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Bullying Prevention Expert Karin Stortz

Get more: relationships
04/18/2012

The bullying epidemic is at the forefront of the media these days, thanks to movies like "Bully" and the "It Gets Better" movement.

The rise in awareness of the problem has caused a rise in questions on how to fix the problem. Joining WCL today is Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Bullying Prevention Expert Karin Stortz, who will help us understand the issues and offer some answers.

Karen's Official Site
http://karinstortz.net

Bullying Behavior:

Myths:
- Youth with bullying behaviors have low self-esteem
- They do it because they are "angry kids" or have anger management problems
- Bullying behavior is a natural part of growing up or just harmless fun
- Only boys have bullying behavior
- Occurs mostly in high school
- There are no long term consequences for those with bullying behaviors

Facts:
- Youth with bullying behaviors usually have high self-esteem and a stronger sense of identity than the target. Often they find their identity in being in control, powerful, peers who fear and respond to them and often, adults who give in to their persistence.
- While exhibiting bullying behavior toward the target, they may feel happy, energize, and powerful. Bullying is power imbalance. Bullying is pattern of behavior, rather than a one-time conflict is about a desire for power and control. Those youth who engage in bullying behavior use some form of aggression (verbal, psychological, physical or cyber) to gain power/control over another. Bullying is not an accident but an intentional behavior.
- There is no developmental need that says youth need to have control over others. It is also not harmless fun. Harmless fun implies that all parties are engaged and enjoying themselves. Developmentally, youth DO need to feel acceptance and support from their peers. Often, they will seek acceptance even when they are not respected or a target of bullying.
- The misconception of boys bullying stems from the idea that bullying is only physical. However, bullying behaviors can be verbal, psychological, physical and cyber. Girls are closer to boys in terms of physical aggression. However, it often starts with verbal and psychological and results in physical.
- The peak grade of bullying today is 3rd grade. Bullying behavior can be exhibited as young as 2 years old (i.e. you have a toy I want, so I will hit you (aggression) to get what I want).
- They have increased rates of being involved with the justice system, future difficulties in relationships (this aggression often transfers to dating or married relationships) and drug/alcohol use.

Target (the Bullied):

Myths:
- Nice and friendly girls are not often the targets
- Targets do not use bullying toward others because they know how it feels
- Targets will often talk with their parent or a trusted adult
- Targets want to talk or work out their difficulties with the aggressor
- The only way for a target to end bullying behavior is to fight back
- Children cannot get depressed

Facts:
- Girls that are nice and even friendly can be perceived as weak and can often be the target of bullying.
- Targets can start to exhibit bullying behaviors toward siblings, neighbors or others friends in an effort to regain some level of power/control for themselves.
- Targets rarely seek help from adults because they believe they will not be fully heard and/or protected. Often times, youth believe that if they talk with adult, it may make the situation worse.
- Conflict or peer to peer mediation is not an effective way to intervene in bullying situation. The power imbalance leaves one child with control and the other feeling powerless. The target may shy away from being transparent about the situation because they believe it may get worse if they are a tattletale or "snitch."
- Often times when targets respond aggressively, this may put an end or pause the bullying behavior. However, when the target learns to be assertive, respond firmly and strongly in bullying situations this too can put an end to the behavior. However, adults who wish to encourage youth to solve their issues without violence need to provide them with safe and effective solutions.
- Child can and often do become depressed. For school aged children, depression may often manifest through physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, etc.).

Parents of those with bullying behaviors:

Myths:
- Parenting styles do not impact a child's tendency to engage in bullying behaviors
- If your child is involved/accused of bullying, you do not need to ask their side of the story, or need to know why their child did, only that they did and it is not acceptable, and administer firm consequences
- You only need to tell your child that bullying is bad once and they should remember-your child should "know better"
- Praise and recognition do not make a difference in changing a child's negative behavior
- If your child wants to be in control, it's a bad thing
- It's better if they're the one with the bullying behavior rather than the target- I'd rather my child be tough

Present solutions:
- Lack of warmth, involvement, praise, permission or authoritarian parenting or the same parenting technique for all children, regardless of personality and temperaments, can promote bullying, aggressive or negative attention seeking behaviors.
- It is crucial that you actively listen to your child's side of the story. Creating open, warm lines of communication is essential to addressing the behavior and understanding why it is happening.
- Relying on kids should 'know better' is not an effective strategy. Children need constant reminders, clearly defined expectations and consequences. Children also need to be taught to label their feelings, identify their goals and how to effectively achieve those goals. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be popular, have friends or be a leader. However, how this leadership manifests itself is vital.
- Praise and positive recognition are at the heart of a peaceful and warm environment. Often times, some youth may only receive attention for negative or aggressive behaviors. In order to promote positive and inclusive behaviors, empathy skill building, positive recognition and words of encouragement are crucial  even when administering consequences.
- Bullying behavior has negative long-term effects. *see myths for children with bullying behaviors

Parents of Target:

Myths:
- Telling your child to ignore the behavior is an effective approach
- It is okay to tell your child how you would have handled the situation
- As soon as you find out your child is a target of bullying, you work to fix the problem
- If your child is teased, it is the same as bullying
- Your child school cannot guarantee your child's safety

Present solutions:
- Telling your child to ignore the bullying continues the cycle of powerlessness.
- This may make your child feel guilty or that are disappointing you.
- Parents often make the mistake of rushing to fix the situation and protect that they do not listen or work to empower their child. Working WITH your child is the first step to making them feel they have some level of control in what happens to them.
- There is a difference between joking around, teasing and bullying behaviors. It is crucial to give youth filters by which to check their behaviors.
- Part of the responsibility of your child's school is providing a safe learning environment. If what is happening off-site (cyber) is impacting your child's ability to learn, fully engage in class or miss school- the school is responsible for addressing the situation.

Bystanders:

The bystander learns apathy and that it's not worth being active to change anything- passive acceptance of injustice. Why should I care, if adult don't? They may also experience anxiety that they could be next. Fear is the number one reason youth do not stand up for their peers- even though it makes them uncomfortable and do not feel it is fair. Adults should not ask youth to act as bystanders unless they have already taken measure to prevent and stop bullying. Youth will not be active bystanders unless they feel they will be taken seriously and protected.

Why they make a difference:
Youth are trying to navigate their social world, discover their identity and be accepted by their peers. Those with bullying behaviors are reinforced by the silence and fear of bystanders. Youth with bullying behaviors believe that the majority are on their side. When bystanders engage, the child with bullying behavior may question their role, identity, their peer's level of respect. They too want to be accepted.

What they can/should do:
- Do not tell youth that the only way to be a bystander is to stand up while the bullying behavior is occurring. They do not view this as safe and will not respond, even though they believe the behavior is harmful.
- Providing youth with safe and practical strategies to make a difference o

Direct:
Telling the person with bullying behavior to stop
Telling the target they don't deserve to be treated that way
They can do it in the moment or later (whichever they feel is safer)
Talking with the person with the bullying behavior later
Talking/befriending the target later

Indirect:
Distracting or helping the target get away
Telling a teacher
Later sitting with the target and not referring to the bullying- making sure the target is not alone
Creating an awareness campaign or club

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