A few days ago I posted a strongly worded argument about keeping children away from facebook because of cyber-bullying. I extended my argument to suggest that mobile phones and other technology may exacerbate bullying.
This sickening story and footage underscore precisely the point I was making. (Warning - significant violence and highly distressing images)
A Yr 10 boy who has repeatedly been the target of bullying was punched in the face and hit several times by a Yr 7 boy while his friends filmed the taunting, ready for publication on facebook. After a few moments and several more punches, the Yr 10 boy retaliated and threw the tormenter to the ground, breaking his ankle.
Would this bullying have occurred were it not for video phones and facebook? Possibly. But possibly not.
However, this technology has brought the real dangers of bullying directly into our homes. And the images it presents are serious and need to be dealt with.
I watched this video and was close to tears. I felt so saddened that our children feel that it is appropriate to treat one another this way. At the end of this week it is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. This occurrence is a reminder of just how much it matters that parents work to improve things for their children.
What can YOU do if your child is the bully?
I suggest three things:
1. Don't be a bully yourself
Do not, under any circumstance, attempt to use your own power to "make" your child change his or her behaviour. This only reinforces the idea that might is right.
It sounds logical enough. But if your child was involved in the horrendous act described above, it would be a great challenge to not be angry, make threats, remove privileges, and dole out punishments. 'Consequences' is a common euphemism for a parent punishing a child. Ultimately, however, this type of behaviour is undeniably a form of bullying. It is unlikely to do any constructive teaching.
2. Use perspective taking.
This will need to be done in two ways. First, you might try to understand how your child is feeling. What is causing him or her to act as a bully? Imagine you were her. Try to see what life is like as your child. Talk it through together. Second, encourage your child to imagine what it is like to be the person who is bullied each day. Have them see the world through the eyes of the victim.
This process is a challenging one. You may struggle to take your child's perspective accurately. And your child may become defensive when considering how another person feels. Take your time. Work slowly and compassionately. Results may take a very long time to be forthcoming.
Hint: It may be a good idea to have such a conversation while you go for a walk together. Being in public may help keep strong emotions more regulated. And walking together may promote more meaningful, useful conversation.
The following story is from a NYT article about cyberbullying(here)
One afternoon two years ago, Judy, a recent widow in Palm Beach County, Fla., who had been finishing her college degree, helping a professor research cyberbullying, and working in an office, got a call from the school.
“Your daughter is involved in a cyberbullying incident,” the assistant principal said. “Come down immediately.”
Her daughter and two others had made a MySpace page about another middle-schooler, saying she was a “whore,” with a finger pointing to her private parts. The young teenagers printed out copies and flung them at students.
Judy rushed to school. Her daughter, a sweet, straight-A student, was waiting in the guidance counselor’s office, her arms crossed defiantly.
“I said to her, ‘This is a human being,’ ” Judy recalled. “ ‘This girl will be destroyed for the rest of her life!’ And my daughter just said: ‘I don’t care. It’s all true.’ And I bawled while she just sat there.”
The school suspended Judy’s daughter for three days.
“I did not call the target, I’m ashamed to say,” Judy recalled. “I didn’t know how to get hold of her. The school wouldn’t give me her name, and my daughter wouldn’t talk to me.”
Once Judy got over her shock, she said, “I had to accept that my daughter had really done this and it was so ugly.”
Judy took away her daughter’s computer, television and cellphone for months. She tried talking with her. Nothing. There were weeks of screaming and slammed doors.
Meanwhile, the girl’s grades dropped. She was caught with marijuana. Judy realized that her daughter had long been bottling up many family stressors: illness and death, financial worries, her mother’s exhausting schedule. In reaction, the girl had been misbehaving, including doing the very thing her mother found so abhorrent: cyberbullying.
In time, as Judy took long walks with her daughter, the girl began to resemble the child Judy thought she had known.
When her daughter’s grades improved, Judy bought her a puppy. “A lot of people will disagree with me,” Judy said, “but I thought, this is a way for her to be responsible for something other than herself, something that would be dependent on her for all its needs.”
The girl doted on the puppy. One day, Judy asked: “ ‘Would you want anyone to be mean to your dog? Throw rocks at Foxy?’ ”
Her daughter recoiled. Judy continued: “ ‘How do you think other parents feel when something mean happens to their children?’ Then she broke down crying. That’s when I think she finally understood what she had done.”
The process will not be a fast one in many cases. But perspective taking is the ONLY way that a child who is bullying will ever really understand what has happened and be motivated to cease.
3. Show your child that you love them.
This simply means that your child probably needs more of you now than ever before. It is a FACT that the times that our children are the LEAST lovable are the times that they need us MOST.
If your child is being a bully they need you now more than ever before... not as a judge, advice-giver, or critic. Rather they need you as a parent, confidant, model, and guide.
None of these things are easy. None of these steps will bring immediate results. But chances are, over time, they will be far more effective than any other method of 'discipline' - because these methods teach what is appropriate.
Please share this article, and do all you can to ensure that no child you know ever experiences anything remotely close to the incidents described above.