We all know micro-managers who need to back off. But just as often, I see employees who refuse to accept accountability and supervision. They want absolute control of their turf and will resist, sabotage and badmouth any supervisor who wants to integrate them into an effective team.
For example, Rita, a high-ranking professional, goes over Tom, her direct supervisor, to complain to a senior manager that Tom is micromanaging and wasting her time, so she can’t complete her tasks. Rita also complains that Tom doesn’t inform her of meetings, springs deadlines on her without warning and talks down to her.
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.
How come none of the witnesses were willing to come forward, knowing that the principal and teachers would protect them?
A possible answer to these questions might be that there was never any bad behavior on the school bus. But that would be surprising. What was your experience on the school bus? Ask your friends.
Jones, of Lake Mary, Florida, and his wife claim that their daughter, who has cerebral palsy, had been called names and pushed around. They also claim that they had complained to Seminole County school administrators in the past, but nothing had been done to help their daughter. Jones told deputies that boys placed an open condom on his daughter's head, smacked her on the back of her head, twisted her ear and shouted rude comments at her.
The response of the school administrators is the usual, “We didn’t know; they never contacted us.” They focused on Mr. Jones’s over-reaction instead of on the alleged bullying on the bus. “Changing the focus” is a typical tactic of bullies and people trying to gloss over their failure to respond effectively.
We don’t know the facts. School bus tapes haven’t been scanned. Complaints to the school officials by the Joneses haven’t been documented.
However, I’m suggesting that in too many cases, school administrators are not proactive in creating an environment in which:
Every kid knows that bullying is wrong and won’t be tolerated.
Adults are monitoring areas in which most bullying occurs.
I’d be more likely to believe the school principal if he or she stood next to Mr. Jones on nationwide television and said things like, “Yes, Mr. Jones over-reacted, but we won’t tolerate bullying anywhere at school, we’re reviewing tapes to see if there was bullying, we’re questioning the driver, we’re instituting a strong program to educate all teachers, staff and kids that we won’t tolerate bullying. We’ll get the facts in this specific case.”
I disagree with the supposed experts who say that parents shouldn’t intervene, even if the targeted children can’t protect themselves, for example, because the number of bullies is overwhelming or because the child has cerebral palsy and can’t protect herself, like Mr. Jones’ daughter.
I think we simply have to know how to intervene more skillfully so that, when necessary, we know how to force inactive, lazy or reluctant principals to act. For example, if the Joneses had been more skillful in documenting their complaints to the school, if they really did, there would be a clear paper trail of every interaction with the school administrators, including administrators’ signatures on minutes of every conversation and the Joneses would have copies. Individualized coaching is crucial to developing this skill.
More important than psychologists’ claims that “when [parents] jump in and [intervene], it helps the kids actually feel worse because they feel less control, they feel like they can't handle themselves and they feel defenseless without the bodyguard there,” is that when children actually are overwhelmed or helpless, they know that they’re protected by responsible adults. They can learn to protect themselves better as they grow more independent.
Mr. Jones’ daughter was helpless to defend herself. The stress, anxiety and fear are greater because she wasn’t protected.
Let’s focus on the real problem; bullying on the bus, near the lockers, on the playgrounds, in the bathrooms, in the hallways, in the cafeteria and everywhere else bullies feel safe to attack their targets.
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.
The New Year has been welcomed by a number of articles and blog posts describing legal weapons to help school administrators, principals, teachers and parents take action against all types of bullies.
Some recent examples:
These are only a drop in the bucket, but I’m glad some states and individual school districts are making laws to protect children from bullies and bullying. We need new laws because so many administrators are cowards. They’re afraid they’ll be sued by parents who want to protect their little terrorists. Therefore, we need to require administrators to act and also to protect them from legal suits when they do act.
On an individual basis, parents must teach children how to face the real world in which they’ll meet bullies all their lives, even if the children are small and outnumbered. That’s independent of the type of bullying – cyberbullies, physical bullying or verbal harassment or abuse.
Sometimes, a child can handle a bully by himself, beginning with peaceful, non-violent tactics and moving step-wise toward being more firm and eventually fighting to win. Or, depending on the situation, just get the fight over with the first time. Other times, adult help is needed.
True bullies will take empathy, kindness and tolerance as weakness. They’ll think we’re easy prey. It will encourage them, like sharks, to attack us more. Bullies will show you how far you need to go to stop them. Get out of your comfort zone and stop them.