In Cyber Bullying, Expert Interviews

Laurie A Gray on The Cyber Bully

Laurie A Gray is an Attorney, Author, Motivational Speaker and Owner Of Socratic Parenting LLC, She talks to NoBullying.com about The Cyber Bully.

The interview on The Cyber Bully can also be found here and here.

A Transcript of the Interview on The Cyber Bully can be found below: 

Laurie Gray: My name is Laurie Gray. I’m an attorney in the State of Indiana in the United States and my experience started with being a school teacher. I taught high school Spanish and went to Law School and worked in the private practice of law, did a little bit of school law, both sides and moved into criminal justice and I’m currently working as an Adjunct Professor Of Criminal Justice at Indiana Institute of Technology or (Indiana Tech) I’m a child forensic interviewer so I talk to children about things that happened to them that may have legal consequences and I’m also an author and consultant. I have begun writing young adult fiction and some of that ends up dealing with issues very similar to bullying.

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent. It is great to be able to talk to you and thank you again for your time. I think it’s important that we define bullying so what would be your view of as a definition of bullying?

LG: One of the places that I looked for a definition of bullying that we have been using in the United States is www.nobullying.com which I believe is your website and you define bullying more broadly. You say, by definition, bullying is continued aggressive behavior by one or more individuals that makes another individual or individuals feel uncomfortable or threatened. I really like that definition because it reaches out and looks at bullying throughout society as opposed to saying you know “Bullying is a problem for kids. It starts with kids. We should deal with it with kids and we are going to resolve it through the behavior of children” and it’s just not the case. I think that whether it’s verbal or social or physical bullying, it’s a learned behavior and children learn it from adults and as long as we as adults see bullying as an appropriate management style in our businesses, parenting style in dealing with our children, political style in dealing with our political opponents or between nations, then I think that bullying is going to be a problem for kids and since it doesn’t start with kids, I don’t think that the laws designed to resolve it through kids are going to be particularly effective.

CC: I think you have hit a very topical point because we actually started our journey just as Stop Bullying have their definition and we were looking just at children but it was very quickly that we realized that actually children are only part of the problem just as you were saying that when we looked at society; it was very clear to people are talking to us about bullying at work and when we looked at sports and I guess the celebs that we watch and follow, it was very clear that even our media maybe bullies them and harms them and harasses them. On the sports field we see players bullying referees and vice versa trying to win a game and I guess from our view that society has a massive role to play in educating everybody because even when I look at my Facebook page I see adults, my friends, maybe posting things that actually in reality is possibly bullying and I’m sure we will talk about that and the bystanders as well. So, definitely we felt that what everyone thinks when he see bullying, children are first step but maybe it’s not the first step to solve the problem. We need to look at ourselves and society as well.

LG: And I think that as an adult, we see those shortcomings most clearly in our children and so what we recognize as inappropriate in our children, we need to as Gandhi said “Become the change that we want to see in the world” recognize that they are learning it from us and make the changes in ourselves in the way that we do conduct our own business and deal with people so they can see that fear, control and manipulations, which are really the heart of bullying, isn’t the appropriate way to deal with people and establish healthy relationships.

CC: Very good and do you think that bullying is as big an issue today as it was 10 or 15 years ago?

LG: I think it is but I think that we are more aware of it today than we were 10 or 15 years ago, I think we are becoming less accepting of it than we were 10 to 15 years ago. I think that as we continue to evolve and embrace diversity and equality between the genders, we are going to start to notice something that we thought was normal or used to be normal maybe isn’t really helping interaction between people, maybe the whole patriarchal paradigm of power that we’ve had is going to have to shift. So with bullying, I think it’s coming to light as an issue that really has been a problem over centuries and millennia as opposed to just the past few decades but we are starting to call it bullying or starting to deal with it a little more pro-actively.

CC: Very good and do you see a difference in how bullying happens today? For example you have of course now social media, mobile phones, internet technology? How things changed for bullies and victims?

LG: Absolutely. I think that we have become more connected and you are connected to the social media and able to be in touch with people all across the world, then we are going to see the things that we have done face to face propounded exponentially because what I can say to you personally, I can now say to hundreds of thousands of people on the internet through a Facebook page or through other types of social media and so it gets magnified because of the way that we communicate so rapidly you know all across the world.

CC: And do you think that the current media coverage that bullying and cyber bullying is getting in the US and even now in Ireland and UK, we get maybe once a month we see a breaking new story of some tragic event that’s happened in the US and it makes news over here, do you think this is all helping to drive the anti-bullying stance and help raise awareness?

LG: I think that the media definitely does raise awareness and it helps to say… here is a specific case and put a name and a face on it because you can be aware of something generally but when you really bring it home with here is the person who was bullied and suffered and had severe consequences that we start to become more empathetic because with the social media, the electronic means that we have of connecting with people sometimes we lose our empathy and can say things and do things more quickly. So, I think the media putting a name and a face on these things is very helpful. One of the places that I have looked is Rehab or Centers for Disease Control, we have a website These are really good tips for parents and teachers.

CC: Brilliant and we will make sure include the link down below this audio file. Thank you for the great advice and we were talking before [about] different styles of bullying. Of course there is a child bullying a child but you feel there is quite a few different types of bullying?

LG: I do. I think that when we see it happening between children, a lot of it is learnt behavior and the place that they learn it from is adults and the first adults that they learn it from are their parents. So, children who are in a home where there is domestic violence going on, domestic violence is really a form of bullying. If you look at the aggression and fear, intimidation, control and physical abuse that can be used, that’s the same as with bullying, only between adults we can not to call it bullying. Parents who have a ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ type of disciplinary approach to dealing with their children often are really bullying their children and whether it is physical abuse through corporal punishment or whether it is shame or embarrassment and fearing intimidation, that parenting style because of the imbalance of power is really bullying and the child learns bullying from that relationship. So, I think you know it’s true between nations as well. You can take a big powerful nation like the United States and we can actually bully smaller nations because there is an imbalance of power or there are terrorists who bully other nations by true fear and physical violence and in between nations we call it terrorism, in between kids we call it bullying.

CC: Very interesting perspective and you are right. We see the nation or international bullying daily or weekly when we switch on the news or read our newspapers and do you think that there is actually bullying in workplace as well? Is that something that might happen? And do you think it would be something that would happen quite often?

LG: I do because in every workplace there are imbalances of power. There are people who have authority over other people, there are people who are competing for power and recognition and so in order to gain more power for themselves and take power from other people and control other people, there are many managers, people in authority who essentially bully the people who work for them to get them to perform and do what they want to do as opposed to a healthy working relationship the skills that they learnt and developed are really more like bullying.

CC: And how should, in your opinion, a parent approach bullying with their children so they understand that it is so wrong?

LG: I think awareness, call it what it is, but at the same time you know when you deal with government, when you deal with schools, you deal with rules that say “Don’t do this”. Parents are in a unique position to take a positive approach; instead of just saying “Don’t do this”, you can model for your children what a healthy relationship that has human dignity and respect for other people what it really looks like and you can be positive. You can say “Do this”. When you have a choice in any given situation, you can choose to be kind and when you are choosing to be kind that means you are not being cruel and you are not bullying. As a nation, we can’t pass the law that says “Everybody has to be nice” but we can certainly say “This is the line or we will have to take a negative approach” or we will end up with a kind of detailed wagging the dog thing,“Here is all the things that you can’t do” without ever being able to tell people what to do. Parents can lead by example and give their children positive choices, things to do as opposed to just focusing on the negatives. Don’t just say “Don’t bully”. Model for your child how to be kind, how to be respectable of other people and how to be cooperative in relationships.

CC: I understand and do you think or if a victim, or someone who has been bullied is listening to this audio, what advice would you give to them?

LG: Well, I am never fond of the word ‘victim’ because I think it brings a lot of negative psychology with it. So, in the workshops that Heather and I do, we usually use the word ‘target’ and there are people who are targeted by bullies based upon the fact that they are different, based upon the fact that they are perceived as weaker in some sense and I think that the one thing that those people, whether they are children or adults or somewhere in between, need to do is to stay connected and find someone to talk to because nobody deserves to be treated like that and it’s when true fear and shame and isolation that you cut yourself off from other people that’s really becomes the most destructive but as long as you have a friend, trusted adult, someone that you can talk to and who can reaffirm for you that “No, you don’t deserve to be treated that way and the person with the problem is that other person not you. You be who you are and stay connected”. I think that’s the thing that we can tell people who are targeted and it doesn’t just affect the target, it really has a negative effect on bystanders who see these things going on and on the people who are doing the bullying. We, Heather and I, moved away from labelling people of bullying, we used to do workshop called “How to B.E.A.T a Bully” and B.E.A.T with an acronym, we have changed it to “How to B.E.A.T Bullying” because yes, even bullies are people who deserve to be more than just that label in the same way that targets are people and more than that label. So, I think the way that you do it is to stay connected and to reaffirm for each other that we each have human dignity, we each have values as individuals and we don’t deserve to be treated that way.

CC: Of course and do you think, or have you seen, long term effects on people who have been bullied?

LG: I think as a teacher of children, as an attorney who works with children, there you can see the long term effects and it comes not just from schoolyard bullying but from the adults who have bullied and exploited them as well and sometimes you know our advice is tell an adult. They tell someone and nothing happens. So, it kind of drives them even further into that cycle of feeling different powered and disconnected. I think the long term consequences are huge. You see stories in the news of people who are so distraught based upon the continued pattern of behavior that mounted against them that they become suicidal that some will have the violence and anger inside of them build up to the point where they act out. A lot of times when you see situations of a student out of control and taking a gun to school or a knife to school and attacking other people, you go back and see how they were a victim or the targets of bullying and perceived themselves as the victims and have acted out based upon that. So, I think yes. The consequences are very real and they are very real for all of us not just the targets.

CC: Of course and you have any unique perspective, as you were a teacher before, do you think the teachers and parents deal with bully targets or even bullies in the right way in school today?

LG: I think it’s very difficult then you have the politics coming in and all of the rules that we have and passing the blame and who’s supposed to do what. There are many teachers who feel bullied by parents who come and start to threaten telling “This is what I’m going to do and this is who I am and this is how you will treat my child” who think their child is perhaps being bullied when their child maybe the one whose instigating a large amount of the bullying and bullying others. I think there are teachers whose administrators bully them and so you know there are right ways to deal with it. I think that the laws that we are starting to see pass in the United States deals specifically with school situations but most states, the only state that doesn’t have one is the State of Montana, and if the 49 states that do most of the laws just the private public schools and by definition, the person who does the bullying has to be a student and the only person who can be bullied is a student. So, I don’t think that our school teachers are really empowered legally or socially to make the kind of difference that we hope and expect them to make. I think there are some very excellent teachers who are strong leaders who lead by example and that when you have students in their classroom, they feel safe and the one thing that teachers can do is to make their own classroom a safe place.

CC: Good and there is a lot of pressure on the education system teachers, principles, school administrators and when we mentioned bullying of children, people’s perception might most of the time jump to think of bullying in the school or in the school bus on the way home or to school but teachers and schools are also tasked to deliver grades and educate our children in subjects and prepare them for a working life. Do you think there is too much pressure put  and focused on the school system at the moment and may be parents and even society isn’t taking a fair share of responsibility and trying to educate our young children?

LG: I think you are absolutely right that teachers can’t do everything and for parents and administrators and society as a whole to expect them to do what we are not doing for ourselves and our life is just impossible but at the same time I do think that teachers are in a unique position to create a safe place for kids and to make a difference. So, encouraging teachers to do all they can is a good idea but we have to support them and we have to have that same integrity and that same character in our own lives and lead by example as well. We can’t just push it all of the teachers and say “You teach kids everything and we will just go with our business”. It has got to take us all putting it together and becoming better persons ourselves.

CC: Of course and you have mentioned that you studied the laws across many of the states in the US and regards to bulling, what were your findings or what can you tell us about the legal position and how bullying and cyber bullying is dealt with by the law?

LG: Well, in the United States it’s dealt with on a state via state basis. So, if you want to see all 50 laws all together in one place, you can go to a website called www.bullypolice.org and it has a list of criteria as to how they grade the different laws in each state and you can see for each state what we think is good and what we don’t think is good and reaching that criteria based on www.bullypolice.org but it’s definitely each state makes its own laws. In the United States, there is no federal bullying law of any type. Now, you can end up in federal courts in bullying cases through different kinds of, you know, if it’s a public school and the child has to go to public schools, you can have a federal cause of action against the government or entity for discrimination and other types of things. So, some of the bullying ends up in some federal cases but for the most part we are doing a very disjointed each state does its own thing. It’s the same way that we used to deal with child abuse in the 1970s and finally somebody said “Hey, you know what? It would be nice if we had a national standard that was created federally so that we have kind of that practice that develops that we are all using the same empirical researches and starting to work together and seeing the problem as a whole instead of just doing it bit by bit and piece by piece”. So, there is a movement that is saying “Let’s pass a federal bullying law to help raise the standard like we have done with child abuse in the past but we are not barely at it. The bill is there but it has very little support and very little chance of passing it at this point.

CC: So, each state has different ways of dealing with bullying, is that correct?

LG: Yes, each state has its own definition of bullying that applies generally to students and public schools and then requires the school to take action and educate and do different things depending upon when a problem has been reported as bullying. Another thing that we are seeing is different organizations that are national like some of your club sports for example USA Swimming has 30,000 swimmers across the United States and from kindergarten all the way up to our US Olympic swimmers and they are in these clubs and the clubs are starting to say “You know bullying is a problem and we are in the position that we can deal with that” so they can come up with their own definition. It can be broader or more narrow than the definition in their state and they have a different way to enforce it because people are voluntarily part of their swim club and if you don’t want to follow their rules and policies then, they can kick you out where as in public schools, it is more difficult to expel students because they have a right to an education, free public education in United States. So, one of the groups that Heather and I have worked with has been USA Swimming to help them say “OK, here’s the policy they developed. What does that mean? How do you implement it? How do you deal with it on a day to day basis with the things that arrive?” and I think one of the biggest things that we see is: “OK! We have a definition of bullying, we think somebody is bullying, what we are supposed to do?”

Well, you have to do your investigation to find out if it really is bullying, is there an imbalance of power? Is it something that happened overtime? Does it meet our definition? And the two things that I think they really need for people to realize is that you can intervene without punishing just because you are going to say when you see somebody do something that seems unkind, it might be bullying depending upon whether it’s been going on for some time and if there is an imbalance of power, as a person in authority whether I’m a teacher or a coach or a parent I can say “Hey! That doesn’t seem kind to me. I think what you trying to say is this or expressing this frustration” and kind of intervene. Identify it as not the kind of behavior that we want in our classroom, home, club and move them in a more positive direction and it doesn’t mean that you have to punish them or that there have to zero tolerance and you will pay and we are going to kick you out because that’s where we really lose the ability to help children grow and develop. If we just immediately call it bullying, say we have zero tolerance for it and punish the child, the child is not learning anything but if we intervene in a positive way and move the whole interaction in a more positive direction, then they start to learn and grow and develop in that more positive direction.

CC: Excellent and some great insight into how and what you are teaching and I guess we will talk about “How to B.E.A.T a Bully” Program and workshop as well. In regards to cyber bullying, what is the law like in relation to cyber bullying? Is that treated the same way as bullying? Is it dealt with separately? Because I guess in my view, there is bullying which is face to face or physical and then there is cyber bullying which is online and technology based and maybe there are cases where it is hard to know who is actually causing the bullying, maybe their identity is hidden by a fake account or a fake profile. So, is there different legal help in the US?

LG: There really is because when you first start thinking about bullying, you know, you think of the schoolyard bully; the physical bully that is easier to identify and easier to control but when you look at social media and you say we want the school to be the point of intervention, a lot of the social media doesn’t happen at school, doesn’t happen in a setting that the school can control. The school can say “No you can’t text and post while you are at school” and intervene with people do that or if you are using the school computer or if you are during school time but when you move away from school it’s very difficult to give school control over kid’s activities outside of school. So, one of the things that many states are doing is to say “If the activity affects the school environment, even if you do it at night or over the weekend, if you are posting something that has a really negative effect on a student, then we can call that bullying and we can deal with it at school”. So, you are right. Sometimes it’s hard to know who posted what but sometimes it is not and you can go to the different social media and say “This is inappropriate. Have it taken down” and at least deal with it that way. The harm in many cases is already done but at least it is not persistent and at least you are saying “We are going to take some action and do something about it” as opposed to just ignoring it and saying “Kids will be kids”.

CC: Of course and I guess it would be interesting to get your view on if someone posted on a social medium such as Facebook or Twitter or Google plus and 4 or 5 people liked or shared or commented on a negative post, do they become part of a group bullying click? Or are they as guilty or would be perceived as guilty as the person who made the original post if they are all supporting and sharing the same negative content on someone?

LG: I think so because the social aspect of bullying is such that one of the acronyms that Heather developed on “How to B.E.A.T Bullying” is you know bullying is kind of a cycle like domestic violence where you have individuals who are seeking power who see a weaker target and you kind of test the waters. If I do a little bit, how is everybody who is watching, how are they going to respond? And if they respond by saying “Hey, that’s not cool. We don’t treat people that way”, that’s going to shut down that bullying cycle but if the people who are watching, if they just stand by or if they can tribute or like what that person is doing, then it really starts to escalate. So, instead of standing by, we encourage people to stand up and say “No, that’s not cool. Take that down” or “I don’t like that” instead of liking it and I think that can make a huge difference in the whole climate of the community that you’re in.

CC: Of course the importance of the bystanders emphasis again because these people who see this and witness it can actually have a positive impact on what’s happening and maybe even stop it. So, the bystanders are very important and yourself and Heather, we hope we will be able to talk to and have an interview with her as well and get her insight into everything, you both created and worked on a workshop called “How to B.E.A.T a Bully”. Are you able to tell us a little bit about that and what you did and how it was received?

LG: Yes. The original “How to B.E.A.T a Bully” workshop that we did, it was 3 years ago at The child abuse and physical and sexual and neglect cases, all of the prosecutors and law enforcement and child protective services and psychologists and sexual assault examiners all come together and learn about different areas and bullying is one of the areas that they started to look at it at the National Symposium on Child Abuse. So, Heather and I put together a workshop called “How to B.E.A.T a Bully”. B.E.A.T is the acronym;

B stands for Break the bullying cycle, E stands for Empower bystanders but we also talk about empowering the target and the bully to find other ways to find and express the power that they need and meet their needs that they are trying to meet through bullying.

A is to Administer appropriate intervention; don’t just look the other way, do something to intervene even if that’s not necessarily punishment or that’s not necessarily labelling you are a bully, you are a target but just intervening in an appropriate manner. Then the T is to Teach others to do the same primarily by example.

So, we presented that the first time we did one hour and half workshop and the second time it was so well received that we expanded it to three hours and one of things that has come out of that is we have started to have the USA Swimming (Team) and some other organizations luckily to present similar workshops based upon their particular needs and to address it. In fact, one of the schools; the school where Heather works and one of my daughters attends, we have started to work with kind of create a community of kindness or a culture of kindness and it’s a private school. So, the bullying laws of the State of Indiana don’t apply to that school but to start to find positive approaches to deal with the subject as opposed to “Don’t do this. Stop bullying”. Really empowering kids to say “Here’s what we can do and here is how we can move together as a community that’s supported by one another and that embraces our diversity and differences” which won’t be really hard to do at a school level especially middle school, you know and everybody trying to conform and trying to figure out who they are.

CC: Sounds like a great workshop and I love how you put down the word B.E.A.T into easy to remember but really important action phrases so it sounds excellent. If anyone wants to find out more about what you have done and even read more about you, what your interests are and how you are tackling bullying, is there a place that we can send them and they can go and read or may be connect?

LG: Yes, the easiest way to connect with me is to go to my website which is http://www.socraticparenting.com/ and I’m a huge fan of Socrates, Plato’s teacher, who developed the Socratic Method of always asking questions and using that Socratic Method in my teaching and in my parenting. So, my website is http://www.socraticparenting.com/.

CC: Brilliant, excellent and we will make sure we have a live link below as well so anyone can click through and connect with you. Do you think that there is anything that we haven’t talked about today and maybe we should mention?

LG: Well, I think that in the work that I have done, I really have focused more on the legal aspects and here in the nation and I do hope you have the opportunity to talk with Heather whose background is in social sciences and in working with kids and providing guidance in a different area and different ways than what I have done. I think that really the two of us together present a more balanced view of what bullying is and what we can do about it than either one of us individually.

CC: Brilliant and we will make sure to get to talk about or talk to Heather as well but excellent. Thank you,Laurie. That was amazing. It was great to get an insight into what’s happening in the US and what you have done and just understand the legal side and what is happening and I guess what we might have to look forward to hearing in the UK and Ireland and hopefully our lawmakers will start to be as progressive and get the right definitions and the right laws that will help protect the targets and help us take a step towards solving the problem of bullying but also as we said we need society and adults to lead the change in our children. It’s not all about the children that’s for sure.

LG: Yes and thank you. I really appreciate the work that you are doing at www.nobullying.com; raising awareness and getting the word out.

CC: Thank you again, Laurie. Excellent. I’m sure the editor will cut that part as well. Brilliant! That was amazingly interesting. Thank you very much! That was brilliant. It is actually really interesting to see what’s happening in the US and as I say we are really starting to have problems here now and hopefully we can learn from what is in place and what isn’t in place and what’s happening in the US to make things better here but brilliant. Again, 41% of the traffic to our website is from the US so I’m sure we will have plenty of US listeners and readers to the transcript. So, that was brilliant. Thank you again. That’s excellent.

LG: You are very welcome. I have to say that my view isn’t always in line with a lot of the other people that I talk with and one of the comments that I made in one of our workshops that wasn’t particularly well received by a lot was you know the best 2 bullying laws that we could pass in The United States would to do away with corporal punishment of children and to legalize gay marriage and I think if we did that, a lot of the bullying in our society would start to move beyond it but there are so many people in United States who still feel that children need to be punished roughly and physically and inappropriately and we have our religious beliefs that prevent us from really embracing the diversity that you have in human nature. So, I don’t say that in interviews much anymore.

CC: Well, that’s very interesting but you are totally right and everyone does have a different opinion, really do have a different opinion but again it’s having as many people with the right mindset and understanding that the change need to happen in themselves and adults around us and lead that to our young people. Hopefully more and more people will understand what’s and wrong and God knows the future. Is gay marriage not in the last couple of month been legalized in some states? Or maybe I’ve misread the news.

LG: No but what’s happening then is you know there is the backlash of that and where I live they are like rushing trying to amend our constitution in the States to say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. So, we have a really ongoing, polarized debate and I think that the next generation…I really have faith in our children to do a better job than what we are doing.

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