In Bullying Experts, Understand Bullying

Interview: The People of BCNY on Understanding Bullying

Shane Mehta is a Mental Health Counsellor at The Boys’ Club of New York.  She has his MA and EdM and serves BCNY ’s Harriman Clubhouse, located in New York’s East Village. She speaks to NoBullying.com about the need to understanding bullying. This particular need of understanding bullying can be a very important factor to fighting bullying. 

Understanding Bullying

NoBullying.com: Is bullying as big an issue today as it was say 10 years ago? Do you see a difference in how bullying happens today – for example social media, mobile phones?

Shane Mehta: There is a lot of data out there from different sources reporting the prevalence of bullying and suggesting that bullying is on the rise.  For example according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), bullying increased almost 25% between 2001 and 2007.  However, these numbers could also be the result of more people reporting bullying, rather than an increase in the bullying activity.

Perhaps more importantly, bullying statistics are showing how bullying has taken on a completely different form – cyber bullying. Technology has created a whole new platform through which bullying can take place, a platform that’s more pervasive and intrusive. Before, the bullying would stop when you walked through the front door of your house, but now, with social networking sites and cell phones, bullying can follow kids everywhere.

Media and Bullying

NB: With current media coverage on Bullying and Cyber Bullying is the situation improving?

SM: I am not an expert on bullying statistics, but I will say that the current media coverage has raised awareness amongst educators and those who engage with children to take the matter more seriously than they may have done in the past. Before adults typically viewed bullying as a part of “growing pains’ and growing up we were taught to just ignore bullies, but now times are a lot more different and bullying, especially cyber bullying, is harder to just ignore.

Consequences and Results

NB: Have you knowledge of any severe cases and consequences of Bullying?

SM: There are many cases out there that have shown the serious consequences of bullying, such as the case of the 15-year-old girl in Canada who committed suicide last September after posting a YouTube video detailing her experience being blackmailed and bullied. Another case involved another 15-year-old in Staten Island who walked in front of a bus while holding a suicide note. These are only two cases which have gotten national attention, of course.

We faced something similar at BCNY last year.  One of our members (the boys who attend the Boys’ Club are considered “members”) took his own life after being relentlessly bullied and teased at school for being “short” and “brainy.” While the actual bullying happened outside of our walls, it still hit the kids and the staff really hard.

I remember talking to both adults and other members about this boy’s death.  We invited the kids who were really struggling with the loss to talk about the good memories they had of their friend, and encouraged them to keep those close.  Reaffirming positive memories is crucial to any grief management. Also, there were some boys who were confused about their role in the young man’s death.  We spent some time explaining to these boys that this tragedy was not their fault, and their only responsibility was to mourn if they needed.

Coaching

NB: What is the best advice to give a child who is being bullied?

SM: We teach our boys to speak to a trusting adult and get help. Don’t be afraid to speak up! As for children who witness other children being bullied, we tell boys to be an ally and either stand up for him/her or get help; don’t just be a witness.

While it’s never appropriate to try to mediate a meeting between the bully and the bullied, we will sometimes inform both parents of the situation.  More often the bullying is taking place at school, in which case I might suggest some resources to the boy’s parent as well as working with the boy himself.

NB: Is there likely to be long term effects on children who are Bullied?How should we go about understanding bullying?

SM: Without immediate and effective intervention, bullying takes a toll on a child’s social and emotional development. Kids might be withdrawn, shy, and overly clingy to adults.  In addition to low self-esteem, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and poor school performance, long term they are at a higher risk for mental health problems such as depression,  anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia. When not addressed, this can lead to personally destructive behaviour, and even suicide.

Steps to Respect Week

NB: Can you tell us about your after school anti bullying program – what is included? How is it created? 

SM: The mission of The Boys’ Club of New York has been—and continues to be—to engage at-risk boys, offering them a community that is not only safe, but also encouraging and challenging.

Part of creating a safe space is making sure our clubhouses are bully-free environments. When I joined BCNY, I took this on as pet project.  I had a close family friend who suffered tremendously at the hands of bullies, and I feel passionately about teaching kids about the consequences of bullying.

I spent weeks researching bullying—I read books and articles, looked at other program models, and discussed it at length with my Clinical Supervisor.  We have some bullying at the clubhouses, but I felt that an awareness program would be most valuable for BCNY’s community.  With all of this in mind, I developed a week-long program with activities for each of the age groups we serve (we serve boys age 6 through 10): Steps to Respect.  I brought the idea to the rest of BCNY’s Mental Health Department, and together we developed the program activities.

During Steps to Respect Week, which we piloted at just one of our three Clubhouses in the Spring of 2012, members engaged in activities geared towards bullying-awareness and character education, with a focus on teaching tolerance, kindness, and respect. In addition to teaching members the skills to manage bullying, problem solve, and make friends, our goals also included educating our staff and parents on bullying prevention and intervention techniques through workshops and trainings.

Our anti-bully efforts have expanded and this past fall marked out second annual Steps to Respect Week. Our Explorers, ages 6 – 9, learned about bullying and ways they can take action against bullying through puppets and role-playing. Our Juniors, ages 10 – 12, learned what it means to stereotype and label without really knowing a person, and they too learned what they could do to take action against bullying. Our Teens, ages 13 -20, focused on the dangers of making assumptions while reflecting on what assumptions have been made about them, and they worked together to develop an anti-slur policy for their department.

One of the most successful activities—success being measured by engagement and retention—was an activity we did with the youngest boys, called Greenie, which I adapted from an exercise I encountered during my research.  I created a giant green two-dimensional figure—Greenie—and stuck it to a wall. I asked each kid to come up to Greenie and insult it while ripping a piece of Greenie off.  After every kid had bullied Greenie, we talked about ways to apologize, and each kid got a chance to apologize to Greenie, and taped their ripped off piece back on to the doll.  At the end of the exercise, Greenie was whole again, but the scars from their insults were still visible, despite their often heartfelt apologies.  It was a powerful lesson for many of them.

Steps to Respect week is a fun way to raise awareness of the issue and it has helped to create a sense of community within the clubhouses. However, I know that the only way there can be long-term impact is if we continue to reinforce the lessons introduced during the Steps to Respect week. Happily, we’ve started incorporating these concepts into our year-long programming. Members work on skills such as empathy and communication, learn how to consider and respect other opinions and perspectives, have an appreciation for diversity, and practice problem solving during regular activities.

BCNY is committed to training our staff on how to recognize, respond to, and address bullying, how to reinforce BCNY’s policy on bullying, and how to model the skills we are aiming to teach our members. We also provide individualized mental health services for members who experience bullying and members who bully others, regardless of whether the bullying is happening here or at school.

NB: How do the children react to it – what are the results?

SM: Because Steps to Respect is a new program, and because bullying can’t be “cured” in a week, it’s difficult to enumerate the successes of BCNY’s anti-bullying programming. That said, I have seen some significant changes.  Boys are quicker to identify bullying and call it out or approach an adult and inform them of the situation.  Also, I’m seeing a lot more parents get involved when bullying becomes a problem for their children.  Parents will join me in my office, or talk to our Clubhouse director about what they can do, rather than letting their son work it out alone.  And the staff is taking bullying much more seriously, modelling positive behaviours for their members.

Boys Club NewYork  Interview: The People of BCNY on Understanding Bullying bcny

Boys Club NewYork

You can find Shane’s work and more information about Boys Club NewYork at the following links:

Facebook: facebook.com/BoysClubNewYork

Twitter: @BoysClubNY

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