Friday, June 29, 2007

Rethinking Bullying V

What advice can we bestow upon a young person who is suffering at the hands of a bully? How can we, as adult leaders, help adolescents in situations such as these? How did Odysseus handle his terrifying experience in the cave of the Cyclops? In order to address the issue of bullying, we must first examine what effects bullying has on the spirit of the young person.

Bullying, and the fear it induces, can lead to the paralysis of social ability. A young person who is the victim of bullying sometimes finds it difficult to engage others socially. Conversations can become awkward as the victim shies away from social contact due to the fear of being ridiculed, taunted, or harmed in a way that is common to their experience. "Shyness" as a personality trait will often develop as a method to cope with the fear of being bullied. A young person who has a tremendous amount to offer the world may be reduced to a life of self-imposed seclusion out of fear and trepidation.

There is an interesting dynamic at work in situations like these. Young people (and, being honest, we adult leaders, too) sometimes find themselves acting out of fear (i.e., avoiding situations similar to the ones in which the bullying took place) in an effort to escape further bullying. For example, a student who enjoys playing soccer might choose not try out for the team if someone who has bullied or harassed him is also trying out. To the victim, this sounds like a reasonable plan, but looking at the results through the lens of the heart, we come to understand that self-limiting actions such as these have a wilting effect on the spirit. Acting out of fear leads to more fear rather than less. How can we assist young people who are being bullied to make decisions not out of fear, but rather out of strength?

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rethinking Bullying IV

If you should witness bullying firsthand, it is important to stop it immediately if it is reasonably safe to do so. Physically stand in between the bully and the victim. Separate the two individuals and try to avoid letting the bully make eye contact with the victim. Most bullies are sneaky and like to avoid detection. Call a spade a spade. If you saw bullying occur, call the bully out. Identify what he or she did in a calm but firm voice.

Don’t try to have the bully apologize or shake hands or in any way make amends at that moment. Rather, allow the situation to deescalate and then address the issue at a later time. If necessary, administer immediate consequences to the bully and state any appropriate rules and policies against bullying behavior. Enable the victimized student to retain his or her dignity by not asking questions pertaining to the incident with other students present. Privacy is very important when assisting a student who is the target of bullying. Questioning the student while others are within earshot can further embarrass and traumatize the victim.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rethinking Bullying III

Signs That a Young Person Is Being Bullied

Before we can help students who are being bullied, we have to know how to identify the signs that tell us bullying is taking place. Most adolescents will not readily tell an adult about the bullying problems that they are facing for fear of retaliation by the bully or of being labeled a "tattle-tale."

A list of warning signs that a young person is being bullied includes:

• Clothing torn or damaged, belongings often missing
• Unexplainable bruises, cuts, or other wounds
• Loss of interest in school or a drop in grades
• Depression, crying easily, locking oneself in the bedroom
• Unexplained loss of appetite
• Trouble sleeping at night
• Anxiety
• Fewer friends
• Low self-esteem
• Has contemplated suicide

Whenever possible, be aware of bullying behaviors in chat rooms, over instant messenger, and through text messaging. Believe it or not, bullies have been known to use these technologies to harass their victims in a multitude of ways.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rethinking Sarah

Female Bullying: The Story of Sarah

Female bullying looks different from male bullying in that it is primarily verbal and emotional. This isn’t to say that female bullying can’t become physical, as it occasionally does. Let’s take a look at Sarah’s situation to gain a better understanding of female-on-female bullying.

Sarah had grown up in the school district she currently attended. Through elementary and now middle school, she had spent most of her time with a group of about six or seven girlfriends. In the middle of her eighth-grade year, things became a little rocky with one of the girls in her group, Tina, who was arguably the leader. One day at the lunch table, Sarah mentioned that she thought a certain boy, Travis, was a "hottie." Unbeknownst to Sarah, Travis was currently being pursued by Tina. Tina reacted by calling Sarah a "slut." This led to considerable awkwardness, and Sarah, who tried to avoid confrontation, didn’t respond and fell silent.

Over the next few weeks, things began to get worse and worse. Sarah returned from her gym class to find the word "Ho!" scrawled in pencil on the door of her locker. She quickly tried to erase the word before anyone else saw it, but some around her noticed. The atmosphere at the lunch table was becoming more and more tense as Tina continually taunted Sarah, referring to
her as a "bitch" and "whore." Some of the other girls at the table began to give Sarah the cold shoulder, more in an attempt to stay in the good graces of the dominant Tina

The next day, a group of girls from another clique came up to Sarah’s locker in the morning before homeroom. They snickered and laughed. "What’s the matter?" Sarah queried. "So . . . how was it?" one of the girls replied. "How was what?" Sarah said. "Well, Tina told everyone on MySpace last night that you had sex with some kid." Sarah felt the tears of frustration seep into her eyes; she couldn’t help it. She ran away crying, which only fueled the poisonous gossip and rumors that Tina had spread.

That night she locked herself in her room. Sarah’s mother knew that something was terribly wrong, but was unable to pry any information from her daughter as to what it might be. How could Sarah tell her mother? Imagine the embarrassment! She, too, felt like Odysseus, trapped in the Cyclops cave. Her crew was being eaten one by one and the situation was looking ever grimmer.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Rethinking Greg

Male Bullying: The Story of Greg

Male-on-male bullying is commonly a mixture of both physical and verbal abuse. Let’s take a look at an example of bullying from the perspective of a ninth-grade boy named Greg. Greg had started his freshman year at his new school with a feeling of both nervousness and excitement. He had experienced a lackluster eighth-grade year at his old school in Tennessee and hoped for fresh possibilities in this new Pennsylvania high school.

Unfortunately for Greg, things took an unexpected turn. During his sixth period technology education class, he ran into a much bigger student named Chad. Chad began by poking fun at Greg’s Southern accent in front of the other students. He was called "Reb" and "Redneck." The other teens in the class laughed along with Chad—usually out of fear, so as not to be singled out by him themselves.

As the days progressed and the leaves began to turn, Greg’s experiences in this class began to worsen. Since the technology education rooms were very large and the teacher was often distracted with machinery and the needs of other students, the bullying Greg faced at the hands of Chad most often went unnoticed. Chad would hide Greg’s books while he worked on a project elsewhere in the room. If Greg protested, Chad would threaten Greg, sometimes even giving him a quick punch to the top of the head while the teacher wasn’t looking. In the cafeteria, prior to his sixth-period class, Greg was often unable to enjoy lunch or even to eat, dreading the bullying he would face in during the next part of his day. Chad would occasionally come up behind Greg during class or in the hallway and kick his feet out from under him, making him fall or trip in front of others, who would invariably laugh for fear of becoming the next target.
This daily humiliation and defeat made Greg feel powerless. There was no getting around the fact that he was smaller than Chad. He was embarrassed to tell a teacher, worrying others would find out and that he would be branded a tattletale or a coward for not taking it "like a man." He was also hesitant to tell his parents; after all, his parents had troubles of their own and didn’t want to be burdened with his problems. It is important to recall that bullying is one of the major reasons cited by students who have carried out several widely publicized school shootings.
Like so many others, Greg simply stuffed it all down and, in the end, felt depressed, fearful, and lonely. Thoughts of taking his own life even crossed his mind with greater frequency. Greg felt as though he was trapped in a dark cave, and Chad was his Polyphemus. Like Odysseus, he needed a plan.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Rethinking Bullying II

Bullies may target certain students for a variety of reasons. It could be that the student looks different, perhaps racially, ethnically, or in other ways. Another possible cause of bullying is the way a student talks, maybe with a lisp, stutter, or accent. Due to previous heart-wounds, some students tend to project an image of defeat, of not being able to stand up for themselves. This tends to draw the attention of bullies. Sometimes there is no discernable reason for bullying to occur, but it does anyway.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rethinking Bullying

Bullying in its essence is about the lust for power. It is subtle and insidious, and it often occurs right under the noses of adults. Bullies will sometimes try to control others for purposes of drawing attention to themselves, exerting their power and will over them. Contrary to popular belief, most bullies do not suffer from a low opinion of themselves. Many are popular and enjoy tormenting those who aren’t as strong.

Here is some research reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that supports this idea: Bullies often Mr Popular at school, study finds

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Rethinking Giants II

Most people have never come face to face with a flesh-eating, one-eyed mythological monstrosity like Polyphemus, but many young people have encountered a giant just as menacing. For a moment, look at bullying again through the eyes of someone who is currently facing it, and you will come to understand that bullying is a monster just as fearsome as the Cyclops of Homeric epic. Bullying strikes at the heart and soul of the adolescent, with a terrible brutality.

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