In Expert Interviews, The Teen Bully

Walter G. Meyer on What is the Bully Game

San Diego-based writer Walter G. Meyer  Talks to NoBullying.com about Bullying and What is the Bully Game. Due to the popularity of his book, Rounding Third, which deals quite  powerfully with the timely topic of teens being bullied until one of them can’t  take it any more and attempts suicide, Walt has been receiving many requests to speak and write about this tragic topic.

The video on What is the Bully Game can also be found here and here.

Read a transcript of the interview on the Bully Game:

Walter G. Meyer: My name is Walter G. Meyer. I’m a freelance writer in San Diego, California. I have freelanced for major newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, San Diego Union Tribute, Orange County Register and my third book bullying problem and although I knew my experiences, I didn’t really know how to address this. So, I instantly set about educating myself, attending conferences, going to classes, consulting with experts in the field and now I get requests to speak and write about the problem all over the United States.

The Bully Game

Ciaran Connolly: Very good and also of course in Ireland. So, is bullying as big an issue today as it was 3 years or 10 years or 15 years ago?

WM: Often when I give my talks, people say “Do you think the problem is worse now than you were in school or is it better?” and I say “Yes, it is both better and I think bullying is taken seriously now in a way that it was not when I was in school”. When I was in school, it’s “Hey! It’s boys being/kids will be kids. It’s no big deal” and I actually had school administrators tell me “Well, you just have to fight the bully” and you know I’m going to take on a guy who has got 80 pounds and 8 inches on me, how is this going to prove anything? But I think it’s worse now and I could run home from school and hide from it whereas kids today really can’t; they go home from school and turn on Facebook or Twitter or just their phones and they’re getting text messages and messages on Facebook and with many of the kids here who recently in United States have killed themselves of bullying often if they leave a suicide note, often the last straw was that they came home after a horrible day at school and were greeted with some horrible message on their Facebook page and that was the final straw. So, I think it’s worse in that it’s unrelenting 24/7, it’s better in that there is a chance the schools will do something about it.

CC: And do you see a difference in how bullying is happening today for example with technology, social media, mobile phones?

WM: Yes, absolutely. There are those things and it makes everyone capable of bullying. I mean, somebody as tiny as I was in high school couldn’t bully many people but now online you can bully anyone. It doesn’t matter how big you are, how strong you are. Most online bullies are actually girls. They, you know, have to deal with stuff all day at school so they can come home and get even. So, yes. It’s a different round of bullying and that’s a more psychological warfare. You know, in my day was almost all physical warfare now it’s psychological warfare which with times can almost be worse.

CC: I agree. I’m just thinking coming home from work and you’ve had a tough day and you are mentally drained. Even though your body is still active, you are just exhausted when you collapse on the seat. So, I can only imagine what it is like for people who are being bullied in this way and you mentioned that the current media attention, it’s actually improving awareness and improving people’s knowledge of bullying and cyber bullying. That can only be a good thing?

WM: It is and it isn’t in that in a number of communities they’ve had a rash of suicides and there is a fear that if you publicize that aspect of it too much, there will be copycats. So, yes. It is definitely good that there is much more media awareness and nobody can say that they didn’t know about the problem now or how serious the problem is now but on the other hand, at times it feels like just the you know “cause du jour” and then we can go back to our lives and not really solve the problem, stick a Band-Aid on it and move on, but then also if we celebrate the loss of these kids too much, it sadly gives the other kids ideas of “Well, you will be sorry when I’m gone”.

CC: Of course. That makes sense and every media outlet should be careful in what they print, of course. Print a story but maybe also print a phone number or a website where if anyone who is reading this story is suffering from this, they can reach out and try and get help. You have knowledge then of some severe cases and consequences of bullying in I guess in your local area or in the US?

WM: Well, yes and it is still an ongoing problem. Just this past week a young man in Iowa killed himself. He was the 5th one at his high school in last 5 years to kill himself after being bullied. So, clearly those are severe consequences and just here locally in a San Diego suburb about 10 years ago, a young man who had been relentlessly bullied brought a gun to school and started shooting people. Whoever dies, whether it’s the victim or the victim fighting back in a very horrible way, there are clearly serious consequences to that and it so often happens as with the school in Iowa, as with the school here in the San Diego area. Often the administrators are clueless; they are like “We don’t have a problem here”. Everybody that I talked to who went to that school here knew that kids were getting bullied, they knew they had a huge problem there and if the administration didn’t see it, then they weren’t looking for it or they didn’t care. So, there are obviously very severe consequences here whether the student takes their own life or decides to retaliate because often the people they retaliate against aren’t even the bullies. They are innocent bystanders who happened to get in the way of bullets.

CC: Very good and it’s actually shocking what you have just told me. Some schools I would like to think are very proactive in protecting their children and have very good and strong leadership and very focused on making sure that the children are safe but obviously there are other schools that aren’t up to the mark yet. Is that possibly what has happened in this case if they are in denial and don’t think there is a problem?

WM: Right and because of all the awareness, almost every school in the United States has created a district policy on bullying, but so many of them are completely worthless. It’s “we wrote a policy on bullying, here it is, and it says nothing”. Whereas the San Diego unified school district here, I’ve done several programs with members of the school board and they allow me to carry their policy all across the United States to share with other communities where I go and it is considered one of the most proactive, one of the most progressive ones in the United States because they spent a long time working on it with the police, members of the gay community, members of women groups, members of minority groups, psychologists, parents, a whole spectrum of people, anybody could give them input on this as to what could be done about this and so they seem to have really reduced, severely reduced, bullying in the schools because it is so proactive and two of the key tenets are:

  • Counseling for the bully. Often the bully is just disciplined and that causes resentment. “Hey you got me in trouble you little…” and that makes things worse when the bully gets back from suspension or gets back to school and it doesn’t really address the problem and one of the school board members with whom I have done some programs said that when he had sat in on some of these counseling sessions, he actually ended up feeling sorrier for the bully than the bully’s target when he heard what this kid is going through. Often, they are lashing out at school because their father is beating them, their mother is a drunk. There are some huge problems going on at home and they have to take it out on somebody, it’s kind of trickle-down bullying whereas the way to solve the kid beating up kids at school is to address the issue at home and then he has no reason to lash out at anyone.
  • The other key point that they have in there is that no one is a bystander. If you are standing there silently, you are still giving tacit approval to what the bully is doing. I attended a conference a couple of years ago and there was a psychiatrist there, Dr Ron Holt, who gave me a great line that he allows me to use which is “The Bully will do what the crowd will tolerate”. If the crowd is egging on the bully, things will escalate. If anybody in the crowd says “It has got to stop” and I was just at an event during Comi-Con of all things, there was an anti-bullying event and a woman from Chicago was speaking saying that in her work, in her research, she has found that if anyone says anything, 50% of the time it will stop it. All it takes is for one person to say “What you are doing is wrong. I don’t like this”. So, part of the San Diego school district policy is that if you aren’t strong enough or brave enough, which is understandable for a lot of kids, then you have an obligation to get help. You run and use your cellphone, you run to the Principal’s office, you run to get a teacher, you run to get a police officer, whoever you have to get but if you just stand there, you are part of the problem and so it really does to seem to have made a difference in the San Diego schools.

More on The Bully Game

CC: Brilliant! It sounds so powerful and motive; it sounds like it could really tackle and solve and help a lot of these problems. So, this is definitely a different way of, or a different policy, than anything I have heard of before. So, definitely sounds great and what is the best advice to give to a child who is being bullied? It is to communicate and talk about it, to tell someone, is that correct?

WM: That is correct, to find a trusted adult that they can talk to about this. As I said, when I was in school, when I tried talking to the administration, they were no help. So, you have got to find somebody who is willing to not only listen but to help and then to find a support group of some kind, find friends whether it’s by joining a club or joining an organization. There is safety in numbers and somewhere in your school there are people like you and people who would like to like you and so seek out the company of other people. Often…I actually used a line in my book which was “This Misery Wants To Be Alone” and that’s a sad way to feel and if we can get kids to open up just even a little bit, there is a bunch of other lonely kids in their school who would also like to have a friend but, yes. They need to find someone who is willing to address the issue and too often if they find that adult, the adult only goes halfway and they don’t counsel the bully, they don’t really get to the root of the problem and then the target remains and even bigger targets. So, it actually requires follow up on the part of whatever adult whether it’s the parent to keep going back to the school and saying “It happened again to my daughter yesterday. I want to know why, I want to know what you going to do because I don’t like this.” Or whether it’s the teacher or the principal regularly checking in with that child and saying “Are things any better? If there are not come and see me and we will address this.”

CC: And you mentioned bystanders a few minutes ago and I have noted it down as well. I would like to back to that because I’m thinking bystanders on social media. For example, someone posts something that isn’t nice about another person and it comes into our newsfeed and it only takes a second to like something or to retweet something or to share it and people probably do it without even thinking. It is a subconscious thing for the picture to like it or retweet something. Do you think those people that do that are actually ganging up like a gang bully and people who don’t do anything,who ignore the stream and say “That doesn’t look good. I’m not going to get involved in that”, are they guilty bystanders?

WM: I think so and I always start out my talk with quotes from Elie Wiesel, Martin Luther King, and Desmond Tutu which all have the same basic theme which is that the problem is never the evil people, it’s the people standing on the sidelines saying nothing. You know clearly not everyone in Nazi Germany was crazy but there were enough people standing silently while people were doing horrible things that it could go on. So, yes. It doesn’t seem that bad for someone to post something on their Facebook page but then if that child comes home from school, they see nasty comments and a 117 likes, a 117 people endorsed this sentiment, any one person were to post back and say “But it’s OK. I like you. You are really good at…whatever”.

I have actually taken it upon myself, even among adult friends. That one friend posted something about an acquaintance of mine, I wouldn’t even call that other guy a friend of mine but it was just… I thought over the top nasty. So, I sent the friend a message and said “Is that really necessary? You know, this guy is having problems right now. He would feel horrible if he sees that on your feed. Could you please take it down?” but he goes “Well, yes but he was being a…” and I was like “I don’t care about what he did. Is it really necessary to put that out publicly? If you’ve got a problem with him, discuss it like an adult in private but don’t splash it all over your Facebook page where people can then pile on”.

CC: You are actually right. I have actually seen more of these posts from adults, my friends, than I have seen from children. So, maybe we need to look at our own actions and lead by example. It is a very good point and I’m glad you have raised it there as well and I will be conscious of my actions, watching my feeds and my social networks and I will be getting into some battles but what you saying is totally right. Even we all need to be good bystanders and get involved and not accept this. You have presented about bullying and video games, is bullying and video games coming together? Is there a problem starting to surface there as well?

WM: The key word in what you just said, the key part, is ‘starting to surface’. It has always been there but it’s just now that people are starting to pay attention to it but yes. Just a couple of weeks ago, during San Diego’s International Comic Conference, I actually coached an event called Gamer-Con which is about the gaming aspects of Geekdom and so this year we had a panel on bullying in video games which I know people who stopped playing you know World Of Warcraft or League Of Legends or whatever because they got tired of getting called misogynistic things, homophobic things. If you play some of these games for 5 minutes, it’s hard to not be offended by something. It is like this pervasive 13 year old mentality even though you know some of the people on the keyboards are 40 years old and it’s a huge problem so much so that Legal Legends, which is made by Riot Games in Santa Monica, California, has taken upon themselves to start tracking certain keywords, certain homophobic slurs, certain terms for women’s anatomy that I can’t repeat in public but to track those and started sending messages to players saying “That’s inappropriate and if you keep it up, we are going to suspend your account” and recently they suspended the account, actually deleted the account, of one of their top players. It would be like Tennis; going to Rafael Nadal and saying “We don’t care how good you are, you are too much of a jerk to play. You are out of the game” but they did. The gaming world was shocked like “You can’t bench your best guy” and they are like “Yes, we can. We have gotten way too many complaints and he is turning people off and we can throw out one player or we can offend a thousand others that he has offended and have them not want to play our game anymore. So, we are going to deal with it”. So, we hired a panel of people with experience in bullying in there and members of San Diego county district attorney’s office to discuss when does ‘bad behavior’ become ‘criminal behavior’? At what point does it cross the line from just being rude to the police and courts needing to get involved.

Bully Game and Gaming Companies

CC: Excellent and it’s amazing to see game companies like this taking a stance and actually taking this as a serious issue. How was the conference, this talk, perceived at the conference because obviously it sounds like an unusual topic for one of these conferences and we did see coverage over here but sadly the anti-bullying part of it didn’t make the news but was it the first time that this was brought up?

WM: This is the first time we had decided to be in a gamer-con and we found out that comic-con was doing a panel as well. So, it was too late to put me on their panel. They said maybe next year but I was invited to all the events and several hundred people showed up to hear the panel. So, I mean there clearly is concern, there clearly is interest in this because my panel, just the people that I happen to get, were all women and all of them had experienced you know the gaming equivalent of “You throw like a girl” and those kinds of put downs of “You can’t be very good cause you are a girl” and it starts to cut away at your ego and although all these people are adults and they can kind of handle it, you can imagine if you are 13-14 year old girl already having issues with your identity and self-worth and those sorts of things that again you come home from a bad day at school being picked on, you sit down at the game, you just want to kill some goblins to relax and then people are putting you down. It’s really a concern. So, I was very happy that comic-con for the first time covered it, got a few celebrities on the panel and two of the people who make the TV show Husbands, I don’t know if you see that, but they want to address this and clearly there was enough interest that comic-con will be doing it again next year and trying to create more awareness. A lot of people say, you know,“It’s kind of sad that it’s the geeks have often been ostracized and often put down for already being a little different. It’s really a shame when they attack each other. You know, they should band together against the outside world and instead they are eating their own”.

CC: Very good point and maybe this is a symptom of bullying. If we have been bullied and at some stages we might lash out at someone else to vent our anger. So, maybe it’s a vicious cycle that just continues and continues. It was a very good point and some people would think that videogame violence and movie sometimes are a possible cause of negative social actions or reactions or copycats, what do you think of it or what is your view?

WM: I have read a lot of researches on this. My play GAM3RS is now being turned into a web series. So, it tours all over the United States and often this comes up. We have discussions after the play and this often comes up of like “I don’t like my kids playing those games”. Nobody has yet done that definitive study that says “There is a correlation between blowing things up in a video game and wanting to blow things up in real life”. I understand some parents being concerned about that but there is no one to one correlation here at all and nobody has made that firm connection. The connection they have made that is for sure is that watching real violence desensitizes you to it, that kids who come from a home where their mother is beating their father – their father is beating them or there is violence in the home, they tend to act more violently than anyone else and there was a recent study that showed the bystanders that we were talking about how important it is for the bystander, it is not only important for the target – for them to stand up for the target but it is also important for them because if a few things happen to the bystander if they don’t say anything:

  1. Is they become desensitized to violence and therefore they are more likely to act violently themselves because they just witnessed an act of violence and I’m sure you have seen soccer matches where fights break out all over the stands, completely unrelated to each other, but there is just this atmosphere of violence that sort of sparks all these spontaneous combustions.
  2. And the other thing that happens is they…there is…as humans, if we saw a kitten suffering, then you probably have this urge to go over and try to help it. In humans, there is this need to do that and if you don’t, the guilt that dwells up in you is so powerful that you will make excuses for why you didn’t. So, people actually become desensitized to others because as they are standing there, watching this person being picked on, they go“Well, if he didn’t act so gay/if she weren’t so fat/if he didn’t dress that way/if whatever…” they rationalize for themselves why this person is getting abused and “It’s ok. I didn’t have to step because it’s really this person’s fault that they are getting bullied” and again that’s not a healthy way to look at the world; to become so desensitized to human suffering that you can justify it.

CC: Of course and do you think there is an opportunity to use technology and games to fight bullying as opposed to some people are afraid of technology as we say when the kids come home and they’re half-afraid switch on their Facebook in case they think there’s going to be multiple posts. Can we use technology to combat this?

WM: I would hope so. No one has yet come up with a really good anti-bullying game. A couple of people have made stabs at it and I’m a big fan of Professor JaneMcGonigal who wrote the book Reality is Broken about gamification and how many problems can be solved via games and I wish somebody would come up and I have certainly given a lot of thought to how can we develop a program, how can we develop a game, that really helps address this. In the meantime, as I said, some game companies are monitoring people’s plays for certain conduct, for certain words. They actually have spies, if you will, in the game, other players who were deputized to keep an eye out and if they see you doing something bad, they will screen capture, save that, report it and say “This guy was being a jerk”. You get a couple of these reports, you have your account suspended. So, I would hope instead of just suspending the account, these game companies are actually doing more than that and saying “Here it is. What you did was wrong, why it was wrong and why you shouldn’t do it again “and actually get into correcting the problem rather than slapping on the wrist.

CC: Of course educate and help people not reoffend. Are parents and teachers dealing with bullied victims or bullies in the right way going back to our area point and you are talking about counseling for the bullies themselves? You think that as a whole parents and teachers are dealing with these both parties in the right way?

WM: I think on the whole, if we were to take the whole spectrum, no. I don’t think they are dealing with it well enough. I think in lots of individual cases, there are fantastic people doing really great work but in many cases, no they are not. They are not intervening.

Just a recent study that I read by a professor from Millers University in Pennsylvania that teachers are much less likely to intervene if it’s anti-gay bullying than if it’s racial or against a girl or some other reason but they sort of let it slide. There was a study done a few years ago where they asked students “How often do you hear derogatory gay terms; fag, that’s so gay, things like that during the day?” and the straight kids said it was like 5 times a day, the gay kids said it was like 15 to 20 times a day. When they actually got kids to wear a secret wire, you know a microphone like the one for drug dealers, and then they counted at the end of the day. It was over 200 times a day that those things just bombarded them. So, I don’t know if it’s just the teachers who are immune to this. Apparently, the kids are immune to it that they just hear it so pervasively that it doesn’t even register anymore or if they just really don’t care but then often, there is just an…a lot of it is that the teachers are overworked, underpaid, those sorts of things. They don’t really have the time or energy to get further involved but we need to get them involved, find a way for them to get involved because so often they will say “Hey! Stop that. I heard that. Don’t do that again” and then they walk away and as soon as their back is turned, as soon as they are round the corner, it starts up again or the next day it starts up again and instead of taking the bully, getting them counseling, dealing with the issue, taking the target child aside and saying “Are you ok? What can we do to help address this?”

Not to ever justify hitting people and things like that but sometimes, when we have talked to victims, they are being a little provocative themselves and so if there is something you are doing that is provoking the problem,maybe we should talk about that. You know, it doesn’t justify hitting you but you could actually stop saying whatever. You know, rubbing your Ain nose of the guy who just got a D isn’t necessarily the smartest thing but kids being kids, humans being humans, adults will do this too. I can’t beat you at sports so I will try to beat you academically but then that might mean that you get to beat me physically later if I flaunt that A to you.

CC: Of course and what do you think then we go from here as a society? How do we fix bullying as a whole? You think it’s more schools implementing the policy that is in your region, you think it’s game companies getting more involve, you think we need the whole of society to get to change the mindset and become more switched on to bullying and fighting it together?

WM: All of the above and yes, I think on the grassroots level in the schools we need to address it because it’s going to take a long time from the top to catch up with the bottom but I also think that we really need to get much more firm when, I don’t know how you are familiar with American politics, but we have people like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachmann, these major national political leaders saying really horrible hateful things that dispute that kind of hate, dispute that kind of intolerance is not good. I mean for kids, they are impressionable and if some major leader says “It’s ok to attack gay people. It’s ok to hate black people. It’s ok to whatever…” then it’s kind of hard to rationalize what you think might be right with what these national leaders are telling you and certainly what’s happening in Russia now with you know Vladimir Putin and how the whole Russian society seems to be turning back to clock to 1936 Germany, it’s rather frightening with the gangs attacking people and things for being different. So, yes. It’s a societal problem, institutional problem but it is also an individual problem that we can teach kids, individual kids, to be better to one another and often they are better than what their parents are saying and teaching them and you know going back to civil rights struggles of the 60s, you would see little white kids and black kids playing together till their parents are like “No, you can’t do that”. It’s like “Why not?” “I have to teach you to hate him, you don’t understand” and certainly the same has been through Northern Ireland. It’s like you just keep going on with this thing and nobody instantly hates somebody on sight. You really have to learn why you are supposed to hate that person.

CC: Very good point and you know you are totally right. Being at home but you don’t have any hate in your body, it’s built in by your society. You are right as I’m just thinking now of adults and teachers trying to educate their young children “This is wrong” and then you switch on the TV or to sports or politics or I guess celebrities and you see all the behaviors that we are telling our children are wrong and again it’s “Do as we say, don’t do as we do”. If anyone watching this video wants to find out more about you and what you have done and your books and where you are talking and some blog posts and even your play, where they can go to connect?

WM: My website is www.waltergmeyer.com and on there, there is a link to GAM3RS my play, there is a link to my books, there is a…I always post where I will be speaking next and there is a bunch of stuff of coverage of my past talks and some of writings I have done for newspapers and magazines and blogs about bullying and other issues for that manner.

CC: I will have a live link below this video so anyone can quickly click through and hopefully connect with you and visit your site. Thank you so much, Walters. It was great to get your insight and your experience and share it with everyone who is watching this video and to hear what is happening inside the gaming world. It’s very good to hear that the game companies are fighting a good fight as well. So, thank you again.

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