Being open to suggestions from your team is an important part of being a good leader.
But don’t be bullied by whining complainers who always find fault, no matter what you do. They’re not interested in improving teamwork or performance in the workplace. They’re interested in feeling superior and in bullying and controlling you by getting you to try to please them.
Almost every one of the women who’ve interviewed me on radio or TV admitted that they were raised to be “nice girls.” Their mothers had taught them that the most important value was to be nice, polite and sweet at all times. They should ignore or rise above bullies; feel sorry for how empty and insecure bullies must feel; how horrible bullies’ family lives must be. Nice girls should try to understand those mean girls, to forgive them and to tolerate their nasty, insulting, abusive behavior.
Nice girls should be sweet and kindly in all situations; not be disagreeable, not make scenes, not lower themselves to the level of the mean girls by pushing back verbally or physically. Nice girls were raised to believe that the virtues of loving compassion and sympathy were their own rewards and would also, eventually, stop bullying. Nice girls were to live by the Golden Rule. Being a virtuous martyr was preferable to acting “not-nice.”
As a result, when these nice girls became adults, they had trouble protecting themselves from bullies.
And, in addition to the emotional scars and the feelings of helplessness and impotence in the face of the real world, they bore a measure of anger toward their mothers for not teaching them how to be effective as grown ups.
The start of their change was to openly admit that, in this area, their mothers were wrong.
At first they thought that they needed at least two hierarchies of priorities; one for their home life and one for the outside world. This was abhorrent to many because it sounded like situational ethics. But it wasn’t. They would have the same ethical framework and merely different tactics that fit their different situations.
Determination, will and perseverance were more important qualities than being nice. These qualities gave them the power to take charge of their lives. They didn’t have to be mean, but they did have to be strong, courageous and sometimes firm. They were the ones who decided what they wanted and needed; what was right for them; what their standards were. These decisions were not consensus votes affected by the desires and standards of other people.
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.
Theresa Marchetta, Investigative Reporter for Denver ABC-TV station, KMGH-TV reports in an article and video on a two more incidents in different Denver area schools in which principals made the bullied girls (aged 7 and 12) do all the changing while nothing happened to the bullies. They were clear cases of, “Blame the victim, avoid the bully.”
This, parents’ say, despite the clear policies the school districts involved already have to protect their kids
Of course, that means that principals must be willing to stop difficult children and often resist their bullying fathers and mothers who threaten to sue the principal and school district administrators. Principals know where bullying kids learned to bully.
Colorado Senate is currently considering a bill to start fighting bullying. According to District 30 House Representative Kevin Priola, “School should be a safe place where kids can go and excel and learn to do reading, writing and math and not have to worry about fear of intimidation.”
Wheat Ridge Rep. Sue Schafer said, “Most importantly, there is research showing that when there is a high level of safety, the CSAP scores go up. Conversely, low safety, CSAP scores go down. This bill is going to raise the awareness of our school boards and our administrators that this has become a serious problem and our bill asks or encourages every school district to do a climate survey.”
The bill doesn’t go far enough or fast enough for the parents of the two girls, who need effective action from their principals right now.
The axis mundi of “Secondhand Lions,” starring Robert Duvall, Michael Caine and Haley Joel Osment, is that the kid is desperate to learn what he needs in order to become a good man. He’s never heard truth from his mother. He’s never had a good man in his life. How can he figure out what’s true? How can he learn what he needs? How can he overcome his self-doubt? To what should he devote himself? Whose side should he take?
Finally, one night, he pleads and forces Robert Duvall to give THE SPEECH – “What boys need to know in order to become good men (and girls to become good women).”
The Kid: “I don’t know what’s true. I don’t know what to believe.”
Robert Duvall: “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most: That people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil – and I want you to remember this – that love, true love never dies. You remember that boy, remember that. Doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, you see, a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in. Got that?”
I love that speech. It’s not about what’s true; it’s about deciding what ideas will be your pole star; it’s about deciding what you will devote yourself to in the creation of your future. And these are values that are worthwhile devoting yourself to.
If you devote yourself to those values you can live gloriously every day. If you turn your back on the good; on honor, courage and virtue; on true love, your life will be empty, you will have no chance.
A theme in “The Last Samurai” is living nobly, living with honor – no matter the consequences. That’s why, at the end, when the young Emperor asks Tom Cruise to tell him how the Samurai died, Cruise answers. “I will tell you how he lived.” That’s the example the Emperor needs.
Choose whether to live a selfish, shabby, sordid story or a great and worthy story. Be the hero of your life.
In his New York Times Op-Ed column, Charles M. Blow reported on the experience of his three children and the results of a study conducted by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, which interviewed more than 43,000 high school students. He reports that the study showed:
“Boys who went to private religious schools were most likely to say that they had used racial slurs and insults in the past year as well as mistreated someone because he or she belonged to a different group.
Boys at religious private schools were the most likely to say that they had bullied, teased or taunted someone in the past year.
While boys at public schools were the most likely to say that it was O.K. to hit or threaten a person who makes them very angry, boys at private religious schools were just as likely to say that they had actually done it.”
In addition, he says that, “While some public schools have issues with academic attainment, it appears that some private schools have issues with tolerance. No person is truly better when they lack this basic bit of civility.”
Most of the discussion and argument will focus on whether or not his general conclusions are correct about most private versus public schools. And many people will base their conclusions on their personal experience in each type of school.
But the important point is not about the generalizations. Don’t get distracted by academic speculation about the generalizations. The important point is about the schools your children are going to.
If your children are going to a school that tolerates or encourages other children to think that they’re special and, therefore, that they can tease, taunt, mistreat, bully or abuse people who are different, that’s the situation you need to focus on.
Children need to feel that they’re special and that high standards of behavior are expected of them. The problem is caused by the idea that, therefore, they can scorn or torment other people who aren’t in their group or who are different.
Bullies will target any difference they can find. It’s not the difference that causes bullying; it’s the bullies who find the difference. Of course bullies will focus on race, religion, color, gender, sexual preference, etc. But we all also know examples of mean girls and mean boys who bully people they decide are too tall or short, too skinny or fat, or who have different hair color or hair style, or different clothes, or who aren’t as fashionable or faddish.
I’ve consulted with principals, teachers and staff of both public and private schools, who won’t ignore, tolerate or support bullying. And we have developed effective programs to stop bullying. In addition, I’ve seen both public and private schools in which principals, teachers and staff look the other way or condone or even applaud harassment, bullying and abuse. Some even think that building school spirit this way is worth sacrificing a few weaklings or sinners.
More than generalization to be discussed and disputed intellectually at a party, we’re hit home emotionally by what happens to our children. If one school, whether public or private, doesn’t stop bullies and it’s your children’s school, that’s the one that counts in your life.
But there is one generalization that cuts across all lines; we can stop bullies before we’ve analyzed in detail the reasons why a particular kid or group of kids selects its target(s) and long before we can teach them to have increased empathy and tolerance. The first step is always having clear, firm and immediate consequences for the perpetrators.
Parents who bully children, and parents who bully and abuse each other are all too common, but an often unrecognized bullying situation is teenagers who bully their parents, especially their single parents.
Of course, teenage girls can be manipulative bullies, but for a typical example, let’s focus on a 19 year-old boy who is mentally and physically capable of being independent but who’d rather sponge off his mother and lead an easy life at home. He’s not working enough to support himself, he’s not succeeding in full-time school and he’s not struggling sixteen hours a day to become an Olympic champion. He’s merely hanging out trying to have a good time every moment.
They’re good at arguing. They want to convince you that “love” and “support” mean that you give them money. You have to love and give to them, but they don’t have to give anything in return. Their hidden assumption is that if you can’t make them agree with any changes, they don’t have to change. They’re masters of whining, complaining and blaming others, especially you, for their problems.
They’re great emotional blackmailers: “A good, loving mother would take care of me while I’m getting it together. A caring mom would help me.” They’re also master manipulators of your fear that, if you don’t cater to them, they’ll fail in life and it’ll be your fault, not theirs: “I need your love to keep me away from bad company. If you kick me out, I’ll be emotionally damaged.” They’ll subtly hint that they’ll commit suicide if you don’t coddle them. They always have a friend who has a “good mother” taking care of him.
Your caring and fear make their arguments seductive. No matter how much you had to struggle on your own to be successful, it’s easy to think that if you only give them one more chance, they’ll finally wake up and get it. So you give him one more chance – over and over and over.
In my experience, one path in dealing with healthy, intelligent teenage boys almost guarantees failure. That’s the path of giving them what they want. The more you let them leech off your energy, wallet and good will, the softer they’ll become, the harder it will be for them to become strong and independent, the greater the chances that they’ll fall in with other lazy losers. The more you give them, the more lazy, entitled and spoiled they’ll become.
In my experience, the path that has the greatest probability of success is to kick those little birds out of the nest before they grow too big for their fledgling wings. They’ve already grown too big for the nest. In order to fly, they need to strengthen their wings by use under pressure and stress.
Of course there’s a risk. They might fail and turn to drugs, booze or burglary to support themselves. They might give in to depression. But, in my experience, staying home wouldn’t prevent that. Leeching off you will only make them weaker.
Confidence and self-esteem are developed by succeeding at real and difficult challenges in which there’s a chance of failing. Staying at home avoids important, meaningful challenges.
Some of the things to say to them when you tell them they’re moving out, depending on the circumstances, are:
“I know that inside you, you have this great one of you struggling to take charge of your life. Now’s your chance for that ‘you’ to take over. Struggle and succeed. I’d rather you struggle and prove me wrong while hating me, than that you love me and stay here as a whining, complaining loser.” Use the word “loser” a lot. Challenge them to prove you wrong.
“This is not a discussion or a debate; you don’t get to vote. This is definitely not fair according to you. I know you think I don’t understand your side of it or how hard it is in today’s economy, but that’s the way it is. I’m protecting myself from my own flesh and blood, who’d suck me dry if I let him. You can try to argue but it won’t change anything. It’ll just waste your time. If you threaten me or damage the house, I’ll call the police and there’ll be no going back.” Don’t engage in debate. Walk away.
“I love you and this is scary for me, but that fear won’t stop me. If you become a loser, just like (fill in the blank), I’ll be sad and cry that you wasted your life, but I won’t feel guilty. I won’t regret what I’m doing.” Then walk away.
“I’m going to have a joyous, good time in my life. After you move out, if you make it fun for me, I’ll take you out to a restaurant sometimes or have you over for a good meal. But if you nag at me and make it a rotten time, I won’t want to waste my time with you. Your job is to make it fun for me to be with you. Yes, that’s blackmail. You pay for my attention, kindness and money. Be the nicest to people who are closest. Be nicer and sweeter to me than you would be to a stranger. Suck up to me as if you want something from me. You do. Even if you can prove to me logically that it’s not fair, that’s the way it is.”
“You, my beloved son, are now facing the choice we all face in life at this age. Will you settle for being a loser with a good excuse – your mother didn’t love or suckle you enough – or will you be a winner despite your mother? Every one of your ancestors faced this. Your ancestors lived through plague, famine, flood, war and slavery. They lived through worse than you. I know you have the stuff of a hero in you. Your choice is whether you bring that out and succeed, or to be a whining, petulant, blaming loser.”
You have the body and mind of an adult. You want to make adult choices in living the life you want. Now you’re being tested. Being an adult means taking care of yourself financially and physically. You probably didn’t prepare yourself. That’s your problem. I could never teach you anything because you never listened to me when I gave you good advice. We both know that. You think you know everything. You think you know what’s best for you. Now prove it. The less you learned useful skills, the more you’ll have to struggle now. So what? That’s just struggle. I hope you’ll grow strong by struggling.”
Mom, make a specific plan. For example, “You must be out by (date). If not, I’ll throw your stuff out the window and call the police if I have to. No negotiation. No promises. We allow little children to get by on promises and potential. When they’re 13 or so, we start demanding performance. Now that you’re 19, I demand performance. Your performance earns what you get.” Mom, don’t give in to satisfy one more promise. Think through what you’ll give, if anything, and under what conditions. My bottom line is, “Make me enjoy it and I’ll consider it. Beat me up, physically or verbally, and you get nothing.” The more calm you are, the better. If he can get you upset, he’ll think he can win again…as usual.
Stepchildren can jerk your chain more. A couple that disagrees strongly (one stern and one permissive) can be the worst case scenario.
This is a start. Because all solutions depend on the specifics of the situation, you will need coaching. Some circumstances that might alter your plans are if your teenager is not physically or mentally competent or needs extensive mental health counseling or is 13-16 or is a girl or there are drugs or alcohol involved or there are younger children at home?
Stay strong and firm. Don’t let him move back in even for a just week or month. It’ll reinforce the laziest in them and it’ll become permanent.
In her article in the New York Times, “The Playground Gets Even Tougher,” Pamela Paul points out that Mean Girls begin their nasty, vicious harassment, bullying and abuse on the playground and in pre-school. They don’t wait until fifth grade or junior high school.
In my experience, mean girls put down targeted kids for whatever reasons they can find – from poor, discounted, unfashionable clothes or the lack of the latest cell phones and bling, to race, religion, physical differences and hair color. Mean girls also form cliques that ostracize, exclude and cut-out their targets or scapegoats. Mean girl behavior cuts across all socio-economic categories – inner-city, rural, suburban and expensive, private schools. The movies, “Mean Girls” and “Camp Rock,” give some graphic examples.
Mean moms who ignore mean girl behavior at home, on the playground and in preschool. These moms have many opportunities to step in and teach their daughters how to do better in age-appropriate ways, but they don’t. I think of these as absentee moms, whatever their reasons – whether they’re simply uncaring or not paying attention or don’t want to deal with it or not physically present. Nannies can be even less responsible, especially if their employers don’t want to hear about it.
Mean moms who set a bad example by acting mean to their extended families, to their children and to helpless servers in all forms – waiters, checkout clerks, nannies, maids, etc. Mean girls imitate what they see and hear from their mean moms, not pious platitudes or empty commands thrown at them.
Mean moms who encourage mean girl behavior. They enjoy watching their daughters be popular, superior and controlling. They may think it’s cute and a sign of leadership potential, but whatever they think, they train their daughters to be mean.
Mean moms who protect and defend their mean daughters when they get feedback about mean behavior. Of course, one-in-a-million children will be sneaky enough to be mean only when their parents aren’t looking. Sneaky, mean girls can bully targets by acting as if the target did something to hurt their feelings and get their protective moms to get the target in trouble. Or mean girls will simply threaten a target by saying they’ll get their moms to get the target in trouble. Mean moms collude and often encourage this behavior. Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series is an example of a mean boy protected by his mean father.
Suppose you’re the parent of a child who’s bullied by a mean girl, what can you do? If you’re convinced that your daughter was not a provocateur who tried to get the other girl to react and get in trouble, should you talk to the mean girls, their moms, teachers and principals?
Know your daughter; will she assert and defend herself? Since she might not talk about the meanness, you have to watch carefully on the playground and look for signs after school. Mean girls are bullies who try to assert themselves over less assertive and less aggressive children. Don’t ask your daughter to suffer or “rise above” because a mean girl and mean mom don’t know any better or have difficulties in their lives.
You might encourage your pre-school or kindergarten daughter to stand up for herself, but you should give plenty of encouragement and specific direction. Even though your daughter is young, champion her inner strength, courage and perseverance. She might be a target but she doesn’t have to become a victim. Never believe mean girls’ opinions and don’t give in to their demands.
Intervene rapidly when your daughter seems unable to defend herself. Don’t let the behavior continue. Say something strongly and firmly to the mean girl. Girls who were merely experimenting with a mean behavioral tactic will stop and not repeat it. That’s a test of the girl – nice girls stop when you set a behavioral standard but mean girls don’t. Mean girls think they’re smarter than you and that they have their own mothers’ protection.
If the mean girl doesn’t stop, test the mean girl’s mom one time. Calmly detail the behavior and listen carefully for the response. Is the mom appalled at her daughter’s behavior or does the mom blow it off or explain it away? Just as in sports and childhood, your daughter might have been provocateur and then looked innocent when another girl retaliated. So it’s natural for the other girl’s mother to try to discover the whole context and behavior before the incident. But does the other mom immediately get defensive and angry, and twist the facts in order to blame your daughter? Does she insist that her daughter is never wrong? Is the mean girl’s mom too busy with her own life to educate her daughter or has she turned her child over to a nanny who won’t correct the child?
If these attempts change the girl’s behavior, you weren’t dealing with a hard-core mean girl and a mean mom. But mean girls and mean moms aren’t stopped by the easy tactics. Now you have to cut off after school activities including parties, despite the ramifications. Also, get the pre-school teachers and principals involved. Some will be helpful; they’ll keep it confidential, they’ll monitor to get their own evidence and then they’ll intervene. They’ll get the mean girl out of your daughter’s class, they’ll break-up the clique, they’ll stop the behavior at school and they’ll have proactive programs to talk about mean girl behavior. Depending on the age of the girls, they’ll teach witnesses what to do. Unfortunately, unhelpful, uncaring, lazy, cowardly teachers and principals will look the other way or condone or even encourage mean girl behavior. They’ll put you off with excuses. Don’t let this happen. Remember, principals fear publicity and law suits.
Teach your children what’s right and also how to defend themselves. Don’t convert your daughter into a victim. Don’t sacrifice your child on the altar of your ignorance, fear or sympathetic heart. Protect and defend your child even though there may be a high cost socially.
Many types of family bullying are obvious, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment, nastiness or abuse, and targets or witnesses usually jump in to stop it. The typical perpetrators are mothers and fathers bullying each other or the kids, sibling bullies, bullying step-parents or kids sneakily bullying a step-parent in order to drive a wedge between a biological parent and their new partner.
But many people allow extended family members to abuse their children or their spouses, especially at the holidays, because they’re afraid that protest will split the family into warring factions that will never be healed. They’re afraid they’ll be blamed for destroying family unity or they accept a social code that proclaims some image of “family” as the most important value.
Except in a few, rare situations, that’s a big mistake.
A rare exception might be an aged, senile and demented, or a dying family member whose behavior is tolerated temporarily while the children are protected from the abuse.
But a more typical example of what shouldn’t be tolerated was a grandpa who had a vicious tongue, especially when he drank. He angrily told the grandchildren they were weak, selfish and dumb. He ripped them down for every fault – too smart, too stupid; too fat, too skinny; too short, too tall; too pretty, too ugly; too demanding, too shy. He also focused on fatal character flaws; born lazy, born failure, born evil, born unwanted.
For good measure, he verbally assaulted his own children and their spouses – except for the favorite ones. He even did this around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables when the parents and their spouses were present. He was always righteous and right.
I assume you’ve asked him to stop or given him dirty looks, but that only seemed to encourage him to attack you and your children more. Or he apologized, but didn’t stop for even minute. When you arrived late and tried to leave early, he attacked your family even more. He blamed you for disrupting the family. The rest of the adults also said that it’s your fault you aren’t kind and family oriented enough to put up with him.
What else can you do?
I think you have to step back and look at the big picture – a view of culture, society and what’s important in life. Only then can you decide what fights are important enough to fight and only then will you have the strength, courage and perseverance to act effectively.
Compare two views: one in which blood family is all important.
We are supposed to do anything for family and put up with anything from family because we need family in order to survive or because family is the greatest good. This view says that if you put anything above family, especially your individual conscience or needs, you’ll destroy the foundations of civilized life and expose yourself in times of need. In this view, we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves and our children to our biological family – by blood or by marriage.
We can see the benefits of this view. When you’re old and sick, who else will take care of you but kith and kin? In this view, the moral basis of civilization is the bond of blood and marriage. Violate that relationship, bring disunity into the family by standing up for your individual views and you jeopardize everything important and traditional.
In my experience, this view is usually linked to the view that men and inherited traditions should rule. Boys are supposed to torment girls because that teaches them how to become men. Girls are supposed to submit because that’s their appointed role – sanctioned by religion and culture. If men are vicious to women and children, if old people are vicious to the young, that’s tolerated.
Contrast this view with an alternative in which behavior is more important than blood.
Your individual conscience and rules of acceptable behavior are more important than traditions that enable brutality and pain generation after generation. What’s most important in this view is that you strive to create an environment with people who fill your heart with joy – a family of your heart and spirit.
If you choose the first view, you’ll never be able to stop bullying and abuse. Your children will see who has the power and who bears the pain. They’ll model the family dynamics they saw during the holidays. You’ve abdicated the very individual conscience and power that you need to protect yourself and your children. You’ll wallow in ineffective whining and complaining, hoping that someone else will solve your problem.
The best you can hope for outside the family, when your children face bullies who have practiced being bullies or being bullied at home, is that school authorities will do what’s right and protect your children from bullies. But how can you expect more courage from them than you have? Or why shouldn’t they accept the culture which tolerates bullying and abuse, just like you have?
Are you the biological child in the family or merely a spouse?
Is your spouse willing to be as strong as you?
Who’s the perpetrator – a grandparent, another adult or spouse, a cousin, a more distant relative?
Do you see the perpetrator every year or once a decade?
Do other adults acknowledge the abuse also?
Expert coaching and good books and CDs like “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” will help you make the necessary inner shifts and also develop a stepwise action plan that fits your family situation and newly developed comfort zone. For example, see the case studies of Kathy, Jake and Ralph.
Keep in mind that while you hope the perpetrator will change his or her behavior, your goal is really to have an island with people who make every occasion joyous. You must be prepared to go all the way to withdrawing from family events or to starting a fight that will split the family into two camps. But at least you’ll be in a camp in which you feel comfortable spending the holidays.
Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes when one person speaks up, many others join in and the combined weight of opinion forces an acceptable change. Sometimes if you say you’ll withdraw, you’ll be seen as the most difficult person in the room and the rest of the family will make the abuser change or ostracize him or her.
Inept, unskilled or over-protective mothers sabotage their daughters.
Almost all the women who’ve interviewed me on radio and TV or who’ve called in with comments have said that their mothers told them to rise above mean girls, to be nicer and kinder to bullies, to be nice because the mean girls were being bullied at home, to feel sorry for the bullies because they had low self-esteem or to simply forgive mean girls as a spiritual thing to do.
That’s bad advice; those methods don’t stop real-world bullies and mean girls. Those mothers trained their daughters to be easy targets and victims. Those grown daughters still bear the wounds and scars of being hurt and victimized while not being allowed or knowing how to defend themselves.
In addition, some over-protective mothers said that they’re home-schooling their daughters because they were bullied at school. There are many good reasons to home-school children, but I think that’s not one of them.
Of course we don’t throw our children into deep water and risk their drowning. First, we teach them how to swim. Everything I say also relates to fathers and sons.
So what can mothers do?
If you’re fearful and protect your daughters in a cocoon, you’ll create problems for them when they grow up. Don’t make being a victim into a multi-generational problem. The fear they sense will lead them to think they’re weak, fragile and incompetent. They’ll develop anxiety and low self-confidence and self-esteem. They’ll be naïve and unskillful and, therefore, easy prey for abusers and predators in their adult love life, with friendships and at work.
Teach your daughters that the real-world has predators and also teach them how to recognize bullies. Overt bullies are easy to recognize. Also, teach them the early warning signs of stealthy, covert bullies and mean girls.
Teach your daughters how to stop school bullies individually – verbally and physically. Predators will misinterpret their kindness and offers of friendship as weakness and an invitation to abuse them more. Teach your daughters techniques of increasing firmness to get bullies to stop or to get away from them. Teach them how to rally their friends to help them.
Just as many girls as boys are bullies but girls more often target other girls.
Girls do bully other girls physically. One publicized example is the Florida girls who beat up a classmate and then posted the video on YouTube.
“Mean girls” are masters of catty remarks, put-downs, scorn, mockery, criticism, sarcasm, cyber bullying and forming cliques led by a Queen Bee. Mean girls are also masters of covert, “stealth bullying;” backstabbing, rumor-mongering, telling secrets, cutting out and spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to be friends.
Girl bullies often are control-freaks and emotional blackmailers. Common bullying statements are, “If you don’t do what I want, you’re not my best friend, “ or “My best friend wouldn’t talk to that other girl,” or “You hurt my feelings, you’re a false friend.” They often set up boys to attack their targets.
Boys tend to use overt physical tactics more than girls.
Girls: it’s easy to tell if you’re being overtly bullied; it’s harder to tell if the bullying is stealthy. You’re probably being bullied if you’re feeling controlled, forced to do things you don’t want to do, scared of what another girl might do to you, afraid of getting ostracized or ganged up on, or not wanting to go to school at all. Trust your gut and talk to your parents no matter how reluctant you are.
Parents: the major signs that your daughter is being bullied are unexplained, 180 degree changes in behavior. For example, no longer talking about school or friends, not wanting to be with classmates, spending all her time in her room, avoiding checking text messages, social web sites or answering the phone, no longer doing homework, not eating lunch at school, stopping after-school activities, wanting to change or quit school, loss of weight, chewing fingernails, not caring about appearance, can’t sleep, nightmares, loss of confidence and self-esteem, emotionally labile (crying suddenly alternating with explosive anger and temper tantrums alternating with despondency and depression – “I’m helpless, it’s hopeless”). Be careful; teenagers typically go through periods of these behaviors. Parents must check out the causes. Be persistent. Don’t be stopped by initial resistance.
If your daughter is being bullied, parents must proceed down two paths simultaneously:
Teach your daughter how to protect herself.
Make teachers, principals and school district administrators protect targets.
Bullying at school is rarely an isolated event. Usually there is a pervasive pattern of overlooking, minimizing, denying, tolerating or even encouraging bullying. Strategies for how parents can proceed depend on the situations they’re dealing with; especially the people. The bottom line is that most, but not all, principals want to avoid the subject, do nothing, cover-up with platitudes, avoid law suits and won’t confront bullying parents who protect their darling little bullies.
Beware of principals who think that their primary task is to understand, rehabilitate or therapeutize bullies. You will have to get other parents involved and be very tactical in order to get principals to act firmly and effectively.
There is one absolute “Don’t.” Every female client and every woman who has interviewed me said that they were verbally bullied when they were young. Unfortunately, their mothers told them, “Rise above the bully. That bully is hurting so much inside that they’re taking their pain and inferiority out on you. Understand and forgive them. You’re better than they are. If you act nice enough, people will return your kindness with kindness.”
Every one of these bullied women bears deep wounds including stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, lack of confidence and self-esteem problems. They also bear an underlying hatred of their mothers for those messages. Those messages are absolutely wrong. Mothers must teach their daughters how to protect themselves, not how to act like willing victims.
“Fighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence,” edited by Meda Chesney-Lind and Nikki Jones, cites recent studies to show that violence by girls has decreased. In a New York Times article, “The Myth of Mean Girls,” Mike Males and Meda Chesney-Lind also state that our common perception that there are mean girls and that girls can be violent, “is a hoax.”
Well, that just gives new research studies a bad name, or at least those conclusions. As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
In the real world, not the world inhabited by academics and researchers, mean girls thrive and their violence toward other girls is no only verbal and physical, it’s now also done in cyberspace. If you track only physical violence on police blotters, you miss the other damage done by stealth bullying mean girls.
Every woman who’s interviewed me on radio and television describes the mean girls they encountered when they were young … and also some they see in their adult personal lives as well as at work. A lot of my coaching is to teach women how to defend themselves against mean girls who now masquerade as adult friends or who are still mean in parent groups at schools, boards of housing associations, book clubs, neighborhood associations, church groups and as mothers protecting their mean daughters.
Get active as a citizen. Organize a core group of active parents to pressure legislators to pass laws requiring schools to have policies and programs to stop bullying. Media pressure will help.
Get active in your school and school district. Form a core group of active parents to make sure your district administrators and school principal actively enforce policies and a school-wide program to stop bullies. Involve all teachers, staff and students in recognizing and stopping the first signs of bullying. Immediate and firm action is necessary. If principals and teachers turn a blind eye, saying “that’s just the way some girls are,” they’re colluding by creating a safe space for mean girls and boundary pushers. The end of school and summer are great times to get these programs started so you’re ready at the start of school in September.
Prepare your daughters. Well-meaning parents are the number one risk factor for creating helpless girls whose confidence and self-esteem will be destroyed by mean girls. Don’t tell your daughters to feel sorry for their abusers and to “rise above” whatever these vicious predators say or do. Don’t expect pious sentiments to prevent stress, anxiety, negative self-talk or depression. Don’t let your daughters be whipping girls or scapegoats. Teach your daughters how to stop the mean girls. If you don’t know how, you need coaching.
Prepare your sons. Tell them about the real-world. Remind them that 10 years from now they probably won’t see any of the kids from high school. Teach them not to take the mean, nasty, vicious comments personally or as a prediction of the future. Their job is to grow up and find a woman who values and appreciates them. Mean girls don’t represent everyone.
Don’t believe studies that supposedly prove that mean girls are an insignificant factor. Don’t believe that if your daughter ignores their meanness or treats them with caring and friendship, they’ll stop being abusive. Real bullies, mean girls and mean women, take offerings of sweetness and friendship as weakness and an invitation to prey on you more.
As Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” and “Things I’ve Been Silent About” said, “My parents did not bring me happiness. They armed me for the battle of life.”
Verbal harassment, bullying and abuse; put-downs, lack of respect and cutting out can destroy confidence and self-esteem. Disparaging and demeaning remarks; ostracism, backed by righteous, sneering, superior judgments can be devastating to children. But they’re no less severe when done by adults to adults.
A Mother’s Day article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Henry, “What Cards Never Say on Mother’s Day,” complained about the lack of respect that dedicated, full-time mothers often get from other women, “even after four decades of feminism.” The article had some suggestions for dedicated mothers who still struggle to get respect from working women.
While the article was accurate in pointing out the problem, I think it totally missed the solution.
Bullies have used the put-down tactic forever. Remember all that cutting out with nasty, sarcastic comments, especially through junior and senior high school? Girls master this technique and boys wield it effectively also. If you’re not in the “right” group you’re scorned and shunned relentlessly. Even current celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Taylor Lautner talk about being the targets of this type of bullying in their school days.
Of course putting-down and cutting out rotten. But it’s not only kids who do it. As Amy Harris points out, working mothers often give no respect to women who stay home to be full-time mothers of their children.
Don’t waste time analyzing why people put-down others. That path won’t get you anywhere. Don’t waste time wanting laws to prevent people from putting down others. A legal solution also won’t get you anywhere except in the case of public statements about people in certain protected categories.
The real solution lies in you. When other people don’t respect you, look at the source and the possible consequences. Don’t take it personally, but also don’t let it go by without saying or doing something in return.
So, what can you do? First, you have to be strong in your own judgment of the path you’ve chosen. Being a full-time mother is a wonderful path. Work is necessary, but for most of us raising children is our most important and fulfilling task. I hope your children will grow up wise enough to appreciate your dedicated mothering when they’re adults. Not because you made a great “sacrifice” but because you made a wonderful, life-affirming choice and the children you love could reap the benefits.
Instead of taking other people’s judgments personally, go through the world testing other people to see if they rise enough in your estimation for you to keep them on your island. I hope you find wanting anyone who puts you down for choosing to be a full-time mother. Their choice to put-down mothers shows their lack of good sense. Don’t allow the judgment of people without good sense to be important to your confidence or self-esteem. Don’t let their judgment cause you self-doubt or negative self-talk. And don’t let them stay in your life. Instead, surround yourself with people who champion mothers.
I also said that you shouldn’t let their put-downs pass. Stopping bullies begins when you understand that real-world bullies don’t take your politeness or minimizing or ignoring them as a sign that you’re morally superior or inviting their friendship. Relentless bullies aren’t stopped by minimizing, ignoring, begging, bribing or appeasement. Dedicated bullies take the Golden Rule as a sign that you’re weak and also as an invitation to prey on you more. Doing nothing when you’re the target of relentless bullies is like holding up a sign saying that you’re a victim.
Almost every woman I’ve ever talked to who was taught by a well-meaning mother that she should feel sorry for the inner emptiness, low self-esteem and inner pain of the nasty girls who hurt them that she should ignore and rise above the catty remarks and hatred, now regrets their passivity. They feel keenly their lack of empowerment and bear the scars of their supposedly virtuous martyrdom. They wish that their mothers had trained them to fight back skillfully; verbally or physically.
There are many tactics you might try in response to put-downs; depending on you, them and the situation. Some mothers form their own cliques of supportive mothers. Others write responses on cue-cards and memorize them for delivery at the right moment. Some responses are sarcastic put-downs directed toward the women who don’t appreciate mothers or who aren’t satisfied and even joyous with the opportunity to raise children. Others merely comment on lives wasted at work. Others use pity: “I’m so sorry that you’re the kind of person who’s not fulfilled and doesn’t set a better example for your daughter (or son).”
I want to recognize an important truth that we often overlook. We know that we’re doing the right thing successfully when some people (“jerks) don’t like us and scorn our work and its value. People who put-down full-time mothers fall into that category. Don’t care what they think; don’t desire their respect. Instead, get them off your island and let them know it.
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.
According to the article, 13 year-old Hope sent a photo of her breasts to a boy she liked. Bad choice. A rival girl saw the photo on the boy’s phone and forwarded it to other students. The photo went viral. Like piranhas, mean girls and vicious boys at the schools joined the general feeding frenzy. Hope was accosted as a “whore” and harassed for more nude photos at her school and also at a Future Farmers of America Conference.
Let’s focus on only three aspects of this terrible situation:
The middle school has a policy against sexting and disciplined Hope: Suspension and loss of honors and privileges. But, even though the principal and teachers were aware of the taunting, harassment and bullying, there is no report that they did anything to the predators – No all-school meetings about how wrong the behavior is; no follow-up with the police to see who was illegally forwarding the nude photos; no action in the cafeteria when Hope was being harassed by other students. Even though they knew what was happening, there was no extra vigilance to protect Hope from the attacks.
They did follow up with Hope’s parents to explain their punishment of her, but they took no action to stop the mean girls and vicious boys. Also, they never called Hope’s parents when they found out that she was cutting herself.
There’s no much you can do once a feeding frenzy has started, but the legitimate authorities at school and the police can be talking to the kids and their parents. You must make an attempt to rally parents and students to stop the attacks, even though you think Hope was a dope.
Hope’s diary and conversations with her friends were full of self-bullying. This negative, critical self talk destroys self-esteem and self-confidence. Self-bullying makes any kind of setback or embarrassment into a humiliating catastrophe that seems to destroy the child’s life forever. Looked at through self-bullying eyes, the future will seem hopeless, the person helpless to redeem herself. As Hope wrote, “Secretly TONS of people hate me.” That’s the wrong conclusion to draw.
As reported in the Huffington Post, to focus attention on National Bullying Prevention Awareness Week, Disney star Demi Lovato has gone public. She was bullied so much in school that she and her parents chose to do home schooling rather than face the bullies at school. Her story follows Miley Cyrus telling of being bullied, harassed and abused verbally and physically when she was in school.
These stories follow the recent publicity given in the New York Times to the “slut list” at “top-ranked, affluent, suburban New Jersey Millburn High School” that’s been going on for at least 10 years. In this case, it was the “popular and athletic” girls who went after the younger girls.
Notice that these examples were of girls bullying other girls; a common occurrence that often gets lost in the glare of publicity about boys who bully. These are often the girls who will grow up to be women who bully women at work.
I hope the publicity will stimulate people who can change the situation. Who do I mean?
Bullies and their parents. Ultimately, bullies are responsible for their actions no matter what their excuses and justifications are. And their parents are responsible for not teaching or setting better examples for their daughters. In too many cases, they’re also responsible for minimizing the effects of their daughter’s behavior on the target girls and for protecting their daughters from the appropriate consequences of their actions.
But bullies have been with us forever and will continue to be. We can’t wait for all parents to socialize their children better or for all children to change.
Parents of the targeted girls. They are often remiss in three areas. First, if they don’t teach their daughters how to stand up emotionally, verbally and physically. Yes, sometimes, physical force is necessary to stop bullying girls, just as it is often effective in stopping bullying boys.
Second, if parents don’t organize a core group of active parents to support principals who want to stop bullying or to force uncaring, lazy or cowardly principals to stop bullying at their schools. When bullies are tolerated at a school, they prey on many targets.
Third, if parents don’t pressure reluctant legislators to make laws that can be enforced. Often legislators focus on free speech, even when the pendulum is shifting to limit some speech in an effort to protect children.
Principals who won’t act. For example, the principal at Millburn said that there was no evidence to determine who made the list; no one had come forward to identify the predators. Funny, I’ll bet almost every kid at school knows who organizes and publicizes the “slut list” on Facebook and through cell phones. Principals can have proactive stop-bullying policies and programs, vetted by school district lawyers, that enroll all students, including bystanders, in outing and stopping school bullies. I focus on principals because strong, active principals set the tone. They involve district administrators and train teachers and staff.
Notice that I haven’t focused on understanding and therapeutizing bullies. Let’s stop them first. That can motivate bullies to learn other tactics.
I haven’t focused on statistics either. Statistics may be important in swaying congressmen, but when there’s bullying at your child’s school or your child is being bullied, you don’t pay much attention to statistics. You want your immediate situation changed.
If Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and the kids at top-ranked, affluent, suburban schools can be bullied, harassed and abused, your daughter can be also.
Current statistics show that bullying is prevalent – over 50% of kids report being bullied or observing bullying. Bullying by girls is just as prevalent as by boys (although they often use different tactics) and bullying in “good” neighborhoods is just as prevalent as in “bad” ones.
Most parents want to understand why bullies bully, “Is it because bullies have low esteem, or they lust for power or that’s the only way they know how to get control and admiration?” Those parents usually tell their children never to use violence to stop bullies. “Violence never solved anything. Don’t stoop to the bullies’ level.”
Those parents hope that understanding bullies will help them create programs that will rehabilitate bullies. Then their kids will be safe when they’re away from home or when they’re online.
Parents who say those things are the number one risk factor in making their children targets of repeated bullying.
Their strategy is based on the false idea that if children love and forgive bullies enough, they’ll melt bullies’ hearts and bullies will stop bullying and become their friends. That strategy rarely stops bullies.
Similarly, bullied kids grow up with low self-esteem and low confidence; they expect to be beaten down – mentally, emotionally and physically – to be taken advantage of, to lose. They become repeat victims.
The number one risk factor in our children’s becoming targets of repeated bullying is not bullies or schools – the number one risk factor is us, the parents of the targets. Bullies have always existed and will always exist, most schools never protected kids and many still won’t.
Take your focus away from psychotherapy of bullies. Focus instead on stopping bullying right now. After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies. As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time. I want to protect target children right now.
In the real world, bullies are predators, like hyenas, looking for the weak and isolated people who don’t know how to protect themselves. Real bullies have a language all their own – they take our children’s kindness, reasonableness or holding back as weakness and a sign of easy prey. Our kids’ weakness brings out the worst in bullies.
A real-world perspective is that it’s more important to stop bullies first; that counseling, therapy and rehabilitation efforts come second. In fact, stopping bullying behavior and having stiff consequences for kids who bully repeatedly is one of the best steps in changing their behavior.
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.
Here’s a new slant on the cluster of suicides of four teenage girls from Schenectady High School, New York, that was stimulated by abuse and bullying in school and a war-zone environment outside school.
Instead of working together to transform the school and the neighborhood environment, Rev. Veron House, pastor of the Life Changes World Ministries in Schenectady, and school superintendent, Eric Ely, are arguing over who was to blame and who should be responsible for fixing the problem.
Rev. House has been quoted as saying, “This is not a community problem, this is not a church problem, this is a school problem, and this is becoming a school epidemic because everyone that has done this is from Schenectady High."
On the defensive, Superintendent Ely responded, "We're not the parents of these children. We have them a third of the time, parents have them two thirds of the time. We're going to do everything we can to keep it from happening. But ultimately, when a child goes home and takes their life, there's not a whole lot a school employee can do about that."
Who’s right? Of course both of them are right. But facing each other with finger-pointing makes both of them wrong.
The useful question is not who’s to blame and who should be punished, the people in the neighborhood or the principal and teachers in school. The better question is how to bring people together after numerous and tremendously painful deaths, in order to create a community that simply won’t tolerate hate and violence in the school or on the streets. Here in Denver, after the massacre at Columbine High School, it has taken 10 years for that healing spirit to become evident.
This question is not new. The difficulty of establishing a safe and functional communal life after multiple, horrible deaths has been part of human struggles since the beginning of time. For example, we see the same struggle in the families of Romeo and Juliet.
Even further back, the same subject and a wise solution are described in graphic detail in the three tragedies called the Oresteia, written by Aeschylus in 458 BC. In the Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers and the Eumenides, the murders are for different reasons than in Schenectady and Columbine High School, but the end effect is the same. Violent death rips apart the fabric of a community and people struggle with what to do.
Why do I bring up literature that’s 2,500 years old? Because the violence of today has also been faced by people in all cultures, times and places, and we have recorded the approaches that only lead to more pain and also the wisdom that points the way to solutions.
Aeschylus shows that the age-old solution – pointing fingers, apportioning blame, imposing punishment, retribution and vengeance – only drives people into separate, warring camps and perpetuates the cycle of violence. He also shows that only after the people involved have come together, having been transformed by the intense pain and suffering that everyone feels underneath their defensive and hostile poses, can they dedicate themselves to change the environment together. One line from the tragedy is, “We must suffer, suffer into [wisdom].”
As community leaders, Rev. House and Superintendent Ely are failing in their responsibility. Instead of analyzing and parsing out the blame, they must lead the community to come together to create a new spirit that will neither tolerate harassment, bullying and abuse at school nor the street violence that requires police and metal detectors at school doors.
Until Rev. House and Superintendent Ely rally a core of outraged students and parents to rid the area of violence, there are no tactics, plans and skills that will help them. I’d expect Rev. House to know how rituals for painful grieving can transform the hearts of his parishioners into wisdom and determined action. Only after they have united resolutely to clean up the school and the neighborhood, will expert tactical advice and guidance be productive.