings are hurt or because you’re a caring little saint.
How do I know this; check your own experience. Ask yourself about the kids you saw who were nice, but had one grumpy day versus the kids you saw who were relentless bullies. What stopped the relentless bullies?
After bullies are stopped or removed, then you can work on their therapy and rehabilitation. But I wouldn’t want my kids to be victimized while we wait for the bullies to become nice citizens.
Although Dr. Kalman’s suggestions are directed at bullies in school, how many of you have seen his suggestions as successful in stopping the real bullies at work? Again, all the lawsuits and comments about workplace bullies show that real bullies are relentless and don’t stop when you’re nice, kind, understanding and reasonable.
The other expert in the article, Barbara Coloroso, author of “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander,” on the other hand, has much right, but she also makes a common mistake when she advises, “Don’t tell your child to fight back.”
Sometimes, fighting back is the only language a bully understands. And your suspension from school is worth stopping a bully. The same applies at work, where fighting back usually means a law suit backed by great documentation.
According to the Wall Street Journal article, “CyberBullying Report Opposes Regulation,” a recent report on cyberbullying suggests that, unlike other Internet scares, this one is well-founded, but it questions some of the regulatory efforts that are gathering steam. “The report, by the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a right-leaning Washington think tank that focuses on technology public policy, says that data from child-safety researchers” indicate that much of the furor is overblown.
I disagree strongly: The furor is not overblown and we do need Federal laws to stop cyber bullying, harassment and abuse.
The right-leaning think tank’s objections to new anti-cyber bullying laws are that:
Worries over online predators are overblown because one study of arrests from 2000 to 2006 showed that most of the offenders approached undercover investigators, not kids. I’m glad the offenders approached undercover investigators. But that’s no reason not to have laws. Between 2006 and now, offenders have gotten smarter. And, of course we want laws so we can protect the kids who are approached.
They estimate that threats due to peer-to-peer bullying are more serious than those due to cyber bullying. Even if that’s true, that’s no reason to abandon kids who are targets of cyber bullying, harassment and abuse. As shown by the case of Lori Drew, without Federal laws, cyber bullies can’t be prosecuted effectively. The Judge acquitted this adult even though she set up the MySpace site that was used to harass and abuse teenager Megan Meier until she committed suicide.
Laws pose “thorny issues” that are entwined with free speech. Again, that’s no reason not to enter the thicket. That simply lets us know that the laws will have gray areas and both the law and the interpretations will be continuously evolving as hardened criminals find loopholes. Laws encourage angry, potentially vindictive people to think twice before doing anything impulsive and rash.
Laws would make statements that defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, slander or harass third parties illegal online, even though such statements would be allowed if said on a playground. That’s not a problem; that’s an obvious benefit. That acknowledges the truism that statements made in a local context or face-to face usually have very different consequences than hostility put out to the whole world on the internet, especially if the statements are anonymous or made through the safety of false identities.
We can solve the problem best through better education. Nonsense. Of course, education and vigorous stop-bullies programs are very helpful, but they’re not enough. Education alone does not yield the most benefits. Education, anti-bullying programs and enforced laws all together yield the most benefits.
Teaching people to behave civilly online is no different than teaching children to use proper table manners, to cover their mouths when they sneeze or to say, “thank you.” That’s also nonsense. If an adult is a slob at home, no one else is harmed. If someone gets drunk and disruptive at a restaurant, a movie theater or a ball game, they can be asked to leave or ejected or arrested. The harm caused by eating with the wrong fork or not saying “please” or “thank you” is minor compared to the harm that can be caused by cyber bullying, harassment or abuse. Ask the families of Megan Meier or Jessica Logan, both of whom committed suicide after they were made the targets of cyber bullying. Ask the families of the thousands we don’t hear about them in the media. They suffer, helpless to stop their abusers, but valiantly and quietly to struggle through life.
Laws are made to state the standards to which we aspire and to diminish people’s ability to harm others as much as possible. Laws may be imperfect and enforcement may be difficult and spotty, but that’s better than nothing. I’d rather have anti-bullying laws that protect kids 90% of the time and have difficulties 10% of the time, than have no laws to stop cyber bullying and leave kids vulnerable 100% of the time.
Our laws and even our system of checks and balances are founded on our understanding that no matter how much education people have, they will often seek power and revenge. They won’t always be good and sweet and kind. If given the chance, people will be mean, nasty and vicious to others, especially if they can act anonymously or the target can’t fight back effectively.
In his recent ABC news opinion column, “Want to Stop Bullies?” Lee Dye cites new studies that claim that:
Girls are more likely than boys to intervene to stop bullying than boys are.
Girls intervene more because they’re expected to by their parents, best friends and favorite teachers.
Popular males are more likely to pick on weaker boys, while unpopular, weaker but aggressive boys are more likely to pick on girls.
Of course. So what?
I’m glad Mr. Dye is speaking out and I share his desire to stop bullies and harassment, bullying and abuse in schools.
The reason I’m sarcastic is that I think these studies, done by interviewing 269 middle school students in four schools in North Central Florida, are typical of the thought process and pseudo-scientific research that says that if we knew more we could design better programs to stop bullies. And they imply that we can’t have successful anti-bullying programs until we have more research.
However, this research adds nothing we didn’t already know. And the generalizations are contradicted by evidence from the recent suicide deaths of four girls in Schenectady, New York.
We already know that getting the kids involved in anti-bullying programs is critical. We already know that it’s crucial to teach children what to do when they are bystanders and see bullying. In order to incorporate that knowledge into anti-bullying programs, we don’t need to wait until there’s more pseudo-science research to prove that point.
In summary, we know that it’s everyone’s job to stop bullying in schools and everyone’s help is necessary, especially the kids. No one group can make a program work if the other members of the local community resist or are uncaring. The programs in New Hampshire are only the latest reports documenting what we know already.
Successful programs have the seven elements crucial to success:
The programs specify acceptable and unacceptable behavior
The biggest problem in stopping bullies is not the lack of research about bullying: It’s the lack of skillful effort being put forth by the most caring people. At many schools, well-meaning principals and teachers need to join forces with a core group of parents to get programs in motion. At other schools, frustrated and angry parents need to rally other parents in order to force uncaring or cowardly school district administrators and principals to make effective school policies and then take act promptly and strongly.
As reported in separate stories by Yadira Betances and Margo Sullivan in the New Hampshire Eagle Tribune, some middle schools are effectively implementing anti-bullying, anti-abuse programs. The recent suicides of four teenage girls may stimulate a sense of urgency. There are some differences in the programs to stop bullies, but both have the seven elements crucial to success.
1. The programs specify what acceptable and not acceptable behavior is
General statements about respect and empathy are not enough. These programs give graphic examples of many forms of harassment, bullying and abuse. The unacceptable violence ranges from prejudicial put-downs and personally demeaning or mocking comments, to repeated acts of supposedly accidental tripping and shoving, to physical attacks. The programs point out that bullies may act any where – on the school bus, by the lockers, in the lunchroom, in the playground and in classes. In successful programs, the specific list of unacceptable behaviors evolves as new incidents arise.
2. Children are taught specifically what to do if they’re bullied or if they see someone being bullied
Critical to the programs’ success is that kids stick up for other kids. The kids always know who the habitual bullies are. The principal, teachers and staff must also. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse.
3. The programs involve everyone
School board members speak out against bullying and review and support the programs. Principals and teachers are involved. Administrative staff and bus drivers are trained and supported. The adults set the tone: No bullying allowed. The adults are proactive, not merely reactive.
Most heartening is the involvement of the students. Kids lead the way in promoting the programs within their schools and in presenting it to other schools. Education is on an emotional level that’s age and grade appropriate. Fifth graders learn differently than seventh graders do. Most kids are excited to know they’re important participants in the programs and they know they’ll be listened to, supported and protected by the adults.
Parental support is critical; especially a core group of parents dedicated to supporting the principal and teachers.
4. Consequences are clear and action immediate
Programs fail if repeat bullies are allowed to continue bullying during lengthy therapy and education processes. The first task of the adults is to make the schools safe. That often involves isolating or removing bullies rapidly. Rehabilitating or converting habitual bullies takes second place.
5. Administrators, school principals and teachers are courageous
Their moments of truth are when they have to face irate and bullying parents who defend their little terrorists by threatening to sue the principal and school for harassment. That’s like in the Harry Potter series, when Lucius Malfoy protects his vicious son, Draco.
In order to survive those moments, principals need to have good documentation, staff needs to pool written reports and school district administrators need to back the program. A good lawyer helps make staff’s efforts legal.
Critical to the programs’ success is a vocal group of parents supporting the principal’s actions.
6. Individual training of kids takes place at home
Teach children not to bully to get what they want or to make themselves feel better. Also teach them how to respond successfully to bullies; from learning to use verbal skills to learning how to fight back physically if necessary. Face it; some bullies won’t stop until you beat them up. Physical consequences for repeated physical actions are a good lesson for them as they grow up. A child’s effective self-defense sends a different message to bullies than does any repeated beatings they might have gotten at home.
7. All steps are done at the same time
There is no one cause of bullying – like bad parents or uncaring teachers or cowardly principals or rotten kids – so programs won’t succeed if they focus on only one aspect of the problem. Successful programs get everyone involved to stop behavior that affects everyone. They work at the individual level, the classroom level, the school level and the district level.
A rash of teen suicides (4 in the last six months) has alarmed a Schenectady, New York school district. At least two of the suicides have been directly attributed to abuse and bullying, especially girl to girl harassment. However, the school superintendent has been quoted as spreading the blame, “The community is also beginning to understand that these activities are embedded within neighborhoods and even in the homes across our city and across our country.” He has also made the point that educators aren’t parents and that their influence and control are limited.
I was interviewed by Steve Van Zandt and Jackie Donovan on their Daybreak program on Radio WROW in the Albany-Schenectady area. Our focus was what the school district could and should do. Steve and Jackie are great in presenting the issues and fielding calls.
Of course, the superintendent is right, but I’d like to see him step up and tell what part of the problem he’s going to attack with speed, intensity and determination.
First, he sounds like he’s leading a debate down the pathway of analyzing all the factors involved and describing the ones he might label as the most important. He’s an “educator,” which means he’ll get stuck in “analysis paralysis.”
But he doesn’t have to analyze or solve the whole problem of teen abuse and bullying in society. He simply has to take responsibility for the number one task of his school district and of each principal. The number one task is not education, it’s safety and security. Only when he can guarantee pretty good safety and security, can the principals and teachers in his district do their second task of education.
Second, he doesn’t have to continue analyzing what’s wrong at school, the kids know and each teacher, principal, administrative assistant and bus driver also should know. One brave middle school student spoke up at a community meeting pleading, “Just help us. We need help.” The four suicides, all in the same high school should be a wake-up call to him.
The superintendent is also wasting the summer; his best opportunity to get programs developed and installed. Summer is the best time to do the behind-the-scenes work to get an anti-bullying, anti-abuse campaign ready so they begin resolutely on the first day of school. A few straightforward, but sometimes difficult steps are for the superintendent, principals and a core group of committed parents are to:
Notice that I haven’t said anything about educating, therapeutizing or rehabilitating bullies. That succeeds only after anti-abuse, anti-bullying programs are implemented.
Wall plaques saying that students must respect each other are nice but ineffective by themselves. A detailed program with clear consequences, implemented strategically, firmly and continually can solve 90% of the problems at school. That’s the best that schools can do
Also, that would be teaching children and teenagers that the adult authorities will actually fulfill their responsibility. New York may also need laws to force this superintendent to do his job.
In her forthcoming memoir, “Miley Cyrus: Miles to Go,” Miley reveals that her younger days were spent “being teased, tortured and humiliated by school bullies.” The “Hannah Montana” star says she was “friendless, lonely and miserable,” and believes she would have been physically harmed if the abuse hadn't stopped.” Miley writes, “The girls took it beyond normal bullying. These were big, tough girls. I was scrawny and short. They were fully capable of doing me bodily harm.”
Most of the comments on many sites focus on the wrong areas.
People respond as if the important thing is whether they like Miley or hate her, whether they feel sorry for her or they want to see her hurt because she’s so rich and famous, whether they think she’s a selfish, twit who deserves what she got.
The important areas to focus on are: It happened to Miley, it happens to most kids, it happens to our kids. What can our children and teenagers do and what can we do?
Other people can take forever trying to educate and convert bullies and their parents, but not me. Stopping bullying doesn’t begin with understanding bullies or with their psychotherapy and rehabilitation. Educating bullies and their parents begins when they find out that the old tactics don’t work. Beginning by trying to educate them means that the rest of the kids remain victims until bullies decide to stop bullying (if ever). Instead, protect kids now; stop bullies first and then educate them.
Therefore, the lessons we can learn from Miley Cyrus are that in order to stop bullies and bullying we need:
Principals and other administrators who want to stop bullying.
Federal laws that require each school to create programs defining and prohibiting specific bullying behaviors and that hold principals liable if they fail to stop bullying.
School anti-bullying policies with specific behaviors spelled out. That way, principals and teachers will be supported in preventing bullying and, when bullying is discovered, in tackling bullies and their parents. Also, the principals who don’t want to act will be forced to, because they’ll be more afraid of the publicity and penalties they’ll get if they don’t stop bullying than they are now of the parents of the bullies.
Children, teenagers and parents who respond immediately; who don’t let bullying pass by; who call it like it is; who use the word “bully.” They’re alerting the rest of us and rallying us to be their allies and to help them resist.
In addition to professional experience, I learned practical, pragmatic methods growing up in New York City and then watching our six children and their friends and enemies. And we live in Denver, home of Columbine High School.