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Bullying-The Great Debate
Wednesday, March 4, 2009 • Posted March 4, 2009

By our simple definition of bullying (behaviors that consist of intentional torment of another, over time, in an attempt to dominate that person), we could all agree that it is wrong. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, or how old you are, it would still be wrong. Since agreement on this is easy, why isn’t the solution easy? If you ever get a chance to observe a debate between Dan Olweus, “the father of the anti-bully movement”, and Izzy Kalman, author of the “Bullies to Buddies” program be sure you take advantage of it. But first, please call me and let me know, so I can go, too! These two learned guys have the best of intentions, but with very different approaches to solving bullying, and as promised last week, we will look at each.

Dan Olweus, and a host of others, have jumped on the anti-bullying movement with great fervor. The mainstay of the thinking is that if we can eliminate bullies, then we eliminate the victims. To do that, they believe, we must be ever-present, ever-vigilante, and move swiftly into action whenever an act of aggression or bad manners shows itself. It labels virtually any push, shove, name-calling, or other act of aggression as bullying. It assumes that schools have fostered this ill-begotten behavior because it has been considered ‘kids will be kids’ behavior, and tolerated by teachers and administrators. According to Kalman, however, “Schools have never tolerated bullying among children and have always been trying to stop it. It just hasn’t been routinely called “bullying”. (Bullyproofing Made Easy, Kalman, 2008, p. 13)

Like Olweus, most of those in the anti-bully movement have focused on enforcement of good conduct. Every ill-mannered act should be reported immediately by the victim, and discipline should be administered with few, or no questions asked. Zero-tolerance is the key word and enforcement is critical. Kalman would ask if the act was indeed intentional, has it occurred over time, and if it was meant to dominate. Is one mean look bullying? Does one shove, one push, one name called get the child labeled a bully? Does bullying the bully get us what we want? Isn’t automatically taking the victim’s word over the perpetrator’s unjust? He suggests that most aggressive behavior is created in the subconscious as opportunity presents itself and comes nowhere close to being an attempt at intentional domination And besides, he claims, the term ‘bully’ is a demeaning term and for us to even use it in reference to another human is to add insult to injury.

According to Kalman, the real damage is done when we create the victim mentality in those whom we meant to protect. As we expect students to report bullying, we inadvertently send the message that they are incapable of handling the situation themselves, so they must seek help. Consequently, hatred blooms between perpetrator and the reporter (victim), the aggression accelerates, the victim becomes weaker and the bullying problem we meant to eradicate actually flourishes. In his work “Bully-Proofing Made Easy…”, Kalman offers evidence that we have been headed in the wrong direction: “…86% of victimization outcomes (reports by victims of program benefits) were negligible or negative and the remaining 14% of reported effects were positive (albeit small). For self-reported bullying, 100% of the reported effects were negligible or negative.” Despite the dismal results, the researchers suggest that we continue the approach to hopefully find something that works. Kalman didn’t say that this thinking resembles a government bail out program where if it hasn’t worked you keep doing it until it does, but I will.

Were the shooters at Columbine bullies or victims? Is the most violence perpetrated by bullies or victims? Anger, hatred, and revenge are behaviors of victims. As a rule, these occur after repeated acts of aggression, after the victim has been rendered feeling helpless, and not as part of a bullying act. Bullies, (not murderers, rapists, and psychopaths), and not very dangerous, according to Kalman. The truly dangerous are those victims consumed with anger, hatred, and revenge fantasies, such as the shooters at Columbine. Dan Olweus would jump in here and say, “See there! We have to get rid of the bullies, so there will be no victims!” Kalman would reply something like, “I just showed you how that will never happen, so we need to victim-proof kids instead”.

I would say, “Whoa, hold on there a minute guys! Why not use the best of both strategies to accomplish the goal?’ That is what schools have done, and still do. The administration (principals) makes Mr. Olweus happy by investigating, apprehending offenders, and then delivering an appropriate consequence to fit the offense, some of which fit the bullying definition, but most do not. The counseling office tries to arm the victims with skills and techniques to ‘take the target off their back’. Practicing the right thing(s) to say, and how to say it can go a long way in deflecting rude remarks or behavior from those who would like to dominate them. Mr. Kalman would be proud. Yes, the counselors also work with the bullies to ascertain their dilemma and come up with better ways to handle it.

How to help your child not make the number one mistake that most victims make will be the topic next week. Giving skills to children to help them handle torment from others will serve them well into adult hood. After all, according to a 2007 Zogby international poll, “37 % of American workers, anestimated 54 million people, have been bullied at work.” If you have a need, or thoughts, you may reach me at 347 1122 ext. 239 or jeff.grote@masonisd.net.

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