August 15, 2016
Lisa Joshua Sonn considers whether it's time to show bullies some reverse psychology.
As bullying becomes easier and more severe, I wonder if there is value in supporting bullies rather than naming and shaming them.
A tactic of reverse psychology often worked on us as children, actually on my sister. I was older and couldn’t be fooled by a promise that “Whoever fell asleep first, could go to the badminton end of year party” by way of example.
In my opinion bullying is a defence to a perceived threat, a fear, a need for acceptance or an act of intimidation from a space of inferiority. It happens across communities. Small bullies grow into big bullies.
Physical bullying is a lot easier to identify; it happens when a group or someone is physically stronger than their target. Cyber bullying is a new and neat way to dehumanise and minimise someone no matter what size you are or how much power you do or don’t have! It is a deceitful, cowardice and very effective method of terrorising another person.
I remember how shocked I was to be named in a WhatsApp group, to which I didn’t belong, by a 12-year-old girl. With hindsight, I realise it was second hand bullying because she was trying to intimidate my daughter. It is very difficult to manage if you don’t feel safe enough to nip it in the bud. Fortunately for my daughtet, that got sorted out quickly and the bully backed off and moved onto someone else. It is not always the most effective route but sometimes, stepping up and meeting the bully in their space can result in them cowering to their corner. This is a risky option for young children. Therefore, they need a safe space, an adult with whom they feel protected in whom to confide. Once the bully spreads stories and lies and secrets in cyberspace, it’s the reality of not being able to gather the down feathers spread far and wide from that bed pillow. One cannot gather them all and delete. It is there for good.
Schools have ongoing talks and educational programs to illustrate to scholars the harm, the small-mindedness and the damage bullying causes. Consequences for bullying include detention, demerits and sometimes sought-after attention for the bullies. I think this may enhance their imagined sense of power. It may satisfy their need for attention. The more attention they get, the more they seek it. So I am suggesting we turn this into positive attention, suggesting that we want to get to the root of the bullying which is a symptom, not the cause, of the dysfunctional behaviour.
It is my suggestion that bullies are built at home, not on the playground. To be bully-proof, domestic support structures have to do the work. When children feel secure, loved, valued and worthy there is no motivation for them to want to degrade or dehumanise a peer. In fact, the opposite is a knock-on effect. If you are shown affection and taught how to be a person who treats people, animals and things with respect and care then you learn and teach.
You can also be raised and taught to fight for what you want, that the world revolves around you and not the sun, that you are special, or that you are not special and nobody really cares about you. Those are the opposite moments which meet in the middle where grounded children tuned into humanity and connections are nurtured. I am yet to meet a bully who doesn’t have a history of neglect, abuse, abandonment or dysfunction.
I have definitely as an adult felt more bullied than I did as a child. I could go to my teachers and parents. In today’s world we have class WhatsApp groups; you see who the children are by the approach of the parents in those groups. Some pleasing and refreshing, others on point and everything makes sense about the child’s levels of obedience, respect, confidence, security, self esteem, ego, humility, authenticity, vulnerability and how they show up in the classroom, the playground and definitely at play dates.
Our children’s school bus had a flat tyre and bumped into a wall. Bumped, not crashed, pummelled or went through, a bump while reversing and a flat tyre. The way that bus driver was reprimanded by the Grade 4s was gobsmacking and memorable, my children were in disbelief! Then started the notes on the parents’ WhatsApp group: “Would the kids be hydrated?”, “Would one of the family’s still make their weekend away?”, ”Would the kids be fed, now that they were going to be two hours late?” Initially I was amused, I must be the oldest mum in the grade and I have four children and some hands on experience! Then for the first in a long time, I let my fingers talk and typed a note explaining that accidents happen, the children’s school camp just got more exciting and more fun with the unexpected time changes and I pointed out some of the lessons a flat tyre could teach all of us and our children. “It happens” being the biggest lesson. YES, some of my ire was masked as cynicism. They left me no choice but most of it was a wake up and smell the coffee beans call. Our children have to operate in a world that can spit them out. Best they learn from every situation where to stand and how to adapt. The stares and glares and bullying that followed me as I arrived to collect my child that afternoon were piercing and surprising.
One mum walked past me, made eye contact and as she kept going mouthed:”Thank you for that note, I am too scared to talk on that group.” Another texted me: ”Thanks Lisa, how PROFOUND?” The bravest one sidled past my open car door, looked me up and down and said: ”Yip, fun and excitement starts here.” I was taken aback but now nothing surprises me when bullying keeps making the school newsletter. We need to help victims find their voices, we cannot keep moving children to different schools and we need bullies to be supported and learn the value of consequences. We have to minimise the behaviour and put it in a very uncool space by taking back power and exposing the behaviour, not damaging the bully further.
Too many bullies are not held accountable and responsible for their intentional malice. It is appalling and it is a symptom that must be treated at the root. Like most things it is easier said than done, but we won’t know until we practice to perfection.
“Parents who do not put their foot down, raise children who will step on their toes!” And on everyone else in their wake.
Do you agree with the Author? How do you think we can stop bullying?