In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Pam McMurtry on The Danger of Bullying

In Her Own Words: I’m Pam McMurtry, I’m a parent of seven, author and artist. I’ve worked with children for many years, as a volunteer in the schools and church and as a child advocate, I’m concerned for the well-being of all children. I have two children who have the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome and have experienced exclusion and bullying. As I’ve studied behaviour, I wondered if teaching tolerance and respect might be a proactive approach to helping end bullying. She speaks to Founder Ciaran Connolly about Bullying, Cyber Bullying and The Danger of Bullying.
Below is a transcript of the Interview on the Danger of Bullying with Ciaran Connolly, Founder of :

Pam McMurtry: Hi my name is Pam McMurtury. I am a mother of seven. I am an artist and an author also. I’ve worked with children for many years. In the schools as a volunteer, as a teacher at Church and in the community and consider myself a child advocate. I have two children that experienced bullying when they were in school. They both exhibited the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome which are the high-functioning autism spectrum problems, very intelligent but low social skills. And we can talk about that; children that are different being the victims of bullying. I’ve also wondered as I studied behaviour if perhaps teaching children tolerance and respect and love for others might be a good proactive approach to bullying and maybe we can cut down some of the problems before they even begin. So, I am happy to share with you. Thank you.

Defining the Danger of Bullying

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent! Thank you Pam for joining us today we really appreciate your input into our discussion on bullying. And I guess we will start by asking do you think bullying is as big of a problem today as it was five or ten years ago ?

Pam McMurtry: Well, let’s talk for a second about what bullying is and how it is defined. Of course, I am here in America so we may have a little bit of a different view than the good friends over in the UK. We are defining it as the use of superior strength or influence to intimidate someone typically to get or to force them to do what you want. It can also be the habitual cruelty to someone who is weaker, and our government describes it as unwanted aggressive behaviour among schoolchildren that involves real or perceived power in balance. And so, to go to your question about whether  bullying now is as big as it was ten years ago, I did a little research and according to the US Justice Department, that has done some studies, they’re saying that her physical and property assaults have decreased fortunately but, on the other side, Cyber-bullying and psychological attacks are more prevalent. They also say that one in ten high school students has been involved in a fight on campus at some time. I also think that we might look at bullying not only as a school yard problem or a locker room problem, but if we expand it a little bit, we can say date rape is a form of bullying, corruption in business; writing bad contracts, trying to take advantage of your competitors. I also think, unfortunately, that the hyper-competitiveness of our culture has caused people to be more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour and look for ways to take advantage of the weakness of others. Also, we’ve got studies that prove that violent music, especially rap music, but violent games and movies also have caused the increase in aggression among people and young men especially that listen to these medias.

Ciaran Connolly: Quite surprising that the government actually talks about children when they are talking about bullying, which is a shocking thing to think of. And one thing we don’t maybe talk enough about is society, and the impact of society as a whole. When we talk about bullying, we always talk about schools and parents and home-life but maybe not enough about society. It’s a very valid point when you talk about the violent music and games and videos which, of course, maybe ten or 15 years ago weren’t so widely available but today these kinds of things top the charts, in games and movies. The more violent the movie is, the more dramatic and special effects. I think the same in video games and, of course, the music as well. Actually, maybe society as a whole has a bigger part to play in this than maybe we were thinking firsthand. Very interesting! Do you see a difference in the way bullying happens today? I guess I am thinking of the internet and social media and again, going back to the survey that you’ve quoted, do you think bullying happens in different ways than it used to in the playgrounds?

Pam McMurtry: It does, unfortunately. It appears that bullying has become more sophisticated and also more extensive through the use of social media. Connections that people used to have, personal connections aren’t quite as prevalent and relationships are changing. People are more connected electronically than emotionally or physically. Also, parents need to be aware of this and they need to set limits and boundaries for their children and also to be aware of the equipment that their children are using. They need to know who their friends are, where their kids are, what media that they are involved in. They need to, I hate to say stalk, but they need to keep track of their kids pretty closely. And they need to know their kids’ passwords for all their different technologies, and they can promise they’ll never use them, as kids like their privacy, but if there is a need they can have access to the records or to whatever. And also, I’ve heard that sometimes parents will get a friend to kind of keep track of their kid and then report back so the child doesn’t feel so crowded by their parents. Another thing that we can talk about that you have mentioned a little earlier, a friend that had a child that was on the phone at 4 am or online or something like that. You know when the kids go to bed, collect all the phones and stick them somewhere and just like you lock up the house so that people cannot come in in the middle of the night, you need to think about something like that. I was kind of a bossy mom so it would not have bothered me at all to collect everybody’s equipment and  just tuck it away just to make sure everyone is home safe or emotionally safe or whatever.

The Challenge with Technology and Danger of Bullying

Ciaran Connolly: It’s totally understandable. This is the dilemma I guess that parents have at the moment and technology is moving so fast that we probably often ask our children. It used to be, when I was growing up, I used to have to set the VCR for my parents that didn’t have a clue about what it was. And we can see the time’s coming and they’re watching DVDs. That’s OK now but the new technology I can see and understand that I’ll be asking my children to work technology and phones. We, as adults, probably use 10 or 20 percent of the features on the phone whereas our children are a different league all together. Actually, as adults that are trying to keep up with the technology but also how many social sites there are. From my side, I would be personally worried if my child is sitting beside me on the couch and on the phone or iPad and connected to the world where there is over one billion people on the internet. While they could be sitting beside me one or two feet away from me, I don’t know who they’re talking to.I don’t know what they are doing. Where they are in the world. What other people are saying or engaging with them. Meanwhile, as parents, I guess we think that our child is safe in the same room with us. They may not actually be safe at all. Maybe they are even getting bullied or in a place that is not having them develop in a positive way while actually being beside us. So, technology is a great thing and internet is a great thing but also you are right about the boundaries. We need to set some boundaries for our children, but the challenge is how to do that in a constructive way?

Pam McMurtry: Well, some of that will come down to the relationship that you have with your child and it’s suggested that parents talk to their kids for at least 15 minutes a day, which I know doesn’t sound like very much, but if you are sitting together and you’re discussing “What is the best thing that happened today?” “What is the worst thing that happened today?” “How was your ride on the bus like?” “Who did you chat with?” You keep [that] everyday. You’ve got like a conduit open, then I think the big problems are less likely to catch you off-guard because you can watch how they respond, you can see what’s in their eyes. A parent has a sense when something is wrong in their child’s life and that positive interaction can actually do quite a bit to help children stay away from those things. They don’t like that. They don’t want to be hurt. So, having a good relationship with your parents is really important.

Ciaran Connolly: When do we actually sit down with our families for 15 minutes without any distraction? Without TV on or without anything else and have quality time. But even 15 minutes in this busy world is very valuable time so [this is] a very good advice. Do you think with current media coverage of bullying and cyber-bullying, do you think that is helping improve people’s understanding? Improve I guess what is happening in our countries?

Pam McMurtry: I believe that an increased awareness of the problem always helps. I really do. But I also think that the schools, especially in America, have been very proactive about enforcing anti-bullying campaigns. And I think that had a lot to do with the drop in bullying in the schools, you know, the physical attacks and the destruction of property, but cyber-bullying has gone up to 83% so I am not sure that that would be really effective in addressing it. I think being aware of it is the first step and it’s very important, but I think we are going to need to do some training and guidance for children on behaviours. A lot of kids, and I’ll talk about this later, are not trained when they go to school on sharing or even honesty; ”Keep your hands off somebody else or somebody else’s lunch” or whatever. So, we are going to have to step up and do a little but more in the early years. And then among the teens we are going to have to try to be sophisticated as well. You know, I think my kids always like to show me what they are doing, so you grab a phone and say “Hey! Show me how this works.” There can be some really good tutorials and you can learn quite a bit. Like you said, even little tiny children are more sophisticated with electronic equipment. And it’s good, again, to know who your kids’ friends are, and to know their parents, and kind of network to help each other out. So, if somebody is aware of a problem, make sure that the community as it were is involved to help stop that.

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent! So your advice is to focus on communication. That is very fundamental to make sure that everything is OK.

Pam McMurtry: Yes and also the psychological bullying. I think we need to address that too. If we teach our children respect for other humans, tolerance of differences, because we are all different, we all come from a different place, and love or at least positive attitude towards others, I think that will help with the psychological aspects and there will be less wounded children maybe walking around. Or if they have a reason to behave well, sometimes they just need to know why they should behave and they will do it.

How People Bully and the Danger of Bullying

Ciaran Connolly: And in your experience, how do people bully now especially?

Pam McMurtry:  Well, unfortunately, I am an artist and so I kind of look at our culture a little differently than other people do, but I think a lot of bullying goes on in sports. I think there’s that psychology of psyching out your opponent and finding his weakness and exposing it and that sort of thing and that’s part of the game. But when children are trained on that, that can go from the playing field into other aspects of life too. We also see, unfortunately, parents that cannot control their tempers, you know, that have the outbursts and that is another form of psychological bullying, I believe. I was thinking about that one skater that was attacked several years ago coming out of practice before the competition. People just seem to be able to overlook a certain amount of bad behaviour in order to win perhaps or to begin to have an advantage. I also think that we are seeing bullying in business, like I said, with contracts, trying to find loopholes that will hurt someone instead of having a more honest approach. There are people in government, you know, here we have problems with judges breaking the law and not enforcing the laws that we have voted for.  Public officials in the media. Again, that violence, that violent influence. That’s all you see. If all you ate was junk food, you get sick. And if all you see is violence and things like that, maybe it will make your mind sick. So, I think the media needs to take a little bit of responsibility for that and provide other themes, other options.

Ciaran Connolly: When you think of sports, these are role models and so many people watch the games. And even when a referee makes a decision and he is maybe surrounded by players that don’t agree with the decision and there is verbal abuse. And I think that these are role models for young people and people assume that this, as you say, is a competitive spirit but it’s not a good example and we seem to condone it, or accept it in our attempts to win. But it is not a good example to be setting to people, that’s for sure.

Pam McMurtry:  I think we need to maybe examine our values, and especially most of this starts at home. As parents we know winning is important but playing is important too. The skills of athleticism and the abilities are amazing that people have developed, but the big prize money is not the only thing. It is not worth trashing somebody to have that. Unfortunately, in the schools too, I am going back to children, in the schools kids still pick on others who are different or have inadequate social skills or insulation and I think that the problems of the world escalate. You see that merit in children’s lives. We see bullying between economic classes, social groups, ethnic groups, even gender groups and that’s a problem especially among teenagers if someone is different and in different ways. They call them hate crimes here in America; when you pick on somebody because their skins are of different color or have a different sexual orientation. So, parents need to teach children ways to tolerate differences and the best teaching is done by example. If we as parents set a good example, our children are more likely to follow. We can talk until we turn purple, but if we are acting in a certain way, that’s what they are going to be engaging in. Also, bullying talks about those things. Physical attacks, unfortunately, they still go on. They have gone down, the incidents have gone down, but they still happen. Property destruction, you know, grabbing somebody’s coat and tearing it or wrecking their shoes or whatever. Calling names is a form of bullying. Starting rumours is especially prevalent among teenagers and especially among young women and girls. That’s where all those things going on and those things have gone into cyber-bullying.

Is Bullying a Hate Crime?

Ciaran Connolly: You mentioned hate crimes. Of course we have it here. Maybe we call it a different term. Is that a big thing in the US?

Pam McMurtry: : It is in some areas, unfortunately, and with the economic problems that we’ve had, people are more stressed out and those things filter down to our kids too. And if we can look at another person and not be judging them because of physical attributes or whatever, or if we have a more charitable look at life, if we see others who are less well-off or don’t have as many advantages. If instead of picking on them or trying to hurt them or punish them, we look for ways to help, contribute. You know, children pick up on that too. So, we still do. We still have hate crimes. We’ve just had a lot of problems with the trial down in Florida; a man that was patrolling a neighbourhood and another man, of different races, and there was a shooting. It’s ugly. A lot of people reacted badly.

If you would like to get in contact with Pam, you can reach her at her email ([email protected]) and her own website ( , she regularly contributes to and her book is available at this link and this link

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