In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Jill Kristall on Bullying Children

Jill Kristal, with over 15 years of experience in clinical psychology talks to about Bullying Children and Teaching children how to deal with their emotions.

The Interview on Bullying Children can be found here and here.

Below is a transcript of the interview on Bullying Children: 

Jill Kristal: Hi, I am doctor Jill Kristal. I am a US trained clinical psychologist. I have been in practice for 25 plus years. I work with children and adults and I also spent 12 years living in London, England where I was head of the American counseling center and I think that exposure working in the two different countries has really just not kind of given me a good understanding of both of the different culture involved but also given me a perspective on bullying in a couple of different places.

Ciaran Connolly: Thank you for joining us today it is very much appreciated. Do you think that bullying is as big an issue today as it was maybe 10 or 15 or 20 years ago?

JK: Well, I think it is a bigger issue and I think because of social media and the huge number of ways that kids have to interact that is not face to face, I think it has actually made it a worse and more difficult issue.

CC: Do you see a difference today on how bullying happens? You mentioned social media and text as well.

JK: Yes and the other thing you keep hearing about social media is that when you put something on social media, it doesn’t go away and that kids are also at much more liberty to say things and do things that they might not do face to face and this is kind of, in what I’m reading and what I keep hearing about, is some of the real difficulties that are caused by social media that kids will put things out there and will say things in ways that they wouldn’t face to face. I actually saw a couple of programs, one was a CNN program that the CNN had done a few years ago, where they took a group of pre-teen girls, so like 10 to 12 year old girls, and they paired them with college students and…they had two sets of girls who had never met and set them up with these college students and then kind of set them up in situations where they would start kind of bullying each other, kind of set up scenarios where kind of things where being said and the producers of the program as well as the college students were shocked by what these girls are doing online and the degree to which they took kind of a level of nastiness and the college students said that kind of even 5 years earlier when they were kind of pre-teens or early teen years, that they didn’t have the same access, the same kind of social media access, so they couldn’t do those kind of things and they were just amazed by the level of meanness and the out and out kind of desire to really hurt somebody because they didn’t have to be face to face. At the end of the program, they brought all of these tween girls together who also commented on the fact that they were surprised in themselves because they weren’t typically girls who considered themselves to be mean girls but in this scenario, they kind of realized that they took things much further than they would have otherwise. It was pretty fascinating.

CC: It is very interesting. I guess with our culture, maybe again our media and environment and everything around us, we are making or allowing young people to be very vicious or leading by example even because I see adults also engaging in social media in a very tough way sometimes.

JK: Absolutely and I think again that old saying “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.” Words…

JK: Words are incredibly hurtful. Words are all what we have to harm each other and in a pre- teen girls, I think even so more than boys, tend to be very verbally adapt and they will use those skills unfortunately a lot of time in really unpleasant ways.

Bullying Children Online

CC: You mentioned earlier people maybe don’t realize always that what they post online is there forever. Do you think that children and a lot of people realize this or forget it or maybe people don’t know?

JK: I think a lot of people don’t realize that. I think also kids don’t really understand the power of the technology they are using. I think also that sometimes the other thing about social media is that whole groups of people can be involved. There was another program I watched that other night about Twitter and kind of one aspect of Twitter for all its greatness is kind of people who are starting to use it in this negative way and in a bullying way and they were interviewing a group of school children where the bullying got so rough that I believe a child committed suicide over what was being said and the question then becomes “Who is responsible? Is it the person who sends out the tweet or puts the post on Facebook or the other people who read it, passed it along, commented on it, and added their own thoughts. So, I think a lot of times kids get involved or they get pulled in somewhat innocently and don’t realize kind of the impact of what they are doing and I think also the child on the receiving end or the adult on the receiving end kind of suddenly realizes that their whole social network kind of has seen this parade of comments. So, something again that might have been between one or two people, suddenly the humiliation of knowing your entire social group knows this or people you don’t even know kind of know what is being said about you perhaps even without knowing you can be truly devastating.

CC: You are right. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was one on one and you could maybe get off a school bus or come home and things were…you are being in a safe zone but now it is 24/7 and there is no safe zone.

JK: Exactly and I think another issue is that parents very often think “No, not my child. My darling Suzie wouldn’t participate in that kind of thing” and so I don’t know that parents are vigilant enough either and it is a real issue because you want to give your kids freedom. You don’t want to be monitoring every single thing they do because they do need to kind of have experience and learn how to use these tools and learn how to use them correctly, but there needs to be a certain amount of just checking in to see what is going on. I also think that kids need to understand kind of how these things can flip out of control and how they need to be able to feel that there is an adult they can go to. So often kids that I work with feel like “If there is a problem, I don’t want to tell grown up because I will be in trouble or I will get my friends in trouble”. So, that’s a message too that we want to work on to shift either through the schools so that schools have somebody that kids can go to or the parents are sending that message that “We are here regardless of what happens”.

CC: This is it and it is a joint action between parents and schools not finger pointing at one or the other and that if one of those parties is not involved or engaging, the message might not get through.

JK: Well, in that way it’s another whole issue which I’ve heard schools address which is the whole balladry of: is this happening? Is this a school issue? It happened among school kids, it happened among classmates but it didn’t happen at school, it didn’t happen on school property but those boundaries are so diffused now that I don’t think that it is right for a school to say “It is not our problem” and so there needs to be collaboration.

CC: We have the same here. I think it is called the duty of care and it is where the responsibility of the parent handing over the child to the school in the morning and the same in the evening and you are right. Bullying out of schools tends to be people who go together in one school but it can be now, especially with cyber bullying, can be late at night, offline, off school and weekends where this never happened before. So, education definitely is the key for everyone I think. You deal with people who move locations a lot, locally, nationally, internationally. Is bullying something they need to be aware of for their children and I am thinking ‘the new kid in school’ for example?

JK: You know, it is a really interesting question and I have actually kind of been prompted by you and your organization to start looking into this because it is not something that I’ve heard a lot about and part of me thinks that there may not be as much bullying because a lot of kids when they move they go to international schools and so they are coming across kids from all different cultures and the schools make such an effort to bring kids in and get kids to know each other. On the other hand, kids are kids and bullying occurs and so I am sure that it is an issue. I think that it may be an issue between kids who have been in these schools for a longer period of time versus kids who are coming into these schools and don’t kind of know the ropes. I think it’s also a bigger issue anytime you are the new kid in school whether you are moving internationally or moving to a new city where perhaps the way you dress is a little bit different perhaps the way you talk, your accent, is little bit different or kind of the big things for kids is kind of knowing what is cool and what’s in and the music may be different or the dances may be different or kind of what people are doing can be slightly different and so if you are not in the know, that can make you a target. The other way that kids can become targets, particularly new kids, is if they kind of in their effort to fit in, sometimes kids can try too hard and they can come in as know-it-alls or seeming like know-it-alls to other kids and maybe they are just talking about their own life experience but for kids who don’t have this experience, it can seem like you are trying to show off. So, that is I think one susceptible group. The other susceptible group in any school is also kids who are different either because of physical difficulties, learning challenges, emotional challenges or because they look different or they are awkward or kind of don’t pick up on the social queues as readily. Those kids tend to get ostracized pretty quickly. Also, as another program I saw a number of years ago about the ability to read social queues and so we are not talking verbal, we are talking total non-verbal the behavioral quos that we send a thousand times a day without even knowing. If you are a person that has trouble reading those queues, you are going to be or are much more likely to be singled out and kind of not accepted. Those are the kids who tend to get bullied more often unfortunately.

CC: What ideas would you have or what would you say to parents or to kids who are moving abroad. What do they have to do to fit in? Is it to learn about the country or what should a child or a family who are moving abroad or moving from state to state, what should they do?

JK: Absolutely. Well, I think the state-to-state part is really interesting because state-to-state and English speaking country to English speaking country is actually much more difficult than moving to a place where the culture is totally different. We think that it should be easy but the truth is that the differences are much more subtle and we think we speak the same language but we don’t actually even kind of state-to-state or county-to-county. Things are different and so parents very often just assume that kids are going to fit in, that kids are going to school, it is a school setting that has lots of opportunities. Kids don’t feel that way at all. Kids, and adults, everybody has his fear about moving to new places and not being able to make any friends. So, parents want to do what they can in advance to help kids kind of absolutely learn about the place they are going, learn about the culture, learn about the school you are going in to, try to make a connection before you start school so you can have somebody, you maybe can by e-mailing or Skyping with or even meet before you move, who can give you an idea about what is in, what are kids doing, how are kids behaving, what do they like to do so that you can have an idea about those social situations before you move and then once you get into the new situation, understand that making friends takes time and that is what the kids I work with, and adults too, is that they go “Well, I have been here for two weeks and I don’t have a best friend yet. What is wrong? What is wrong with me?” or they just reject everybody “I don’t like anybody here anyway”. Friendships are not easy. It takes time. So, to really give it that time, I always suggest being an observer. Kind of sit back, see if you can figure out what the different social groups are, see if you can figure out who the nicer kids are, see if you can figure out who is doing things that you might be interested in and also kind of join in clubs and doing activities that brings you together with kids that share your interest is also an easier way to meet people.

CC: Of course and even I guess if someone left the US and went to a different country for a number of years, coming back might be as big a challenge again because things would have changed, friendships will have been lost; so many changes that it is the same as moving again

JK: I have to ask if you have ever lived abroad.

CC: I have lived in multiple countries sadly. So, I am speaking from experience, yes.

JK: Absolutely and the reason I know that because people who haven’t moved or who haven’t moved back ‘home’ don’t understand that at all and then in fact the research shows and my personal experience says that moving home is harder than moving away because of the expectation that “I am at home. How hard can that be?” and it is extraordinarily difficult and so I always advise people to treat moving home as if you are moving to a new place and don’t treat it as you are going back to where you came from for exactly the reasons that you said. Things have changed, people have changed, you are not the same, you are older, and your family is in a different position and absolutely. I spent my entire first year in the US. I have been out of the country for 12 years, kind of wandering around. Every single situation I went into saying “I am new here. Can you help me?” I actually went to the post office one day and asked for the price of the first class stamp and I said “I am new here. What is the price of the first class stamp?” and she told me and I asked “What is the price of the second class stamp?” and she said “Wow! You really are new here”, she said, “We don’t have second class stamps in America”.

CC: And probably even as well, there is a burden of pressure that you left home for a reason to explore new opportunities and take over the world of course and you are coming back home and if you haven’t achieved your goals and I guess objectives, there is an added pressure that you are coming back and maybe even people have to deal with the idea of failure as well. So, I can definitely understand what you are saying there.

JK: Yes, absolutely. There is that and also when you are sitting in a dinner conversation and you are talking about skiing for example. Now in America, people are skiing in Vermont or they are skiing in Utah or Colorado, but your skiing experience was in Switzerland, Bozel, somewhere in France, and that sounds really snotty to the people in your home country sitting at the table. So, they feel again like you are bragging when you are just talking about your life experience. So, I always caution people to kind of temper that because again particularly for kids in school, you don’t want to be seen as a know-it-all. I am going to share another personal example. My daughter and I living in London, we did a lot of traveling. We went to Luxor, Egypt on a holiday as one does, had a great time. When we came back to the states, one of her teachers was talking about having been to Luxor and my daughter raised her hand and said “I went to Luxor”. It turned out that her teacher was talking about the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas when Nancy was talking about Luxor Egypt. So, there was an awkward moment there.

CC: And do you think that adults, we have talked about children, that adults when they are moving in nationally or internationally, might have problems fitting in with work and even maybe getting bullied or what?

JK: Absolutely, the research also shows that kind of while companies send people abroad to gain experience, that the majority of companies do a really poor job of re-integrating those employees when they come back to the home country and the home company and that within a year to two years, a significant majority of people leave the company for other opportunities. So again, you’ve gone abroad, you have this intercultural experience, you have knowledge in what you have done kind of in this other setting, you have kind of wealth in knowledge and experience that you want to bring back and if it is not welcomed or accepted, it makes it very difficult and I think again for companies, the people who are selected to go abroad versus people who are not given that opportunity, I think that can create a divide. I think also when people go abroad, there are others who either consciously or unconsciously either feel badly that they didn’t have that opportunity or feel like they never could have accepted that sort of opportunity but that can also come back as negative behavior directed your way. It can come back as subtle comments or kind of being ignored, I see that a lot, and that’s not direct bullying it is a bullying of a fashion. If you are left out of meetings, not included in an e-mail, those things start to take a toll after a while.

CC: Of course. If that is happening to someone, what can they do? Do they speak to their boss or do they need to find a new job? Is that the easy option?

JK: I think most people unfortunately end up finding a new job and again it is interesting because if you have a boss who has been abroad, very often that boss will get it. If you have a boss who haven’t, very often they don’t and this is true too again kind from a state to state move or county to county move. That there are real differences and there are subtle differences in the culture and until you can figure that out it can be very difficult. So, there is a couple of things I would suggest in a work situation. One is to try and talk to your boss and kind of see where that gets. Try and talk to other people who may have been abroad and see if that had a similar sort of experience and if so, how did they handle it. Also, a lot of companies have employee assistance programs that I know are, because I work with a number of them and I know they are very underutilized and a lot of these have international components to them and so you might be able to set up a counseling session with someone kind of through there. They can help you navigate through that tricky terrain.

CC: Very interesting. You need perspective on what could happened in so many people’s lives especially in the current economic situation, people are having to move and if anyone wanted to find out more or talk to you or to reach you, what is the best way for them to do that?

JK: You can reach me at [email protected] or go to my website

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