In Expert Interviews

Donald Mulkerne on How to stop cyber bullying

Dr. Donald Jay Mulkerne is trained in Rational-Emotive Therapy, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy,and Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy. He utilizes these approaches in treating mood disorders, behavioral issues, chronic pain and disease, child and adolescent issues, parenting skills training, and special interest problems such as anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and PTSD. He talks to Ciaran Connolly, Co-Founder of NoBullying.com on how to stop cyber bullying in this interview also found here.

The interview on how to stop cyber bullying can also be found here and here.

Below is a transcript of the interview on how to stop cyber bullying:

Ciaran Connolly: Bullying has always existed and I guess I can’t disagree with you there and we are trying to understand if I can see the parents, if they have a feel that they brought up their families, and they have got a good family and good children. Why would one of them maybe turn out to be a bully? Is there…it just happens? It can happen?

Donald Mulkerne: Well, I don’t think it’s just a spontaneous generation of a problem. I think there is a lot factors that lead up to it and if you look at the general statistics on bullying, the ages where you really begin to see this emerging, you know, around 9-10 years of age up through teenagers.

You know, you will find little kids…We have always had plenty of kids at the house, and you know, playing out at the backyard and we have been in plenty of functions with kids and yes. There is a certain picking order that they’re trying to establish but it is not bullying which you see primarily with younger children is the exclusion “We don’t like you. We don’t want to play with you.” You know, “You are no good, you can’t be on our team.” That kind of stuff and oddly enough, there is a certain reinforcing of that attitude in certain sections of society.

You know, for instance competitive sports, OK? You know my son has played football for the last 4 years. He has played basketball. Right now he has been training in jiu-jitsu and some other mixed martial art stuff and really enjoys that but, no. There is yet to be an athletic event he has not participated in where there was the in crowd and everybody else and this year he has decided not to go out for football because he is in an honors program academically and just won’t have the time for it but he also talked about, I don’t know, “There is a 175 kids who are going out for football and I may not make it. I don’t want be made fun of.” I mean, immediately, it was about “I don’t want to be criticized or teased or sort of tormented because I didn’t make the starting lineup,” you know.

I was like, “You know, Jack, it’s either here or there. School comes first. Don’t worry about football” but a lot of kids feel that pressure. I know plenty of my fellow parents in our community who you know “My kid has got to be on the all-star team.” “My kid has got to be…” and when you are playing sports like football where it’s a physically aggressive sport, you are out there to hit him and you are out there to knock him down and you are out there to win games.

You know I don’t think kids, our boy’s age, have the maturity to distinguish between playing a hard fought, aggressive game of football and beating the snot out of somebody and I think a lot of times parents are sending the wrong message to their boys and girls about what being a competitive athlete means. It doesn’t mean you are the toughest kid on the street. It doesn’t mean that people should be afraid of you. It doesn’t mean that that’s how you gain social stature but in certain aspects of American society, particularly when it comes to kids in athletics, you know “You have got to be tougher than them. You have got to be faster than them. You have got to be meaner” or whatever and I just think a lot of times, we are sending kids the wrong message. You know, I have seen the same thing with girls’ sports too.

You know that, you know, here we have softball is very competitive here, volleyball is very competitive, you know, basketball and there is a lot of pressure on these kids to perform at very high levels and you have got to find any advantage you can over your competitors and if that means intimidation, then that’s what you do.

I mean I used to laugh at it initially. I mean, I’m out there, you know, as you know, an assisting coach for the football team and there are kids, you know, 8 years old trash talking to each other.

CC: Sad to think and this… and you mentioned also parents being in denial, saying “Boys will be boys” things like this. So, you think that parents actually don’t realize that they are influencing their children as much as they are and maybe being bad role models?

DM: I don’t want to tell anybody that I think they are bad parents. They are not. They are just misguided a lot of times. They don’t realize…they don’t hear themselves. You know, they don’t realize what they are saying may have a different meaning to their kid than what they intended.

You know, if I want my son to suck it up and be a man, you know out on the football field, that doesn’t mean I want you to go hurt somebody. You know, it’s just saying “Look. Focus on playing your game. You know not about how, you know, you are upset because a guy knocked you down,” you know. So, a lot of times parents in an effort to coach their kids, motivate their kids, whatever, are preaching a sermon of “You have got to be better than them. You have got to be, you know, somehow, more advanced than they are in some way, shape or form”

You know, there is also a tremendous amount of societal pressure here. You know, in the community where we live, it’s a very diverse community. Our schools are all integrated which I think is a good thing but it doesn’t mean that there still aren’t social divisions that occur and that there isn’t some sense of people thinking that they are better than another people or that they are more affluent than other people or that somehow they are superior or having advantage or something else over other people and you know I drive in carpool. I heard kids in the back seat not realizing I’m listening talking about “Oh, so and so. They got a new car and it’s really cool. They must be rich”. This summer, there was a pool party, a child’s birthday party and in the big was “Did you get invited to so and so’s birthday party? You know, everybody is going to be there. It’s going to be cool and so and so didn’t get invited. Don’t tell!” You know this kind of talk.

See…I want to be part of the accepted group. I don’t want to be one of those kids that didn’t get invited. You know, I don’t want to be left out. I don’t want to be excluded. So, what’s the price of admission to those events? Well, you have got to be like those kids. OK?

So, you know, they are getting messages from a variety of sources. I don’t like most children’s television programs. We don’t have the Disney Channel in our house. I think it’s very inappropriate. I think, they over-sexualize the scenes and the shows. I mean, you got these 10-12-13 year old girls and I don’t know how old they are but they look like, you know, adolescent teenagers. They are dressed inappropriately, they are made up like adults and they are all hoody-hooing round. You know, it’s a lot of sexual innuendo. Like whatever happened to The Musketeer Club?

You know, the grown-ups are all stupid, the teachers are all idiots and the sassier and more smart-mouthed you are, the more socially accepted you are.

You know, a lot of these shows the kids watch and there are forms of bullying going on in those shows but it’s presented in a way that it looks like a funny situation because the kids who were bullied are overweight or they are nerds or they…don’t have cool clothes or they don’t live in the right neighborhood and they are being made fun of and everybody laughs “Ha ha ha”.

You know, I mean, is it a wonder that kids are getting screwed up messages about what really good, caring social behavior is? I’m not surprised. Frankly, most of the time I’m surprised how that even works.

You know, every kid thinks they have to have one of these [smart phone]. You know, my son, we got him a phone for his birthday. Has no internet, no data plan. He can make phone calls and he can send phone calls and he can email us. He calls it a dumb phone so he wants a smart phone like that and every now and then he will show up with “Hey Dad, look I got this advert. A new, you know, *inaudible*

“It is the same Motorola,” “ The new Motorola, you know the super mega razor with all the stuff. It’s really cool! Can I get one of those? If I save up the money, can I get one of those?” the answer is “No, not until you’ve got the money to pay for the data plan and to pay for the phone. Knock yourself out” but he is the weirdo because he doesn’t have an IPhone5. His friends have Iphone 5. OK?

CC: Do you think it’s actually a bigger problem in society? We have talked about media, the TV, I’m thinking of the magazines when I look at a news stand and there are pictures of celebrities there that they’re poking fun of because maybe they don’t look their best or they don’t….

DM: What an awful example for children they are, right?

CC: Exactly, yes and the sports. You are right and I’m thinking of games even games and sports. A referee makes a decision and the players don’t agree and they surround him and it’s… it goes… and that of course goes into the junior games as well. So, actually it’s the whole of society then that we really need to change our mindset. So, there is a lot of work to do. Do you ever think that bullying will stop since it’s been there for so long, it is going to always continue in some form, do you think?

DM: Unfortunately, yes. I think it will always continue in some form. I think that doesn’t mean to say that I’m giving up on this but I think it’s clear that we have to do a better job beginning at home with educating kids about this and then taking steps as communities to address this problem.

You know and there are some neat things that people can do. You know, a lot of people I know feel very helpless about all this and they just say “Oh, you know, this is, you know, you can’t deal with the court system in schools. Don’t want to do anything.”

You know, I can see why people get that cynical about it but there are also some good things that people can do. Let me talk about those a little bit.

One of those things that is the biggest deterrent to bullying in schools or in organizations like scouts and stuff is adult supervision.

I said it, the dirty word adult supervision. Oh my God! Are we infringing adult civil rights here? I don’t know, you know but that’s what keeps it in line. You know, our scout troop for instance, we have a policy of like say if we do an outing like in a couple of weeks we are going down to a water park for the day, OK? We will make sure that we have at least one adult leader present for every 5 boy scouts and they understand that this is not a go-wild when you get there. We have a designated area that we’ve already reserved, the pavilion with shade and picnic tables and stuff and they can enjoy the park but they have to check in, you know. There is adult supervision because we know that if we are there with these kids, they tend to behave better.

Same as through at schools, you know, where you have schools, where you have a lot of parental involvement, you know, you have much less issues with bullying. You know and some schools have organized using like the parent-teacher organization to get volunteers who instead of making copies in the office, are out on the playground, you know, supervising the kids because it…my wife has 26 kids in her classroom. She doesn’t have any aid. I mean by herself, she can supervise them to a point but when they go out to a recess, this is several acres of land, she can’t cover several acres of land all by herself but if you have got adults out there who are in different parts of the playground, they can keep an eye on what is going on and then you can intervene if you need to.

So, you know, parent groups can work with schools to provide supervision in situations where bullying has a tendency to occur. Simply putting video cameras on school buses has reduced the incidents of bullying on school buses because kids know we are videotaping this.

You know, if you get up and start beating on somebody, you know, you are going to juve [juvenile court]. That’s all there is to it.

You know, the bus will stop, the bus driver will call 911 or call the school, a school officer will come out to the bus or a police officer will come out to the bus and those kids will be removed from the bus and you deal with it, boom, right then! So, you have to have deterrents in place and you have to have people who are interested in being present to help these supervised situations.

Honestly, you can’t supervise everything but you know, a lot of the comments…where bullying happens in schools, first it is on the bus. Second, if the kids are walking to school. That’s very important. Locker rooms, bathrooms, playgrounds, OK?

So, you know, if you have like the middle school my son attends, they have got male and female coaches and the coach’s responsibilities are to provide supervision in those locker rooms so that nothing happens.

You know, there don’t have to be police officers. All you’ve got to do is be there. You know it acts as a deterrent, kids are more responsible and you can promote better behavior that way.

You know, teachers too are engaged with the kids. You know, know who your students are, know their names, know their families, you know. That helps.

When the schools… when you have teachers who are much more engaged with the kids and know their families, you know, and they’re comfortable telling the parents “Look. I’ve got to talk to you about a problem with Mary or Johnny today.” Without the parent “Oh my God!”. I mean, they have to be able to let these people know “I’m not here just telling you what a rotten kid you’ve got. I want to help and I can’t help if you don’t know.” OK?

So, there are things like that, you know. A lot of church’s organizations would have youth groups and stuff. We have got more leadership involved for the same reason we do in scouts, you know, sports teams.

You know, one more thing is the local ball park goes for baseball here. They have, at the beginning of year, they have mandatory parental orientation, OK? So, if you signed your kid up to play baseball at this park, you have got to attend a seminar on proper conduct and you know, so forth at the games and practices.

So, you don’t have the idiot parents go “No, kill the raff! Kill the player! Throw your ball! Kill them.” You can’t have that kind of stuff and they have a zero tolerance policy.

I mean, there have been parents who have been banned from the ball park because of their behavior.

You can imagine the example that sets for those kids. So, it’s not like we don’t have means at our disposal to make things better but people have to be proactive about it.

Education certainly can help. Most people think “Oh! My kid would never do that” and my response is “Well, it’s nice you think that but it’s not true. Your child is capable of doing anything any other child is doing.” You know, I will never say “Oh! My child will never do anything wrong.” I know better. I know what I did. OK?

So, there are things people can do and I think the best advice I give parents is don’t ignore this. You know, be familiar with the warning signs of your child being a victim or you child becoming a bully. You know, is your child exhibiting aggressive behavior at home? Is he picking on his siblings? Did you have complaints from the neighbors’ kid’s parents about him pushing them around?

You know, don’t close your eyes to it. You know if you hear your child talking about, you know, things that school ask him, you know. You know anybody is getting beaten up or pushed around or teased or threatened? Has it ever happened to you? I mean, you know, just like we have that talk with our kids about sex, we have to talk with our kids too about this topic.

I find more people, oddly enough more comfortable talking with kids about sex than they are about bullying, you know. Why? I don’t know but it seems to be the case.

You know, my son, he understands that with his little dumb phone that I pick it anytime I want to and go through it and I will see all what’s in there.

You know and I have asked him point blank because a friend of mine’s 14 year old son recently got into some trouble with some things that he said in a text that was broadcast over a bunch of phones and he got a phone call from the Principal of the school about that. Also, one of the parents contacted them about this text that his son had sent out and he wanted him to know. Ok? And I sat my son down and said “Do you ever..?” I asked him if he knew this kid and he said “Well, I knew him from the ball park a long time ago but I haven’t seen him in years.” Ok, I said “Have you ever gotten a text from people that said stuff that kind of freaked out or was upsetting or threatening?”  He said “No”. I said “Would you tell me if he did?” and he said “Yes” I said “That’s ok. So, it’s ok with you if I just, you know, if I see your phone and I can pick it up and look through it? You know make sure that everything is cool?” and he said “Yes. You are paying for it.”

I think parents have to be willing to do that. I have had parents say to me “Oh, my child tells me that’s invasion to their privacy.” I said “You know what, you know, United States may be a democracy but in my house, it’s benevolent dictatorship.”

You know, you get to enjoy the privilege of living here, in exchange, you know, I have the right to look through your computer or look through your phone or look through your drawers or through your backpacks or anything else. You know, until you are out living independently on your own.

CC: A lot of parents would have that problem, I do think.

DM: Yes.

CC: Especially as young people get older, teenagers especially in teenage years, the kids probably want more and more independence and privacy and having that conversation is definitely tougher.

DM: Yes. Oh, yes!

CC: Do you think that there is likely to be long term effects? That you mentioned, you have seen and you worked with the corrections facility. You think there are long term effects then on the victims and the bullies?

DM: Well, the ones for victims are, you know, the most disturbing. I mean, you look at the number of kids, you know, if you look at American Psychiatric Association’s Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder on medication or other but you know, there is an increased number of kids who are being treated for depression and anxiety and I think it’s directly related to social pressures and in bullying, whether it’s direct physical bullying…Frankly, I think it has become more psychological. It’s more threatening, it’s more exclusionary, it’s more undermining kids in their academics or social relationships. A lot of it has to do with sexual activity.

CC: Things have changed in the last few years with technology. We have talked about the internet and the media and texts and smart phones. Do you think ,and I guess a lot of children should not be on social networks until they are over 13 as the terms and conditions say but, do you think that maybe children’s use of the internet is making bullying even faster and as you say more sophisticated?

DM: Very much so. You know, my wife and I agreed a while ago and have put in place, our son does not have a Facebook page, he does not have Twitter account, he is not on Instagram, he is not on Pinterest; he is not on any social networks. He has asked if he could be and our answer is “No, it’s just that you don’t really need that. You know, we just don’t think it’s a good idea.” because frankly, I don’t have the time or the energy to keep up with that stuff and neither does my wife.

So, you know and we only have that one shot. I mean, I can imagine people have, you know, larger family trying to keep up with monitoring their kids’ social networking. You know, you just couldn’t do it.

So, there is no right to Facebook. You know, you don’t have… there is not amendment in the constitution that says “You have the right to be on social media sites at a certain age.”

You know, I’m of the opinion that, you know, if you have got to be 21 to buy alcohol, then you should be 21 to make other adult decisions like whether or not you want to take on responsibility of a social network.

You know, do you really need it? But no, it’s made… it’s just put…cyber bullying has become the biggest form of bullying in my opinion. Probably, the most devastating and it’s so easy to do and you can broadcast it to the world, you know, how big and manly and tough you are because you have got the other kid afraid of you or you can start these absolutely atrocious rumors about people and gossip and all meaner stuff, you know, and tear somebody down and it’s out there forever. How do you ever get rid of that?

You know, I mean, if I put up something on some social network about some girl that broke up with me and what a complete, you know, prostitute she is and how, you know, blablabla. You know, how is that child repair that? How do you fix that? You can’t.

I recommend all parents have got to talk to their kids. They have to be able to have these discussions not just one time. Make it an ongoing subject, “How is school going? Has anything happened?” They need to educate themselves about what the signs of bullying are, both from the victim’s standpoint, from the perpetrator’s standpoint and also the kids who are at risk, the bystanders, because if they are standing and seeing that happening, you know, there is a kind of like a residual smoke.

You know, there is a residual effect. You know, the second hand effect of bullying to the kids who are the bystanders is they live in fear of it, ok?

You know, they keep saying, you know, “It’s going to happen to me,” and I have had parents contacting me about that. “My child is so afraid to go to school not because they are being bullied but they are afraid that they are going to be bullied because they know so and so is getting bullied and so and so,” you know, but they have to educate themselves to the signs of it.

They need to become familiar with the school’s policies on this. They need to be actively involved with their child’s school. They need to seek, you know, quality mental health for their kids if, in fact, they need it. Don’t just go to the cheapest person in town and let your children know that you support them and that you will protect them.

You know that, I think that there is a reason why the homeschooling movement has grown so much. It’s not where bullying has been, you know. Probably the number one marking program for homeschooling. It gets your kids out of situation where they going to be exposed to that stuff and I don’t know how it is in Ireland but homeschooling is growing rapidly here and it is just…

CC: We don’t have homeschooling as much definitely here but also another thing, we don’t have, we don’t generally have, school counsellors in schools either. So, I think…there are a few things that we could take that from the US that would definitely benefit children and society. That’s for sure.

CC: Thanks very much for such a frank and interesting, entertaining and helpful discussion. It’s really a pleasure and we got so much information.

It is really appreciated. If anyone who watches this or reads or listens to the audio, wants to talk to you some more or find out more about you and how they can reach you, where should we send them?

DM: Well, I have a website which is www.springhillbehavioral.net. Can you see that?

CC: Just about, just about, yes and what we will do is make sure we have a live link underneath this video as well. So, people can click straight through

DM: That will be great and you know I do get a lot of contacts from people from all over the place. I have even done some Skype interventions with folks. So, that’s not outside the ring but I will be happy to talk to anybody. They can go to my website. There is a lot of information there and my email address and they can call me and all the good stuff. So, I’m happy, I’m happy to help anybody.

CC: Excellent and we will make sure we have all your details underneath this video and the article as well. Brilliant, thank you again for your time.

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