Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

How to stop bullying: Two very different approaches

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bullying has been in the news again: more savagery in schools, more suicides, more hand-wringing on what to do… In the most recent newsletter from Edutopia there was a segment titled “Creative Solutions to Prevent Bullying: Boosting Emotional Intelligence to Battle Bullying – A Brooklyn program gives kids an emotional tool kit.”

I watched the video with my son to get his reaction to this “emotional tool kit.” Then we watched another video with a very different approach. I will say right from the start that Jack smirked at the first approach and was spellbound by the second. Here is the first video and Jack’s response to it:

Jack's response:
They tell you how to react when someone hurts you but you don’t want them to hurt you in the first place. If you react like this lady says that’s good, but normally you get hurt and then you lose yourself. Kids don’t control themselves that well unless they’re the daughter of a king or someone like that. Kids can’t stop and think about how to react, they just react. It’s really stupid that you think a kid would stop and think.

They should teach kids not to hurt anyone in the first place. We’re young but when you teach us things like this lady says you treat us like babies. You’ve got to be strict about this. It won’t work to just go blah blah blah… You should be a little harder on us. I’m not saying you should punish us for every word we say off topic but you have to take bullying seriously. You don’t take bullying seriously. This video talks about how some bullying turns into drug and gang fights. Many people can get caught between that. It is a big thing. Now unfortunately some bullies in high school have killed people. You can’t take this lightly. Duh…

You have to start when kids are really young and try to teach as hard as you can – but don’t go hard on kids in first grade. Get harder on them through the years. Get serious. In elementary they don’t teach you enough to prevent bullying. Teach kids before they become bullies. If you are strict with the leaders they would never lead other kids into bullying.

All in all, what I understood from Jack was that he thought this “I-Message” approach is too soft and babyish. He speaks from experience. This was the method that was tried in his school and it didn’t stop anyone from bullying him. According to his experience this is what happens:

Bullied kid: “I feel hurt because…”
Bully and friends: "Aw, shut up..."

The second video we watched, Michael Pritchard in action, completely absorbed Jack. Here is the video and Jack’s response to it:

Jack's response:
This is a way better approach. It’s so cool, so awesome that I don’t know what to say. It’s the best method ever. All teachers should do this: be funny and let the kids talk. One day I walked into the teachers’ lounge at my old school and I heard one of the teachers – unfortunately I think she quit – say, “The kids don’t like me, they hate me. I try my best to be one of them but I can’t.” That’s the best thing I heard a teacher say. But if she tried this method she might have gotten lucky with the kids.


This guy sounds like an awesome dude, I want to meet him. I wonder how he came up with such a great method. He was not telling the kids not to be bullies but really showing them and explaining to them how it felt to be bullied. But he was not telling the kids to explain it in the moment of feeling bad… The way works much better. Normally if you’re able to control yourself and say all the things that they tell you to say the kids don’t believe you. They think it’s completely fake. They tell you to shut up.

This method is just more real. If you’re a bully and you feel affected by what the bullied guy or girl is saying, then if you have bullied someone you might come up and apologize. That might bring some pressure off of you.

In the beginning of the video one of the girls said she was trying to understand how the bully was feeling and realized that that they were hurting too. The bully hurts himself and just can’t keep it inside. He needs to release it and takes it out on another kid. But that’s not a good way to release the negative energy. What I’ve learned from a teacher is to take it out on a ball or a brick – but I recommend you don’t do the brick because I hurt my toe doing that.

This second video really got Jack to open up. Michael Pritchard’s comment about grief turning into anger especially hit home with Jack.

When I get bullied I get mad and I want to hurt the person who hurt me. I used to hate my life, how it hurt me – that was the grief part. Then it turned into hatred. I just hated the people who were doing it. Finally it turned into rage. Now if anyone bullies me even a little touch I want to hurt the dude. That’s when I take it out on a ball or a wall or a brick. Eventually the hatred turned against the teachers: rage was against the bullies and hatred was against the teachers. All their planned stuff like I-Messages and stuff just didn’t work.

I would summarize Jack’s reactions in these basic points:

    1. A nice lady holding up a heart-shaped paper does not give the impression that she’s taking bullying as seriously as it ought to be taken.

    2. A big guy with a double edge of humor and toughness is more effective in getting the message across that he means business about bullying.

    3. “I-Messages” and the like are seen by kids – younger as well as older – as fake and babyish. A kid doing an I-Message is often setting him or herself up for being made fun of.

    4. Real self-expression is free expression. In the second video the kids expressed themselves in their own words, not according to some phony formula. This is what made their words effective. 

Kids do not like to be talked down to no matter how young they are. And if anybody would listen they would talk – and listen to each other.

Here are some of my own observations:

    1. Trying to teach kids to react in a calm and proper manner in the moment of being bullied is wishful thinking. Yes, we should all be superhumans and able to “manage” our anger at a moment’s notice but we have to be honest. How many people, no matter what the age, are able to do that? It is certainly extremely useful to learn some basic techniques for surviving awful situations right in the moment: observing our breathing, averting our gaze, removing ourselves… But to concentrate solely on these techniques is actually laying the burden of exertion on the bullied person. What about the bully? Kids don’t see this as fair and square.

    2. Bullying must be addressed in a community. Bullying is not something between two people that can be settled with a little dispute resolution. The entire community must face the problem and address it openly. And of course the kids themselves are the most relevant part of this community. They must be given the chance to speak their own minds in their own words. That’s the first step, and one through which a lot gets resolved without need for further intervention. But it is a step that needs support and some simple nudging from adults who are perceived as both very serious and very compassionate.

    3. Nothing fake works.


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