The topic on a recent Oprah Winfrey show was Bullying. The show was devoted to how children who are bullied feel. Nothing was said about how to prevent bullying or how to change a bully. Unless we look at prevention, the attitude that bullies will always be bullies and victims will always be victims will prevail and we will continue to fill our jails with adult bullies.
Most people rightfully become incensed when they discover that their child is being bullied at school.
They immediately advocate severe punishment of the bully. Now, who is the bully. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Severe punishments, policing and strict rules restricting their behavior will not cause bullies to relinquish their roles. Such actions confirm them. These techniques merely put adults in the role of bullies. A much better approach, which also has the added advantage of modeling problem solving techniques, is for the adults to acknowledge that there is a problem and to work to develop programs aimed at solutions and prevention.
Severe punishments, policing and strict rules restricting their behavior will not cause bullies to relinquish their roles. Such actions confirm them.
Schools are in the business of education. That means the education of all students including the bullies. One solution is to provide activities where students are given the opportunity to get to know each other and to learn how to interact in constructive ways.
One of the best ways to do this is through cooperative learning lessons. In the school setting, to complete assignments cooperatively, students must function as a "cooperative group". They must interact with each other, share ideas and materials, help each other learn, pool their information and resources, use division of labor when appropriate, integrate each member's contribution into a group product and facilitate each other's learning.
As a result, communication, conflict management, and leadership skills are developed and in the process the students are given the opportunity to appreciate and to understand each other better.
Another solution involves providing opportunities for children to learn to empathize with each other.
Bullies will only relinquish their dominance gained at the expense of others by the development of higher values such as empathy and consideration.
One way to do this is to help bullies feel what their victim feels.
This can be done by the teacher listening to the victim in private and then conveying to a small group of his peers, which includes the bully, the distress of the victim.
The teacher conveys to the group that they are not there to be blamed but for each member to offer to do something to help the victim feel better. This enables bullies to understand the extent of someone else's pain, which in severe cases, can lead to suicide. Some bullies are in so much pain themselves that they do not comprehend the pain they cause in others.
There are many other activities the school can institute to develop empathy in children.
Students could be given the opportunity to help younger ones by reading to them.
Older students could help others through leadership positions like being on a school council or being on the school patrol. Students could learn about those less fortunate than themselves through clothing drives, visits to nursing homes, or donating food to help the homeless. Teachers could stress empathy by such questions during the reading lesson as: "How do you think the person in the story feels?" "How would you feel if the same thing happened to you? "What would you do to help that person?"
If there is bullying in your child's school, do not accept the defeatist attitude that it is normal and not the school's problem.
Something can and should be done not only for the victim's sake but for the bully's sake.
First published in 1997