In Expert Interviews

Judi Lirman on Bully Awareness

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Judi Lirman is a Marriage and Family Therapist who is in practice in the San Fernando Valley.  In her own words she introduces herself “When someone in the family has a problem, the entire household has that issue. Life brings bumps, curves, and rough spots.  As a psychotherapist, I respect the courage and strength it takes for you to come to counseling.  I seek to build an empathetic and respectful relationship with my clients. Everyone comes to the table with strengths and weaknesses. We use your strengths and skills to move forward into a happier, more productive, and fulfilling life.” She Talks to NoBullying about Bully Awareness.

Below is a transcript of her interview with Ciaran Connolly, Co-Founder of NoBullying.com on everything related to Bully Awareness. 

Judi Lirman:Good morning Ciaran, it’s nice to meet you; I’m Judi Lirman and I’m a marriage, family therapist in California, my office is in San Fernando Valley which is the LA area. I’m a bit of an expert in bullying; I have been a licensed marriage, family therapist since 1983 and prior to that I was in the public schools, I was a junior high school teacher for 13 years and I got to see bullying and have continued to see bullying up close in personal, it is a major problem in The United States and unfortunately it shows not much transitive signed out for quite some time,

I can tell you quite a bit about it, when would you like me to begin?

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent, well I guess if we would start with asking; is bullying as bigger issue today as it was 10 or 15 years ago? Or when you were a teacher and working in the schools, do you see a difference today than it was back then?

JL:Yes even more problem now than it was, when I was in school myself when I was teaching social media had not come into play, I stopped teaching back in 1983 and there was a great deal of bullying on campus, kids would be teased by others on occasionally would have been thrown at them or (nasty words said) to them but now it’s increased with all the social media because it follows the kids home, there is no way to get beyond it, it’s also because our society is changed become more brutal than it used to be, on occasion it would be initially, it would be name calling, it would be a little shoving, it would be dumping things on the floor but now some of the things that people say are truly horrendous is suggest they kill themselves, they tell them everybody hates them and they get bombarded by everything and everybody and instead of just being one or a small group it becomes the whole community and as we know with the internet it’s certainly once it’s out there it’s there forever so it’s much more vicious, it’s much more light spread and it’s not just the people who know the child so it’s there all over the place.

CC: Amazing so you see a big difference today with social media and with mobile phones and how people are bullying and what’s happening to our young people?

JL: Very much so and we have many kids who resort to take in step to trying stop it. Unfortunately a lot of people in authority positions don’t know what to do and kids who bully and sometimes adults who bully are very secretive about it, they watch for when people are looking at them or they know that they can get away and say something that’s very different or very hurtful, do things that are very hurtful. The schools are trying to do a great deal about it but it’s very difficult to stop because nobody admits to the fact that they are doing it and on occasion sometimes administration doesn’t step in at all, doesn’t see it as a problem. When I was teaching, when I was a child I saw that an awful lot of people thought the bullying was just a normal part of growing up but the way it is now; it is not normal bullying and it’s truly an uncomfortable thing in the world.

CC: You view some excellent points, you have said that society… you feel society has gotten more violent. Do you thing that’s through maybe computer games now? There is a lot of violence in computer games and movies; it seems the next movie is almost find to be more graphic in what it is portraying than the previous year or the years before and even society ourselves we seem to be very… some people are very angry and just go crazy, you think our society really is changing and maybe changing for the worst from that prospect?

JL: I think there is a lot of that going on; yes video games, movies, TV are more violent, more graphic so I think there is some numbing of the senses, I also think that anger is very overt at this point; we have a lot of anger at some of other things that have happened with terrorism, with the economy, things are causing a great deal of stress in people’s lives and they don’t know quite what to do with it and very frequently you will find that aggression and stress permeates a whole environment, kids in the school, people at work or wanting to be at work don’t know what to do with their frustration and so they lash out, it’s  at least over here there is a great deal of anger but more than that nobody educates on how to deal with it and so they take some of the things that they have seen on TV and in various media forms and use those or copy those so yes I do think it’s growing difficulty and I think at least in this country there is an aspect of and it may be unpopular to say there is a little bit of playing cowboy with some of the mentality that goes in The United States because we do indeed see guns as an option that’s a little bit glamorous; it’s not glamorous it’s very dangerous and it sets up violence rather than negotiations.

Bully Awareness Explained

CC: And does a lot of media covered and we see it hear coming out of the US on cases of bullying and cyber bullying that have happened in many different states. Do you think that all this press coverage is actually helping improve or fight against bullying and making it more aware? Or is it also a negative… don’t say there is been glamorize a little bit.

JL: You know what that’s a double edge sword; you are raising some really good points because without awareness nobody steps in and does anything and now there are some education programs; we are going to the schools, we are going to PTAs (Parents and Teachers association) and to social service groups, all sorts of different places and programs are being set up however it also gives some model and it’s a little bit of yes it’s ok to do because other people are doing and isn’t it fun, it also encourages people by giving them models and tells them how they can find things to do, it’s also become a world with there is a lot of anonymity and many people said that they can do things without ever getting caught, today if you hired the right people, if the police get involved and they are bringing the right staff things can be tracked on the social media, on the internet but I do think it’s a double edge sword and without it nobody was taking it seriously.

CC: And do you think is cyber bullying as dangerous as everyone fears? Should we be as a feared of cyber bullying and the potential of bullying online as it’s made out again in the press?

JL: Yes I do; I absolutely do, people can say the most heinous, the most hideous things to people and it is not just done when it’s face to face it’s on… what they call swarming where if they will get them on their cell phones and almost every child has a cell phone particularly with parents working so much, parents want to know how their kids are doing so they are staying in touch with the cell phone so they get it through texting, they get it through messages, they get it on their computers, they get it on their iPads. I was shocked to find out talking with one of my clients; a young man he is into all sorts of games, all usual kinds of games and when the characters in these role playing games communicate with each other on the internet, they can have direct conversations so on occasion they will also tone to each other through the game and on occasion they will bring other people in who are online and they will get a particular character and there is no way to stop any of this, you can block it if you know where it is coming from but you can’t because it comes from so many different sources. What kids have done some have become intensely depressed, very anxious, many kids were afraid to go to school, afraid that everybody knows what’s being put online, there are kids who cut themselves and it’s surprising how many parents don’t know that their kids are cutting because they will do it in the privacy of their room and as long as they wear long pants or long sleeves nobody sees what they have done and what the cutting manages to do is take the pain away from what’s going on and it takes the pain away for the moment, it distracts them; at least of feeling something else, a different kind of thing than fear or anxiety and some kids are going all the way and killing themselves and unfortunately there are so many available sources at this point of things that are deadly, there a lot of them succeed and that’s tragic.

CC: Definitely and you mentioned earlier about young people getting depressed and eventually starting to cut themselves, if a parent found a child or seen this happened or suspect this is happening; what should… how should a parent approach that? Because of course I’m sure the first thing is per panic; what’s happened.

JL: It is indeed per panic; obviously the first thing you do is make sure that there isn’t medical that needs to be taken care of so you do that and then you start talking about the “whys” and the “where” for it and sometimes the child will open up but an awful a lot of kids don’t talk about bullying, they feel that they must have caused it someway themselves or they are ashamed of it or it will just encourage people to bully them more and no one likes to appear weak so many kids hide it, if they will talk to you and you have an open relationship that’s wonderful but very often there are needs to be some kind of professional intervention, there are also list of therapist who specialized in dealing with adolescents and with young kids and I see it happening in very young ages, the youngest I have seen is in kinder garden and it goes all the way through. Obviously you also have to pull the school; if it’s associated with school into it and insisted something happen if hasn’t… doesn’t get taken care of . On occasion you will find there is something going on with adults and the child may not be wanting to tell on the adults or older friends who they get to know an you need to be in touch with them also and on occasion it gets reported.

One of the most awful cases I think I ever ran into was a little boy in 8th grade now he… excuse me not 8th grade 3rd grade; he was ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and indeed was having some difficulties socially but the teacher in his classroom intercepted a note and the note was talking about so and so is having a birthday party this weekend; it’s a swim party, let’s all sign this note that we agree we are going to drown this child, fortunately the teacher intercepted the note, almost everyone in the classroom had signed the pledge that they were going to participate, now this is a pool party in somebody’s house with their graters, chances are it never would have happened but what an awful thing to even think of and they may have tried, most of the parents were called in and they apologized profusely except for the leader of the group and his mother said “Well you know that was a really annoying child, he deserved it” the school was not pleased, the school punished the child and suspended him for a little bit and he was never allowed to go back and all the school office couldn’t participate in any of the sports and it was mostly because the parents were letting the child run free and they couldn’t trust him to do everything and the little boy who would was happening to never knew because how do you tell a child everybody in your class wanted to kill you, you can’t.

CC: Amazing and just so any listeners outside of the US system know what age group would be 3rd grade?

JL: 3rd grade would be about 10.

CC:And kindergarten; what age is that?

JL:Kindergarten starts here I guess I’m giving you a discrepancy on age there, kindergarten typically starts at 5 so 3rd grade will probably closer to 8.

CC: Very good, just to get an idea. Wow, imagine kids in that age are writing notes like that it’s very scary.

JL: Very scary and it only as the kids get more verbal and more physically capable they get more aggressive and more able to carry something out physically.

Communities and Bully Awareness

CC: This is very true and you talked about groups and communities and even just before when we were talking about social media. When a case like this where people… someone post something or makes a comment or is targeting one person and a group of people join in and it becomes like a group bullying, are they as each individual as guilty or as you know how to explain it or describe this but again is everyone as guilty as the person who come up with the idea in the first place? Because it is very easy on a social network to see a post and to like it or to write a comment or to retweet it or to engage on a post without maybe even thinking and I’m just thinking that someone can post something or write a note and within 5 minutes maybe 20 or 30 people have engaged and it seems like a gang or group or supporting this activity and of course for the person who is targeted, it must be very tough.

JL: It is very tough, certainly the person who initiates it has I would think more responsibility in terms of thinking of it and putting it out there and children at the age of 3 now know how to log on and do things so it’s not as if they are generally unaware how I spread things out however people do get involved in mass kinds of things:

  1. Because peer pressure is important and they like to join into a group so that’s part of it but it’s also that some are afraid that they will be the next target if they don’t do it and that’s even… that’s awful too and bullies typically look for anyone who they can push around and someone who will join in or at least stand by and watch and do nothing, runs the risk of being the next one.

CC: Of course and do you think that bystanders then… by actually doing nothing and letting things happen are again somewhat guilty to what’s happening?

JL: I do and I know that a lot of people are afraid to do anything but there was an interesting study done; they took some actors who look like they were high school students and they assigned them in pairs, one was supposed to be the bully, one was supposed to be the victim and they put them in with a group of actual students, the bully started picking on the victim actor and the victim of course responded, in some cases people joined in; they actually participated and bullied, there… what was the most interesting is that… is when even one person; another student stood next to the victim, nobody else participated, all of the group bullying disappeared and didn’t start and if somebody spoke up and said something that was very influential but just the presence of somebody standing next to silently with the victim made it much better which was really very interesting, they also ran the study; ran these experiments with someone who played a teacher, when the teacher saw it happening and did nothing the bullying continued, when the teacher stepped in the bullying stopped until the teacher walked out of the room and then it started again, the most important thing that you can do was to have a fellow student step up and interfere.

CC: Amazing so there is a lot to learn in human’s psychology and not experiments so very interesting.

JL: Very interesting, the other thing that goes with this is bullying….there is a great deal of publicity that goes on with the bullying in the schools and the cyber bullying, you have to realize that it continues through life, it also goes into the workplace and it goes into home life and what causes bullying hard to tell, sometimes it’s because the child is bullied himself or has a great deal of anger about being the keeper of the family’s secrets or the one who has no ability to do anything and sometimes it’s just the weaker person who gets bullied and that extents also.

CC: Are you actually offered talks and presentations on stop bullying? And are people generally interested in hearing how to stop bullying? Is it something that people genuinely interested and wanted trying to stop?

JL: Very much so, this is one of the things that publicity has helped with, there are also great many parents who goes seeking assistance, I have spoken in schools, I have spoken at universities and service organizations, at one school I went in and educated the entire 8th grade class, we went in to each 8th grade classroom a couple of weeks in a row to talk about it and in fact the parents who started the group to deal with “How to intervene?” and this particular school is a wonderful place, they bring people in to make sure that nothing goes on and there is no tolerance situation in that particular school and they will not only help the child who is being bullied they will step in and trying get some counseling on occasion for the child who is the bully.

Can Schools help with Bully Awareness ?

CC: So very proactive school or school leadership, did you see that’s working? They bring experts like yourself to talk and educate the children and they have no policy and no tolerance policy and then actually trying help the person… the target and the bully as well so very I guess proactive school leadership in trying to stop bullying and that’s how you see it?

JL: I do indeed, it’s enormously proactive and it’s probably the school I have seen the least bullying at because of it and it is a wonderful place to be for these kids. I think part of what goes on is that people really… because we have all our social gadgets, all the technology and because life is so fast don’t develop the same empathy; it takes some time, people really don’t see it as being… as bigger thing as it has turned into and so it is most important to continue the education and to continue the intervention, sometimes I will treat people in groups, sometimes parenting groups, sometimes kids groups and sometimes individuals, it is interesting that I see some form of bullying in many of my clients and they always think that it’s something they have done; it must be their fault and that nobody cares because nobody came in and protected them.

CC: So actually people come to you, maybe adults generally have had some bullying or may have had some bullying in earlier life.

JL: Very frequently and sometimes it’s the parents have been too busy to provide the support, sometimes they have actually been the bullies but it’s quite widespread.

CC: So this is I guess an example of the long term consequences that might happen if a child is bullied that it might actually haunt them or annoy them for many years and even into adulthood and into the relationship in work as you were mentioning earlier.

JL: It very definitely can and usually does, there are… actually this is set up an interesting thing particularly in the economic situation because jobs… jobs are starting to come back now but because jobs were so scarce. Many bosses, managers have taken advantage of the fact that people cannot move from a bad job so they will stay on and work much harder or under uncomfortable circumstances; very uncomfortable or abusive circumstances because their fear of having nowhere else to go is very palpable.*inaudible*.

CC: And if someone has been bullied, what is the best advice to give them if it’s happening to them now? an adult or a child.

JL: I think the best advice; there are a number of different things, one of them is they are not alone, they aren’t the only one whose been bullied but more than that they don’t have to coop with it by themselves, there are people who understand, people who are willing to help them, put it into prospective and overcome what’s going on, there are also ways to bring it to a halt, sometimes it takes moving to a different job, a lot of kids moved to a different school and start over but they don’t have to go through it alone and they don’t deserve it, they were born wonderful and they still are and the bullying sometimes makes them forget that and that’s tragic.

CC: That’s a very good statement and I have to agree. Do parents and teachers… are they… do they have the skill set or the experience to deal with victims; bullied victims or even bullies in the right way? Do you think we have enough resources in schools? And parents… we don’t come with guidebooks, it is trial and error, we often make mistakes, is it important to get professional help?

JL: It is important to have professional help, if nothing else to get some facts and to put it into perspective, do parents and teachers have the skill set? Some do some don’t; they certainly try but parents can feel overwhelmed also and not know what to do, get some help, talk to the people who are available to you, there are organizations online that will have groups online that I sometimes meet, there are lectures and programs and there are people like me who you can come and see individually or invite me to a facility and I will also talk about what goes on and what it feels like and the damage and how to fix it so concern isn’t enough, it requires some action and some real empathy because when someone is bullied they frequently don’t know what to do and fighting back with your fist won’t accomplish much of anything and frequently just makes matters worse.

CC: And that’s I guess how many of us years ago were told to deal with the problem was to fight back but of course we know… and I know from my own personal experience maybe not the best advice to give to anyone.

JL: Yes so you got some very common advice; I was told not to rock the boat and to just play and ignore it; it would go away; it didn’t go away and it frequently doesn’t go away so you have to take some action and that’s very important. The role of negotiation, the role of learning and how to deal and to talk with people in a way that opens up conversations frequently very important and can many times take care of what’s going on and for those times when it doesn’t work or when it’s not safe, to get others involved.

CC: Very good, excellent so if anyone watching or listening or reading this interview wants to find out more about you or how to contact you for some help and advice, what is the best way they can reach you.

JL: Well there are a number of different ways, first again my name is JL and it is L, I, R, M, A, N which is an unusual way to spell Lirman, I have an email address it’s judimft@gmail.com and my website is www.judilirman.com I will be happy to respond to that, my business phone number and it’s a message line only, should you remember all of this, it’s 818 998 3205 and that’s in LA area but I do respond and I do talk with people via Skype if that something important.

CC: Brilliant, excellent and we will have; anyone who is watching or listening just look below and you will find links to all those sites and again thank you very much for your time, it was very interesting, refreshing and some great advice to anyone who is suffering from bullies or have children or I guess family members who are suffering from bullies or being a bully themselves, how deal with so thank you very much for your time again today and sharing your advice with us.

JL: My pleasure and thank you so much, I appreciate it and I enjoy it, thank you.

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