Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Did You See That?

The third role in the bully tragedy is the bystander. These people participate in ways they may not even be aware, both actively and passively. Active bystanders encourage the bully through words and/or actions. Bystanders are at high risk for becoming bullies themselves and they may not even be aware of what they do or say that may be a part of the problem. Passive bullies encourage the bully (also) through words and/or actions (or lack there-of). 
            Let’s be perfectly clear. There are no innocent bystanders. They can be disengaged on-lookers, believing what is happening is none of their business. They may even want to help the target, but they determine the risk is too great to their own safety or the safety of someone they care for. Regardless of what appear to be legitimate reasons for keeping quiet or staying out of the situation, they are a part of the problem. It is, in part, for this reason that bullying is a cultural issue.  And until bystanders take action to stop the bullying the will continue to poison the environment. In the book The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander, an excerpt regarding the stand the Danes took against the horrifying Nazis when they invaded Denmark is an emotionally rendering plea to the moral fabric of humanity. Then seventeen-year-old Preben Munch-Nielson wrote of his decision to defy the Gestapo:
            You can’t let people down. You can’t turn the back to people who need your help. There must be some sort of decency in a man’s life, and it wouldn’t have been decent to turn one’s back. So there’s no question of why or why not. You just did. That’s the way you’re brought up. You help, of course. Could you have retained your self-respect if you knew that these people would suffer had you said, “No, not at my table?” No. No way. So that’s not a problem. You just have to do it.  
This quote (posted at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.) is about a small group of fisherman (of which Preben was a part) who, with the help of others smuggled over 7,000 Danish Jews out of Denmark to safety in small fishing boats and then, in the middle of the channel, larger Swedish ships. The account of how this was accomplished is amazing.
            Chances are if a child is neither the bully nor the target he/she is a bystander.  Consider the word “bystander”. According to www.dictionary.com it means a person who is present but not involved; a chance spectator; onlooker. Compare that to “witness” which, according to the same source means to testify to or bear witness to. While the difference in wording may be subtle, the difference in implication cannot be emphasized enough.  To be a witness, a person needs to pay attention, get involved, and never look away.  Encourage children, through both words and actions, to act on behalf of others in need. Discuss with them what it is like to go against the grain. Empathize with them in difficult decisions regarding the fear someone feels when a scary situation arises and they find themselves faced with getting involved. Our children need to recognize bullying, refuse bullying, and then report bullying (Steps to Respect bully prevention program).  It is most often necessary for an adult to intervene to stop serious bullying so the reporting step is critical.  Telling an adult is quite a risk, however, and adults must take the information reported seriously and confidentially. Bullying thrives on secrecy and exposing it is key in fighting it. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in one of his many powerful speeches:
            Cowardice asks the question: is it safe?
                  Expedience asks the question: it is politic?
                  Vanity asks the question: is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular…but one must take it because it is right.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Is My Child a Target of Bullying?

     The second player in the bullying tragedy is the bullied or the target. This person is also called a victim. Use of the terms victim and target are often used interchangeably but carry very different connotations. A victim refers to someone who suffers at the hands of another; a passive role. A target refers to a person who is the aim of an attack by a hostile entity; a more empowered role as there is not the connotation of suffering per say. The target of a bully is often selected strategically because he/she is different in some way. Often times kids with special needs are targets of bullies because they are different than the "norm."
     Kids who are bullied often to not volunteer their experiences to another person and more often than not adults do not notice. How is it possible that bullying is happening under the nose of an adult and no one knows? Believe it or not it is possible and highly likely.  Targets do not report bullying instances to an adult because of several reasons, including feeling ashamed, fear of retaliation, thinking no one can or will help, and even believing being bullied is a part of the natural part of growing up. While kids do not directly tell about their experience, they do send warning signs. Knowing what to look for is critical in helping identify and address bullying. Then, listen beyond the words and look beyond the fake smiles and nervous laughter.
     A sudden disinterest in or refusal to go to school is a primary warning sign that something is wrong. In addition, a sudden drop in grades can communicate a problem as it is hard for a target to focus on school. Frequent medical complaints, such as headaches, stomach-aches, extreme fatigue, and even onset of panic attacks are signs. The body responds to stress by turning on the chemical defense system which causes an increase in adrenaline for its "fight" or "flight" responses. This increase in adrenaline keeps the body in high gear until there is a mental and physical break down which leaves the body exhausted. Another common warning sign is when the target acts out of character, such as talking about peers in a derogatory way, wearing clothing that is messy or torn, or even getting into trouble at school for behaviors that were never a problem before.
     Consider the poem "Don't Laugh at Me" by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin and use it as a discussion point with your children.

Don't laugh at me, don't call me names.
Don't take your pleasure from my pain.
I'm a little boy with glasses
The one they call a geek.
A little girl who never smiles
'Cause I have braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.
I'm that kid on every playground
Who's always chosen last
A single teenage mother
Try'n to overcome my past.
You don't have to be my friend
But is it too much to ask: Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain...
Don't laugh at me I'm fat, I'm thin, I'm short, I'm tall
I'm deaf, I'm blind, hey aren't we all.