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I tried to post my thoughts on a blog by another reader, unfortunately I think my comment was too long and it would not post. So I figured I would just post it here.

This is in response to a LocalGirl's blog, "Bullied to Death, Once Again".

I think when people hear about bullying we have an archaic view of it - kicking sand at someone on the playground or the restroom "swirlee". There is much more to bullying than mere physical acts. Often kids are singled out that are isolated from others (the loner kid) or those who have only small groups of close friends. Many times fighting back either physically or in any other capacity will only serve to worsen the abusive nature of the bullying itself. Also, as many news stories will attest, the act of bullying is usually not perpetrated by a single bully, it is often several individuals involved and some actually coordinating events together to inact on the victim.

It is easy to say, "just fight back!" however it isn't that simple. Life isn't the 1950's idealized version of society television showed us where we can just stand up to the bully and gain respect. Blame it on changing paradigms in society or shifts in social interactions but retaliating in most instances will not cease the bullying nor will it command respect from those peers targeting the victim.

Then there's staff, faculty and parental involvement. When bullying reaches into this area and attempts are made to acknowledge the incidents the results are variable but the likelihood of the bullying completely ceasing is very low. Staff and faculty from the school are limited by many factors - policy and procedural guidelines for instance (plenty of school districts don't have explicit guides for dealing with these situations nor do they have programs in place for prevention or intervention). Another large factor, regrettably, is simply indifference - that it is just "kids being kids" or such things are not high on the priorities of the teachers or administration.

Parents are a wild card and usually less interested in helping then they are blaming the school and complaining about the school not doing what they're supposed to. Parental blame shifting is a huge problem in instances like this. Also, many bullies express this behavior thanks to parental modeling - many bullies at school have overbearing, authoritarian, bullying parents who probably had overbearing, authoritarian, bullying parents themselves. However, there are other factors such as peer pressure (an extremely powerful force in adoloscent lives), poverty of adolescent introspective ability and the ability to accurately perceive consequences (let's not forget that adolescents aren't "near" adults - an important portion of the brain - the prefrontal cortex which performs many executive functions such as inhibition of emotion and impulsivity as well as working memory - is not fully mature until around the early 20's).

When you're outmanned, outgunned and can't retreat what do you do? Aparently many kids can't handle it and are turning to suicide just to make the torture end. This is a social problem and will take a society to change it - the school, a few kids, a few parents or a few concerned citizens alone cannot stop it nor is it likely to ever completely cease. It may sound a bit nihilistic but such behavior has existed most likely since before even our civilization did and is seen in other social animals as well. However, we can fight it. The key is to get all those involved to work together to attack the problem at its roots - with the bullies themselves and their motivations to display this behavior. I recently posted a blog about such a factor - peer status and praise seems to be a large social reward for bullying behavior (at least in younger kids - the study didn't examine high school age children).

The thing to keep in mind is that children are taking their own lives due to something that is entirely preventable. We may not be able to stop bullying as whole but we sure can save some lives in the process if we try.