Friday, April 1, 2011

Bullying: The Bully's Side of the Story

This is the final post in the bullying series.

So far in this series, we've concentrated on the victims of bullying and quite rightly too. If you or your child is the victim of bullying, then it's obvious that you'll need to look after your own needs first. It's also very probable that you'll find yourself a bit short on mercy for the person who is making your life (or your child's life) a living hell.

It's (usually) not your job.

Having a Plan for Bullies
The fact is though that bullies don't come from nowhere. They're often children raised in difficult circumstances and are often the victims of bullying themselves, perhaps by an older sibling or a parent.

I've read many posts which suggest jail terms or all manner of other sanctions for bullies but I disagree with these. I don't think that they're addressing the real problems simply by punishing the bully.

If the bully is school aged - and particularly if the bullying is occuring at school, then the school should really "punish" the bully by requiring them to spend a certain amount of time with a counsellor. It's not enough to simply "slap the wrist" of a serial bully and tell them not to do it again. You need to find out what is going on - what is motivating them.

I'm not sure if it's legal but it would probably be best that bully counselling occurs, at least initially, without the bully's parents knowledge - at least until they're eliminated as a factor.

Counsellors need to look for evidence of a cycle of physical or emotional abuse, unmet needs (such as parents who are never home), undiagnosed psychological or sociological conditions or simply evidence of extreme frustration. They also need to look for signs of peer pressure and if need be, break up these harmful social groups.


If the Bully is YOUR Child
But what if the bully is your child? What if you know that there's no pressure at home? How do you find where the problem lies?

The first answer is still counselling. If you child is verbal, then you need to accept that sometimes as a parent, you're going to be the last to know about your child's problems. Consider turning them over to a counsellor and letting them spend time alone with your child. Sometimes it's easier to talk to a stanger about things that you wouldn't otherwise tell your own parents.

Spend some quality one-on-one time with your child. If they're young, take them out to a quiet coffee shop (without a playground) and get them a milkshake. If they're a little older, take them to a proper coffee shop or even a bar (assuming they're a lot older). Spend a little time talking about your own experiences, feelings of inadequacy and growing up issues but make sure that you keep things brief and "human". It's supposed to be about your child, not you.

Spend some time simply listening to your child. Let them direct the conversation - if they want to talk about their special interest, then give them at least five minutes of uninterrupted time to get it out of their system.

If, after a long time, they still haven't given you anything to go on, then you might need to talk more directly about bullying. "I got a phone call from the school yesterday about bullying. Can you talk to me about it?". The point here is to listen rather than judge and to prompt without interrogating or interrupting. You're mainly trying to find out how your child feels about the incident and whether there is more to it than meets the eye.

The other thing that you need to talk to your child about is the victim. This probably should be reserved for a different conversation. You need to find out if your child understands how the victim feels and whether they can put themselves in the "shoes" of the victim. The outcome of this conversation is very important as it could highlight other difficulties that your child may have.


Concluding the Series
Bullying occurs everywhere throughout life but it is not something that can be ignored or tolerated. Bullying must always be stopped but in order to stop it, two things must happen;
  • The victim must be removed from the situation
  • The bully must be "investigated" to see if there is a cause.
While it's the parent's job to safeguard their children, it's not simply enough for an institution to protect an individual victim. They need to stop it at the source.

1 comment:

Robert Hickman said...

I completely agree with your premise that the bully themselves should not be simply punished, that there is often a root cause of the problem.

I was the victim of extensive bullying myself during my childhood and I never found out what was motivating them, it would be interesting to know.

Were they simply picking on me because I was different, or was there another reason? Just another mystery of my life I guess.