Personal Data Protection & Mobile Security Solutions

Responding to bullying and cyberbullying

by CHWatch on November 16, 2010

photo courtesy of Eddie~S via Flickr
Another middle-aged client presented today with chronic anxiety related to bullying she experienced in elementary school. I am amazed at how frequently clients report some experience of bullying in their past that continues to affect them even 30 or 40 years later.
I almost wrote about this issue after the Rutgers student took his life in September. Unfortunately, bullying seems to have increased among teens aged 12-18, according to recent polls. Increases may be related to the ease of taunting one another in cyberspace where people can hide behind their LCD screens. More than half of 15-16 year olds say they have experienced cyberbullying. But, frankly, I am often astonished by the cruelty being exchanged on Facebook by adults my age and older.
Who becomes a bully? A recent study at DePaul University found that kids who felt they were being arbitrarily punished at home were more likely to become bullies. Ironically, studies suggest bullies are not suffering low self-esteem. Often the bullies turn out to be kids that have popularity, intelligence, and a drive for power and status. Similarly, the kids that get picked on are often not the “nerdy”, “fat”, or so-called “different” kids. As Rachel Simmons wrote in her book “Odd Girl Out,” the girls who got picked on were usually girls perceived as being smarter, prettier, or more athletic than the bully.
On the other hand, there does seem to be an increase in bullying toward homosexual young people. The incident with the Rutgers student really brought this to light. Fortunately, this incident also seemed to promote more public advocacy for this population. Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” video campaign has received over a million hits, inspiring straight and gay people all over the world. Even the federal government has gotten involved by holding the first anti-bullying summit in August and setting funds aside for anti-bullying programs in schools.
However, experts on bullying behavior like Izzy Kalman believe anti-bullying programs are the wrong approach. Dr. Kalman states, “… Anti-bullying” policies that turn a school into a totalitarian police state in which it is a crime for kids to upset each other will intensify the bullying problem… What I am interested in is victims and victim behavior. When I teach you how not to be a victim, no one can bully you. You don’t have to wait for society to get rid of bullies for you to become happy.”
Perhaps we can use Izzy Kalman and Dan Savage’s example by using cyberspace to build up immunity to bullying and judgmental behaviors. One of the things I love about Dr. Connelly’s philosophy in RRT is that we promote the resilience of the client. That’s what I did with my client today. She said it never occurred to her to recognize the strength and creativity she demonstrated through the bullying incidents. Instead of focusing on old feelings of fear, she left the session voicing increased awareness of her fortitude.
What do you think is the best response toward bullying and cyberbullying behaviors? Support anti-bullying programs? Build up immunity to bullying? I think ideally it will have to be some combination of the two. Let me know your thoughts!

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