Bullies... What are They Good For?

Written By: R.M. Strong
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Bullies have been around since the beginning of time. We had to deal with bullies, and our parents had their own. There have always been bullies and their prey.

Bullying is also not confined to boys. Girls are getting more and more violent. Where female bullies used to just lay into their classmates psychologically, some are now turning to violence.

According to a 2004 KidsHealth poll, 86% of the more than 1200 9- to 13-year-olds surveyed nationwide, have seen another student bullied, but only 48% admit to being bullied. The survey didn't ask if any of the 86% of those who had seen another student bullied did anything about the bully.

As in our day, today's bullying can cause fear, imagined illnesses, bruises, and twice as much homework. But where our parents and counselors told us to suck it up and learn to defend ourselves, students today are being encouraged to understand the bully.

Some bullies are mean because that is the environment in their house-everyone yells and calls names as their form of communication. Others are looking for someone to dominate. Some bullies may just be looking for attention. Some have low self-esteem or are confused about life. Apparently, there are no more garden-variety jerks anymore.

Now don't get me wrong-bullying is completely wrong. Other people or animals are not a good outlet to vent frustration. There are better ways to take out anger, and we need to teach our children this. As more and more pressure is placed on their little shoulders earlier and earlier there needs to be an outlet for their frustration. Some find outlets in musical instruments, some find it in hanging out with friends, some with writing or art, some turn to comedy, some find their outlet in making others feel as bad as they do.

Bullies now have the same arsenal we recognize from our childhood-their fists, their words, and their actions. Bullying takes on many familiar forms: shunning, ignoring, name-calling, spreading rumors, hitting. As technology changes, so do the bully's arsenal: camera phones, IM, and e-mail are used to bully another student at school.

If your child suddenly begins to avoid school, or begins to regress-such as wetting the bed for the first time in years-those are good signs that your child may be bullied at school. Speak with your student, encourage them to go to an adult such as a teacher, counselor, bus driver, or playground attendant when they are being bullied. Let your child know that it is an almost certainty that when confronted, a bully will lie to authority and deny the accusations.

If your child comes home with visible signs of abuse-bruises or cuts-do not overreact, but do take pictures. It may simply be a rough P.E. class, but take the pictures to the school principal and ask about your child's injuries. Press charges on the student or his or her parents (depending on your state's parental responsibility laws) if you have to.

Humor can also be a useful, disarming, tool against a bully. All the great comedians have said that they started using humor to get out of fights at school. Just make sure your student knows not to use the humor to make fun of the bully-that just makes them mad. Who knows, your child could have a wonderful stand-up career ahead of him.

What you do not want to do is encourage your student to go after the bully. Defending himself is good-and I believe every child should know how to defend himself against attack-but going after a bully just makes you as bad as him.

Rockstar, the makers of the video game "Grand Theft Auto" is coming out with a new video game, "Bully," in October, 2006. In the game, 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins must defend himself against school bullies at a fictional boarding school. Jimmy's arsenol includes baseball bats, stink bombs, and bags of marbles. This is not the correct solution, and not what we want to teach our children.

Almost half of all students surveyed in the 2004 poll-42%-did admit to bullying at least one child in their school career. So what should you do when you get the call saying that your child is the bully, rather than the bullied?

First, don't act in anger. When you get the call from the school, don't go straight to your child and lay into him or her. Spend some time thinking about what to say, perhaps even write out the main points to make sure you get through everything you want covered.

Second, plan to have the conversation where your child feels safe. Go to your child's favorite restaurant or have the conversation in your child's room. If your son is the bully, Dad or another trusted male role model should speak with him. If your daughter is the culprit, Mom or trusted female role model should speak with her. Do not gang up on your child for this conversation. A family discussion can be planned for later, but this conversation should be one-on-one.

Third, set aside a significant block of time to speak with your child, you may need to let your child think about things. Give your child your full attention. If she is just looking for attention, it may be your attention she is trying to get. If he is angry, it may be he is angry at you. This should not be a simply, "Don't do it," type of conversation, or a conversation you have in the car going to the store. If bullying stems from anger and frustration at a situation they have no control over, understanding that situation is the first step in making changes.

Forth, ask questions and then do not interrupt the answers. Let your child say what she needs to say. You may learn a lot about your child and her school life. Ask questions such as: How do you think things are going at school and at home? Do you get along with other kids at school? How do you treat other children? What do you think about being considered a bully? Why do you think you're bullying? What might help you to stop bullying?

Fifth, don't let your child get away with one-word answers. If you need to, ask follow-up or clarifying questions. "I don't know" or shrugs are not adequate answers. If you need to, leave a list of questions with your child, and have them think about the answers.

Sixth, do not get defensive. If you are the root of your child's frustration, don't defend yourself. If your child is angry that you spend more time at work, out with your friends, with your significant other, with other children, playing with your toys, etc., than spending time with them, don't defend yourself. Apologize and work on it. Your child is screaming for your attention, give it to him.

Seventh, revisit the issues more than once. Set out some reasonable goals and rewards for those goals. Keep up with your child, make sure that she is meeting the goals in the time-frame and reward every little baby step forward.

Eighth, get help if you need it. If you need help speaking with your child, or if your child's problems are out of your control, or you suspect he needs mental help, get it.

Bullying is a normal part of growing up. We cannot shelter our children from every unpleasant experience. There are bullies in every part of life-from school to work to the old folks home. No one can get away from their bully. But as parents, it is our responsibility to teach the bully how to act properly, and how to teach the bullied the correct outlet for their anger and frustration.

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