PEACE TALKS: PREVENTING BULLYING (KUNM Airdate: 8/27/04)
What is bullying? What makes a child become a bully? And, what can children and adults do to prevent or stop bullying? Our guests are Lucinda McConnell, a school counselor at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School in Albuquerque who teaches bullying prevention, and Bill Jordan, Deputy Director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a statewide advocacy organization. Throughout the show, we also hear from a young friend, a 9-year-old whom we called Amber to protect her identity.
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What's your definition of a bully?
Lucinda McConnell: Any non-verbal or verbal behavior where the motive is power and control. The bully's desire is to intimidate others and to get what they want. Bill Jordan: I'd say bullying is intentional. It's intended to do harm. Either phsyical or emotional harm to another person. It's usually repeated, it's usually not a one-time thing. And it's ususally something that gets worse. It may start with name-calling, then it might progress to something more physical, taking of lunch money, property damage - a book bag or something like that.
Amber, why do you think people become bullies?
AMBER: (9-years old): Well there's this one boy - I don't know his name. He's been really mean to people in third grade. I try to avoid him. He's chubby and so some people (kid him) that he's really fat. My mom told me that when somebody hears that they're fat, they may be just sad for like 3 months. But then they think, "Well, if I have this much body weight then maybe I could harm the other people with it or threaten them with it. Like I could crush you with it..." SUZANNE: So did he become a bully? AMBER: Yeah. He's gone to the principal's office, I don't know how many times... .
Does that ring true, Lucinda, as a reason why children become bullies?
McCONNELL: Well I think children become bullies because they feel powerless in their lives and there's a lot of different reasons for that. In this particular case, maybe he was feeling powerless in terms of what his peers thought of him. His self-image was being impacted. What I think happens is that there's a lot of fear in bullies but rather than learning to express the fear, what they do is express anger. What's the fear about? Well, it could be that sense of powerlessness. Maybe they're growing up in a home where they're being bullied. There's a number of reasons.
What's the difference between how girls and boys bully?
McCONNELL: Girls tend to use relationships a lot more than boys. They'll theaten to exclude. Sometimes they'll spread rumours and talk about girls behind their backs to change their social status in their community. Boys are more verbal and certainly more physical. When girls bully, the emotional impact is deeper. When boys bully - granted it's both psychologically and emotionally very damaging - but when it's a physical bullying, the event actually ends whereas in girls it continues on in their relationship and impacts every moment of their day.
New Mexico Voices For Children
Tell us a little bit about some of the strategies you teach for dealing with bullies. You use an acronym that has the six steps.
McCONNELL: We use the acronym "HA-HA-SO."
H: HELP. Ask for help if you're being bullied.
Go to an adult. Teacher, Parents, Grandparents, Bus Driver, whomever.
What kinds of other programs work?
BILL JORDAN: The programs that work are an environmental change within the school. A cultural change within the school. It's an emphasis on training staff, faculty, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, parents - everybody. That bullying is not acceptable behavior and this is how we're going to intervene, this is how we're going to create a safer learning environment for all the kids.
McCONNELL: One piece that I've found to be very useful is to empower the bystanders. About 80% of the students in our culture aren't vicitms and they aren't bullies. That's a huge amount of children that have a lot of power. There was a third grader who was being seriously bullied and he talked about how it was the bystanders that sttod up for him and told the bully to quit and it stopped. So I go into the classrooms and we do role plays and help the students practice how to stick up for a victim.
JORDAN: Yeah absolutely. The bystanders are the ones who give the bully their power. If the bully doesn't have anyone to show his power to besides the kid that he's bullying, then it really doesn't get the bully much. But if there are bystanders who see him taking his power over somebody else, he gets his gratification from that. That's why it's so important to involve the bystanders. In the jargon, it's called the "caring majority" of students. And they really do care but they're afraid to intervene but when they know that the adults in that school are going to support them in intervening, they will.
What would you recommend that parents look for in terms of warning signs that their children are either being bullied or are bullying others?
McCONNELL: As far as being victims, parents need to look for a child's chance in attitude about going to school - children sometimes feign sickness, they break down and cry, they're not willing to put language and words to it, but they clearly have changed their attitude about coming to school. And as far as parents accepting the information that their child might be a bully. That's where the team work with the school is really important. The more a parent is willing to accept that their child is exhibiting bullying behavior, the more that we can actually dig deeper and get down to the symptoms of why that child is feeling helpless and help them. I've had experience with children when they no longer need to bully because we've addressed that need for belonging and that sense of self-esteem.
What's the most important thing to remember about bullying?
McCONNELL: I think just not accepting being alone with it. If you're a vicitm of bullying it's important to speak out. If you stay in isolation, you'll continue to be a victim.
JORDAN: One thing that we've run up against when we've talked about bullying is that a lot of adults say, "Oh come on. Kids need to toughen up or it's just teasing. That doesn't hurt and every kid has to go through this. There's really severe bullying out there. If you as an adult, are in a position of authority or are relating to kids and they bring the issue of bullying forward, take that seriously. Don't assume that it's just playful teasing. It's important that we address bullying in the early years and all through the school years. One of the things that we know about bullying behavior that begins early in school turns into criminal behavior on the part of the bully later. 60% of kids who were bullies in middle school have a criminal conviction by the age of 24. That's astounding. And it's one of the ways that we sold this anti-bullying program as a project to the NM state legislature. These programs are extraordinarily cost effective when you consider if we can reduce later crime by a fraction, the money that we spend on bullying prevention in the schools is money very well spent.
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