In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Richard Horowitz on Teasing and Bullying

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Dr Richard Horowitz talks to NoBullying.com today about Growing Great Relationships and his Book, Family Centered Parenting. He discusses in this Video Interview the changes in Teasing and Bullying through the years and how we can prevent Teasing and Bullying through changes in parenting concepts.

Below is a Transcript of his Video Interview on Teasing and Bullying with Ciaran Connolly, Founder of NoBullying.com

Dr Richard Horowitz: Good Morning. My name is Dr. Richard Horowitz. My background is basically formerly in education. I’ve been a teacher, principal, superintendent to schools, including two schools that work principally with kids with severe behavioral and mental health issues. I also ran an agency that provided kids management services to children and families with behavioral and mental health challenges.

I’m also a parenting consultant and an author of a book called Family Centered Parenting. I’ve also been on faculty of two universities as an adjunct professor of education and I work principally helping families deal with the issues of parenting crises, dealing with schools and training people who do work with children on a regular basis.

Teasing and Bullying: Has Bullying Changed?

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent. So, a lot of experience in dealing with families and with children and you say with schools. Thank you for taking time out today to talk to us and the topic, of course, is bullying and possibly cyber-bullying. Do you think it is something that’s increasing? Or is it decreasing? Or as it was?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Well, I think the problem is attention. I’m not sure if there was more bullying when I grew up or when you grew up. We don’t have any measures, that’s the problem. However, certainly cyber bullying is a whole new world. I mean, back in the day if you wanted to tease people in your class, you know, you would write a note and run it around the room and maybe ten kids would see it before the teacher would catch you. Today, you go on Facebook or other social media and before you know it, hundreds of thousands of other people will see it. I think that’s a big difference in terms of the scope of bullying, what bullying is and how we define it has certainly shifted over time.

Ciaran Connolly: And do you think is bullying happening a different way today? Of course we’ve got new technologies; we’ve got the internet, we’ve got social media, mobile phones. Are bullies using new methods to find victims and to torture them?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Absolutely and I think I’m sure that the classic stuff that we associate with bullying, picking on a child in a recess area, intimidating them when they steal your lunch money, things of that nature still go on, but what has changed, I think it is easier for someone to become a bully using the cyber means. It’s a lower threshold to get involved and I think that’s what has caused so much more attention to why bullying has become more of an issue. With the classic bully, we can no longer label that person a classic bully any more. Someone with less meanness and a lower threshold, or I’d say a higher threshold to hurt people, are now more likely to become a bully.

Ciaran Connolly: Do you see that with the current media coverage that’s happening around bullying and cyberbullying that people are more aware of what’s happening? And maybe more eager to try to fix this problem?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Oh, absolutely. I think, certainly in the United States, many states’ Department of Education has passed rules and regulations for school districts on all kinds of procedures that they must follow to deal with bullying. It must be an anti-bullying programs. So there is no question, it has been an exponential increase in the attention to bullying and attempts to prevent bullying. So, that’s a good thing. There is no question about that.

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent, and have you personally seen or heard of severe cases or whether there’s been incidents and dire consequences of bullying?

Dr Richard Horowitz: I think those get the media attention. Certainly the suicides, the attempted suicides, the children who revealed that they’ve recently attempted suicide or the family who reveals after successful suicides that the child was being bullied. Those stories make front page and are all over the internet. So, certainly there is focus on that. I think one of the things, the problem we need to do is make sure that we’re all talking about the same thing when we’re talking about bullying. I’m concerned that we have [it] too broad, that we need to have an agreement on what bullying is because if we don’t have an agreement on what we’re dealing with, it’s going to be a lot harder to prevent it. For example, I think things like hitting another person or threatening someone’s life. I don’t call that bullying, I call that a crime and I think those should be pursued and prosecuted as crimes. Assault is a crime, making a terroristic threat against someone is a crime, taking someone’s money in fear of beating him up is extortion. So, I think we need to separate bullying from criminal acts and deal with the criminal acts as criminal acts. I think that would be helpful.

Another issue is, you know, teasing and the world of teasing and the world of developing social skills. We all know that social skills don’t develop overnight. It takes time and during those years, the children develop their social skills but it has to have some hard knots. The issue is where do you draw the line between some teasing, moderate teasing and outright bullying.

Can teachers and Parents Recognize Teasing and Bullying Easily?

Ciaran Connolly: Is it easy for professionals or teachers or even parents to recognize the difference between teasing and bullying? Is it clear?

Dr Richard Horowitz: No, it is really difficult but there are certain things you can look for. One of the things between teasing and bullying is: is it two sided? When kids are going back and forth calling each other names or aligning each other with different groups, that’s not bullying. That’s teasing and mutual teasing. So, if there is reciprocity, that would usually be a sign that we’re dealing with a teasing situation. That doesn’t mean a teacher shouldn’t intervene and try to moderate but I wouldn’t call that bullying. I think the key to bullying is usually a power imbalance. When one child is isolated against the group where one bully’s clear mission is to dominate another, those are signs of classic bullying whether it be cyber bullying or face-to-face bullying.

Ciaran Connolly: And if a child is being bullied, what would be practical advice that we as parents or even professionals could give them?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Well, I think one of the things that I always recommend to all parents is being proactive; discussing these issues before they happen so that a child knows when it does happen what they’re supposed to do. So, in my book Family Centered Parenting , for example,  I stress the key to my parenting program is regular family meetings. That means families get together on a regular basis to discuss those issues that are important to the family now. And also to rehearse and practice issues that might come up in the future. So, that means when a student or a child is confronted by the situation, what he needs to do is already somewhat pre-wired because it has already been discussed and I think parents need to have that discussion before a child is in a bullying situation saying: “Look. There are times when you are being teased when you feel in a position that you are isolated or unhappy. This is what I’m prepared to do as a parent. I will back you up if you need me. I will go to school and intervene if you can’t report it yourself” but I would rehearse many of these things with my children before it actually happens so that when the time comes, we’ll better be able to respond in a more coherent fashion.

Teasing and Bullying and Family Values

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent. So, basically, what you recommend in your book is ensuring that the family values and open communication are the core of any day in the life of any family. So, I know we’re all jolly for attention with the TV and with mobile phones and the internet, but actually having core family time when people are sitting down and discussing how the day went and you say being proactive and discussing problems before they arise is key to maybe solving or preventing some of these problems happening.

Dr Richard Horowitz: Oh, absolutely and you know the other hot topics that families face, dealing with sexuality, are things that parents find very difficult. Well, it is not just that the one-time thing. If you are having family discussions over the years as a family unit, if your family values that help families resist overt materialism. Many parents complain to me that “I don’t want to buy the latest gadgets for the child or the fanciest label clothing” but they are worried that their child will be made fun of at school if they’re not keeping up. If you do, you know, in your family, if your family values are secure, whatever they are. I don’t dictate any particular set of values; only that your family be really clear about what your values are and what the mission of your family is. And when a child is armed with that, then they can go out into the world and deal with peer pressure, bullying, the hot topics, alcohol abuse, their sexuality; all those things, because there has been discussion. They know what their families are about. They feel that I have my family values at my back.

Teasing and Bullying: Zero Tolerance

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent. Some very good advice and, of course, communication is very fundamental to any family. And do you think even taking that communication into a school environment where teachers are open to have the same communication with students. Would that also be important?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Absolutely. That’s a great point. Certainly when we’re talking about bullying prevention, zero tolerance which is what some school systems are doing. Where any bully would be immediately disciplined. That’s fine but you have to change the culture of schools. You have to make sure that teachers are communicating with their students and giving them respect, students are communicating with students. Some of the techniques that I talk about in families certainly I did when I was a classroom teacher. We had class meetings every week where we discussed issues, relationships, what was our class values, what are the rules of our classroom. I want children to have input into the classroom rules. Why? Because you create ownership and when people feel they own a rule, they’re more likely to follow that rule. So, teachers using good communication and parents using good communication is crucial. It becomes even more crucial as your children get older, teenagers especially, if we don’t learn to really listen to our teens and respond to some times their emotional excesses without dismissing them, we need to opt keep the doors of communication and the lines open. So, communication skills is enormous. In fact, in my book, I devote a whole chapter to seven principles of perfected communication. That’s particularly for parents and children but would apply in many many sedates.

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent, and while we are talking about your book, what else does it cover if communication is one chapter? And would you share some of its other chapters?

Dr Richard Horowitz: It starts with the basics. We need to ground our parenting in the philosophy of human behavior. Simply, that dictates the future practices. You need to be grounded so when you are in a situation, you remember “What am I really trying to do? What is my overall goal as a parent?” So, I start off with let’s understand where we want to be treated and to treat our children the same way. Basically, the golden rule and an elaboration of the golden rule. In other words, we should be treating our children fundamentally the way we want to be treated, without giving up our authority and our responsibilities as parents, which certainly remains. So, then we will go into good communication; how to have family meetings and how to resolve difficulties with our children and some of the hot topics that we need to handle with our kids.

Long Term Effects of Bullying

Ciaran Connolly: Very good. Sounds great and again, as we are talking about communication, if there isn’t communication and I guess families and students and teachers aren’t being proactive and discussing things like that, is there likely to be a long-term impact in young people especially people who are bullied? And if they are bullied would there be a long-term impact on how they live their lives?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Sure and I think most of the research would show that we are really talking about children’s resilience and that’s a very hard thing to measure. As kids, most of us have been teased or bullied to some extent on some level in our childhood. And most of us we have some scars we remember it, we have some wounds but we also learned from it and we learned how to socially adapt to being bullied. We’ve learned how to increase our status so that we won’t be bullied. So, you know, that’s part of growing up. You need to stumble and get some hard knocks to develop resilience to be able to face life’s challenges. The hardest thing for a parent is “Where do I draw the line between protecting my child and where do I draw the line between letting them experience some hard knocks?” And that’s a judgement call and kids have different temperaments. Some kids could respond with a thicker skin than others. So, you have to know your child’s temperament and how vulnerable they are. These [are] things the parents could do to help their children be less vulnerable. One of the things I talk about often to parent groups is raising the social currency of your child. Have your child good at something. Help them develop some kind of skill that raises their status with their peers and makes them less likely to be a victim of teasing and bullying. Also, how to respond verbally. Sometimes, the best defence against the bully is simply agreement, for example, if some bully goes over to your child and says “You know, you are really small. You’re really little” and the child responds “Yes, you are right. I’m not too tall”. That’s odd. Sometimes neutralizing with the right kind of communication could neutralize a bully because they no longer [use] their need to overpower or to intimidate. If you are not intimidated and you don’t feel embarrassed or overpowered, then simply it’s going to roll right off. So, again, it is a very difficult job. There are no absolutes. It is a fine line making sure you are communicating with your child and being aware of changes in your child’s behaviour. If you see a child who is normally very talkative or a child who loves school starting to be reluctant about going back to school or claiming to be ill every morning, then you know there is something cooking and you need to go in there. If your child is open and saying “Look. This is happening”, you might suggest “Have you done this? Have you talked to your teacher? What have they done about it?” and if you feel your child has done everything they should do and still there has been no help, then it is time for the parents to intervene.

Ciaran Connolly: Do you think…you shared some great examples of what should be happening, do you think in general parents and teachers know how to deal with a bullied or a victim or even the bullies themselves? Generally know what to do, or is it overreaction or ignored?

Dr Richard Horowitz: I think some school systems are learning; the ones who are comprehensively looking at the whole bullying phenomena and not just dealing with punishing the bully. My greatest fear is that the reaction will be simply zero tolerance. Someone bullying someone, take the bully in and punish the bully. It’s much more, we got to do much more than that and one of the things of course we talked about is bystander behaviour. I think that’s huge. If kids continue to think that being a bystander without saying something is OK, that’s the cultural change that’s enormous. So, working with our kids on a day-to-day basis in our schools and also with parents in cultivating that value in your child that if you see something bad going on, don’t participate as a bystander. Try to change what’s going on. Try to get other kids to isolate the bully. Don’t just be passive when someone else is being bullied. And I know it is easy for kids because they are afraid if I become an active person who is trying to stop bullying then I might become the target and that’s why a lot of kids who won’t bully but they won’t stop bullying because, naturally, they are afraid that they will become the target; the ones who interfere.

Teasing and Bullying: Family Role

Ciaran Connolly: Of course and that’s some very good advice. If seeing a post on Facebook that is negative against someone else, then if someone is brave enough to step in and say “No. This is wrong and we shouldn’t be posting that or seeing that here”. So, definitely we need a big mindset change. I think even kids but also adults need to be brave to do the same and I know a lot of people, maybe even myself, I need to change my attitude and how I conduct myself online. One thing, when I’ve seen your specialism, and I did want to ask and I know may be a lot of people want to have the same question, if the child is using the internet too much, the social networks, using the mobile phones, what would you suggest is a good way to have a conversation with them and trying to reduce their dependency on the online world as opposed to the real world without having a conflict?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Well, again, it is being proactive. This should be part of the discussion in family meetings when we discuss rules in the family, rules in chores. We are going to have rules about curfew, rules about going to bed, about what chores need to be done in the family, family responsibilities and certainly use of media should be part of the rules. So, we need the parents to express to their children ”Look. I know in today’s world computers, tablets, your cellphone are all part of your life and we respect that. It is part of my life as a parent but here are our concerns. What could you do? What do you suggest as a child?” especially as they are getting into early teen years and teen years where it really becomes an issue. “What do you suggest as limitations so that you don’t become overly involved?” and then you have to give and take and then you agree upon some rules and once rules are agreed upon, there is no excuse to break them. So, when it comes to discipline in families, if you have been very clear about rules, if the kids have had some input in the rules, if there is agreement then there is no excuse to break the rules. And we find rules are a lot easier to enforce when children have some ownership in those rules.

Ciaran Connolly: Brilliant! Well, thank you again for all your advice and taking time to talk to us today. It was a great insight into bullying and also how to have better family relationships. If someone wanted to read more about yourself or even to find your book, is there somewhere that they can actually find you online?

Dr Richard Horowitz: Absolutely. Our website is www.growinggreatrelationships.com and on the website there are some sections family centered parenting. The book is available there and other information about what we do to help parents and families navigate the very difficult task of parenting especially in this very complex world.

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