How to Stop a Bully
There’s been a lot of talk lately about bullies and bullying overall. How could there not be after such incidents as the suicide of Phoebe Prince and similar cases where the phenomenon has driven such young people to take their own lives? No doubt that legislators will take the cue to make an election year statement, self-proclaimed experts will made bold pronouncements to get attention and sell books, and others offering quick fixes, buzzwords, and other verbal bromides.
The trouble with all of this is that once the pontificating and finger-pointing is over, instead of more being done than said about the problem, it will end up a matter of far more said than done about it. And despite the expensive campaigns and anti-bullying programs, none of them will end up being any more successful at stopping the problem than any other.
How to Stop a Bully: More Evidence
According to a report recently issued by the University of Oregon that reexamined results of several earlier studies evaluating the effectiveness of bullying intervention programs in the United States and Europe, over a 25-year period ending in 2008, virtually none measured any effectivness at reducing the behavior. In fact, the study also found that many teachers reported an increase in the number of bullying cases after such programs were held.
European studies are slightly more sanguine in their evaluations of bullying and related behaviors. According to a study released in 2008 by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, there was reason for more optimism. Unfortunately, an evaluation of this report done by Dorothy Esplanage of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, said that there is no reason to believe that the solutions found to be workable in the study were based on findings delivered from the country of Norway, a nation with a far more homogeneous population than that of the United States.
This summary is in line with Esplanage’s findings since she is considered an expert in the field of bullying with more than 17 years of study in the field. She admits, “It’s a mess. I want to bang my head against the wall.”
How to Stop a Bully: The Nature of the Beast
Despite her frustrations, Esplanage remains committed to finding answers to the problem of bullying and the deadly consequences it can have, resulting in not only suicide, but homicide as well. She points to recent cases in which victims of bullying have brought weapons to school in order to retaliate against their tormentors. Examples include the shooters at Columbine High School and others.
One of the main problems with watching cases like Phoebe Prince, Columbine, and others is determining whether the phenomenon of bullying is actually getting worse or if it is simply amplified by the media coverage. One way to evaluate this is to go back to the definition of bullying and see where it has taken us.
Bullying is defined as “the deliberate and repeated acts of aggression and intimidation against someone less powerful,” which remains clear. It is also important to note that bullying is normally an activity that has its main impetus in the middle school years, when a young person’s peer groups and his sense of identification with them tends to be stronger. This makes their influence on that young person greater to a great extent stronger than either parents or teachers.
It is obvious that bullying is nothing new, and it could be debated whether bullying is even on the rise. What is clear is that the Internet culture that we find ourselves in today has brought a new and higher level of bullying to the forefront. An example of this influence might be a situation from several years ago when a young person would walk down the street, fearful that bullies would harrass them about some embarrasment–real or imagined–that they might have suffered. Today, mainly through the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and others, bullying can continue to an even greater extent nonstop, with greater assurances that everyone within a young person’s peer group has gotten the message.
How to Stop a Bully: Rethinking the Problem
A great deal of the problem facing those who attempt to come up with answers to the bullying issue is the level of the thinking involved. Clearly, in great deal due to the ferocity of the changes brought about by the phenonmenon of the social media, researchers have to a great extent been left in the dust with their answers. It’s kind of like attempting to solve the problem of higher numbers of deaths on America’s highways with research done from the days of the horse and buggy.
As a result, the model of what happens when the modern bully attempts to intimidate a victim must be reevaluated and solutions arrived at from a more modern perspective. Clearly, what has been done thus far is not working. For example, when we run campaigns urging young people to shun bullys it ignores elements of the problem such as the nature of a bully’s power. For example, if a bully is exercising intimidation of a victim in the hallway of a school, part of his power is the support he gains from other students that witness the intimidation. This gives the bully more incentive to keep up his actions. In fact, this only strengthens the social status that he gains from his actions. Unfortunately, the current thinking is that shunning by the thicket of onlookers would take this power away from the bully, stigmatizing him. The trouble is that the chances in the real world of that thicket of kids shunning the bully are slim and none since vocalizing their objections to the bully’s actions are most often likely to make them a victim also.
So, here we are at square one again. If the broad-brush approach to stigmatizing bullys by their peers hasn’t worked, what will? The answer might be found in building the willingness of those bystanders to intervene on behalf of the victim and against the bully. Further, this must be done by a majority of the bystanders since only small number probably won’t change the bully’s actions, especially if those who do intervene don’t come from the bully’s peer group. It is also important to remember that the actions of the bystanders are not always based on support, but also on fear.
Most of the science being done in this area support this type of approach. Unfortunately, it might also be more a matter of scientist’s wishful thinking than reality. After all, when a bully is targeting a victim, who is going to micro-analyze the field of bystanders to determine which are passive onlookers and which are actively supporting the actions of the bully.
One approach that might be of some benefit is one that has grown in effectiveness in Finland called KiVa, which is aimed at identifying those who are actively involved in bullying–ringleaders, sidekicks, and victims–and putting them through a series of discussions that highlight these roles. There is considerable debate over whether such an approach would work in the United States, especially given the amount of diversity here, but considering that nothing else has worked, it might be worth the effort.
An important factor in the effectiveness of this approach is the staff of schools who monitor classrooms, hallways, and other areas where bullying takes place. More importantly, this approach will require that the members of school staffs rethink the social landscape of their schools with an eye towards identifying who plays what roles and stopping them when bullying occurs.
Unfortunately, this approach might result in a palatable groan from the members of school staffs who are clearly overwhelmed with the responsibilities that they are already burdened with. Further, how can a staff that is primarily responsible for teaching a subject be expected to monitor social landscapes as well? Shouldn’t parents and other play a role as well? The trouble with this is that parents don’t often see their youngsters when they are interacting with schoolmates. There is also the issue of being unwilling to admit that their child is the problem, not the solution, which brings the conversation back to teachers. Bullying prevention is yet another big job that we can ask teachers to take an active role in, but it must be done, especially if there will be any chance of the problems associated with bullying can be minimized, if not made a thing of the past. This is How to Stop a Bully now!
Sources: The Boston Globe