I'm 47:27 into the documentary titled Bully. My mind is racing with emotion and ideas. "Nobody deserves the pain which these victimized kids are experiencing." The pain inside me is profound. The pain in these kids eyes is so visible to anyone who can handle seeing it. "How can bullying in America's school be stopped?" "What can I do to contribute to the solution?" What vision can I create in my own life in order to guide my actions in helping to preventing and stop bullying in schools?
I didn't go to a public school like the kids in this documentary. I went to a small private school; a religious private school. I also didn't grow up in a financially struggling community or in a rural town like many of these kids. However I have grown to understand that human nature and human emotions are one and the same regardless of race, religion, gender, social status, economic status or geographic location. If this is the case then I have a lot more in common with the bullies and the kids being bullied than my day-to-day actions or relationship or even location show.
Growing up I was always the shortest boy in my class. However I never got picked on for it. From time to time I was called a munchkin but these were from actual close friends of mine. This is not the type of bullying I wish to refer to. The type of bullying that I wish to discuss is the bullying that shoots out from the heart of a child in pain (the bully) right into the heart of another child in pain (the victim) which malicious intent; the bullying that causes the victim to reach the depths of despair; the bullying that pushes the victim to thoughts of suicide or suicide itself.
I was a bully in elementary school. The pain which I caused certain kids impacted them greatly, and I believe, will impact them forever. I have asked and received their forgiveness but I can never take back the actions or the pain which I caused them. Maybe I was a bully because I needed to make up for my size. But one thing is for sure: the things I would say and the things I would do came from a place of pain inside of myself. I felt "less than" and needed to knock someone down in order to make myself feel a bit bigger. I guess I was naturally "cooler" than a lot of the victims which helped prevent me from being the victim myself. However, life takes its course and what goes around comes around. All bullies will be brought to justice (in their lifetime or afterwards). And I can say that from personal experience.
I am not a doctor, therapist or clergy. I am not a father or teacher. I am someone who has been on both sides of the aisle, mainly the bully side. And what better person to understand the bully than an ex-bully himself. What compelled me to write this is not only to try and make up for lost time in the compassion category but also because the approaches which I saw in the documentary "Bully" and the lack of solutions on the school administrations end made me feel that there is a huge void in solving the bullying crisis. Please keep in mind that none of these suggestions should take the place of medicine or psychiatric help.
The following are but a few suggestions which came to mind when watching this documentary which I feel can help school teachers, principals, counselors and superintendents efficiently fight the disease of bullying in their schools. Please note that when I use the term "he" I am referring to "she" as well.
1. When a bully is with a pack of friends he will always try to prove himself. Take the bully aside, sit him down and have a heart-to-heart conversation with him. Ask him why he feels the necessity to pick on others. The bully is unable to process his own emotions as is the victim. Help the bully process these emotions which fuel his anger. He feels hurt. He feels peer pressure. He feels unloved perhaps.
2. Do the same with the victim. Allow the victim share his emotions in a safe and controlled environment such as with family and with a therapist. No answers or suggestions should be offered, just listening to the pain turn into words. It's important for the victim to learn to identify this pain and label them with emotional terms as well as have loving, understanding, non-judgmental and compassionate ear to hear them.
3. Bring step 1 and 2 together. A school counselor or principal should sit both the bully and the victim down together and allow them to explore their emotions in front of one another without any peer pressure or judgment. The moderator should not point fingers, threaten or even expect a resolution or apology. It should simply be done for both the bully and the victim to see the common humanity and emotion in the child sitting across from them. Deep deep down, nobody wants to hurt another person. However when the hurt is being fueled by an inadequate feeling about oneself or an inadequate way of expressing self-hatred it turns toward others in a toxic manner and becomes destructive and irreversible.
4. Create a game or environment where the bully or bullies need to rely on a single victim to achieve a goal. For instance a school or class-wide relay race. Most kids like competition and like winning. Set the teams up where the victim's team will win. Make it as competitive as possible but lop-side the athleticism. You don't want the victim's team to lose especially if one or more of his teammates is a bully. The bully will need to rely on the victim to win. Have the bully be the team captain and have the bully run last to complete the win. This strategy will vary depending on how many bullies and victims there are in the class. Also find common ground and hobbies between the victim and bully. Different variations of having the bully rely on the victim to win are just as good.
5. Identify one good thing that the victim does, can do or is passionate about and hyper-focus on that and find him peers or after school groups based around that. Make this his life force. If he has a passion for reading or bugs then find other kids who have passion for reading or bugs and create some type of group. Help him develop a lifelong dream and vision which his passions can help him achieve. This will give the child deep relationships with others as well as with himself. Doing one thing well can build immense self-confidence. Everyone can do one thing well and this will create a much greater value for life.
6. Find or create a support group for both victims and their parents. Victims should have a group with other children and a moderator where they can express their feelings and build camaraderie Parents should have a separate group. And a third group should be created where parents sit in on the victims group in order to show these kids that they have adults that care as well.
7. Have "recovered" bullies or groups of "recovered" bullies speak to the school. That will help create an environment where bullying is not cool causing bullies to become alienated. These groups should show public displays of acceptance towards the victims as well.
I hope this article helps identify some of the underlying factors in being a bully and a victim and what can help prevent and stop this from occurring in schools. These are just a few strategies, however they are strategies which are less conventional. These come not from teachers or politicians but from someone who has been on and watched both sides.
Feel free to share your comments, ideas or disagreements below!