Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let’s Address the Real Problem: 5 Tips to Overcoming Bullying

Guest Post by Mucheru Njaga
Author of Patch

I was a bully.

I didn’t plan on being one. In fact, before then, I was the victim of bullying. As a freshman in an all-boys boarding school, I, along with all of the junior students, served every command of the “prefects,” the senior leader students. They ruled our school with a heavy hand and had more power than the teachers. They bullied us physically; once I had to jump on my knees. Another time, they took away our privilege to wear pants so that we had to walk around in our boxers. Verbal humiliation was an everyday occurrence as well.

Four years later, I became a “prefect,” a bully and a part of a system I once despised. We would raid the freshman sleeping area in the middle of the night and make them follow whatever we ordered them to do at 2 a.m. -- or face a worse punishment. We called them names in front of others in the cafeteria. We made sure to tackle them harder than necessary during rugby practice.

All of this was acceptable -- condoned by the school faculty at the time because the “prefects” were seen as the mentors and guardians of the young students.

Today, the danger of bullying and its impact on our society is finally shaking people awake. Many groups and organizations have made significant steps in our fight against bullying, but there continues to be a growing number of bullying related deaths and suicides in America.

So where is the disconnect? Why are we letting this happen?

Where does bullying start?

In our efforts to address this growing problem, we tend to focus more on the end result of bullying rather than where and why it starts. The kids we recognize as bullies and vilify as the aggressors could easily be our very own children or next door neighbor. In other words, for every victim, there is a perpetrator, and I set out to find out what transforms a lovable kid or teen into a bully. For the last couple of years, I compiled case studies that I believe could be a catalyst in our bid to stomp out bullying.

Throughout my entire experience, I noticed the common motivation behind bullying is fear. As a victim, I was afraid to fight for what I knew was right, and as a bully, I feared losing the tight grip of power I held. It is this fear that keeps things at status quo and continues the cycle.

This same basic principle plays out in today’s schools. Bullying is almost always a direct or indirect byproduct of “fear.” Fear of being labeled. Fear of being uncool. Fear of being seen as weak. Most if not all instances of bullying are rooted in some sort of fear. Sadly, it is this fear that prevents kids from living a free life, where they are free to be different, to be gay, to love a certain kind of music or activity, to be themselves.

So, how does true, progressive change take place?

1. Define bullying with your kids and talk it out. For teens, public perception has substantial influence in their daily decisions. We need to clearly explain to kids what bullying is, how to spot bullying tendencies within themselves and how to avoid acting them out.

2. Take away the cool factor. Show kids that bullying stems from fear, and we could effectively render bullying as an “uncool” deed. In the largely successful anti-smoking “Truth” campaign and the anti-drug “Rise Above the Influence” campaign, ads rendering smoking and drug abuse as “uncool” helped to significantly reduce those habits among young people. A well-executed marketing campaign endorsed by popular teen celebrities that showcases bullying as an unacceptable act can help garner attention for the cause.

3. Be aware of tendencies toward bullying developing in kids. Educators, parents and children alike must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of bullying before the problem gets out of hand. If there is a widespread understanding that fear is the underlying emotion and perpetuator of the bullying cycle, those who observe a child exhibiting signs of fear and insecurity can spot a potential problem early on and raise concerns.

4. Encourage self-reflection. Talk with children who are bullying others and encourage them to consider their behaviors. Often, another problem is bubbling beneath the surface, and it is necessary to determine the root of the behavior in order to fix it. Since this self-examination can prevent those problems from manifesting into something more harmful, the earlier it takes place the better.

5. Promote open communication about bullying problems. We have to change the way kids view talking to adults and authority figures about bullying issues. Kids are often worried about “snitching” and have a negative perception of telling adults when they’re having these types of problems. We must convince them that it is courageous, brave and admirable to put an end to the situation instead of remaining silent.

Mucheru Njaga is the author of Patch, a young adult novel loosely based on his personal experiences with teen bullying that encourages debate and discussion among teachers, parents and students.

1 comment:

  1. Bullying is a major concern of mine, in that my daughter developed an anxiety disorder due to continual verbal harassment in her 6th grade.

    A big part of dealing with bullying is teaching kids self-defense techniques. Several stories in my anthology, "Wisdom of Our Mothers," deal with how the authors' mothers taught them to fight back against bullies, without violence: avoidance, verbal self-defense, socially isolating the bully.

    Eric Bowen


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