#TalkTuesday

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There is no denying the bonds and the experiences of elementary school change the way we view the world and ourselves. The introduction of other family constructs and such concepts of responsibility, self-help and teamwork help us form some identity characteristics we carry into adulthood. Not all of those experiences are truly positive.

The Darker Side

A single rotten apple in the barrel can poison our opinion of school, our families and the world in general. Despite many good influences, why would one person hold the power to wreck our extended perspective?

The Playground Bully

Playground Bully

No, I do not.

This is the relentless child. Bully uses words, intimidation and physical force to dominate peers and those in authority. The simplest of bullies hits other children. To the bully’s mind, showing physical strength to inflict harm exhibits power over others. More often than not, this behavior is a repeat screening of what Bully has seen in another setting.

Once the rule Keep your hands to yourself. is established as an outer delimiter, the frequency of physical attacks will decrease, but the propensity to inflict harm will not. Rumors and teasing are as hurtful as slaps and kicks. Arguably, words hurt worse.

(We will not discuss cyber bullying until we reach the upper school phase of this series.)

Teacher, Principal or Faculty

Authority

Teachers, principals and staff who are over-critical or domineering are no better influences than bullies because, in fact, they are bullies. Authority must be established and expected to be respected; however, the use of verbal or physical abuse to coerce children is not authority because it is an abuse of power.

Powerful Peers

Unlike peer pressure, which influences a child to do something better or different than is expected, peers exert power over other children.  This form of peer power is different than bullying, as these power plays are by children who are in the same or different, competitive social circles. Often, they are friends.

One child will assume a more dominant role over the other. The peer pressure applied is not corrupt, but is not edifying. The powerful child will use subtle, and in some cases overt, coercion and exploitation to get the submissive child to perform. Even the schoolyard taunt of Chicken! is enough to move the submissive child into action which can ultimately be dangerous.

Being accepted into a social circle is important.

When the children are in direct competition, rumors are the most effective tool in the powerful child’s arsenal. This negative influence is always an attempt to gain social standing or cause the loss of another child’s social standing.

By establishing guidelines for acceptance, power peers form the boundaries of the social circles. Children are willing to do many things outside their nature to be accepted by their peers and those who are in a perceived place of power.

Broken

All of the lessons learned from the negative influences seem to be the lessons which will be applied in later life. Before dismissing them to the fundamental unfairness in life, consider how these negative influences impact a child’s identity.

The common theme in all three examples of negative influences is the loss of protection.

Words hurt, too.

Bullies are a result of those in authority, the school and the bully’s parents, failing to recognize and control the unwanted behavior. To the bullied child, this is a failure of those into whose care children are charged to protect them from the bully.

Authority figures are in place to be the surrogate parents while the children are at school. Children look to teachers, principals and faculty as protectors. Parents tell their children to go to one of them in the event something is wrong. When those in authority abuse power and trust, they have a similar impact on the children as abusive parents.

Power peers are harder to pinpoint as a negative influence because they rarely entice a child to misbehave in ways which will be noticed by authority figures. The child likely recognizes the pressure being applied, but may not grasp its impact. When the pressure is realized, the child will often feel as though those who could prevent it, both adults and peers, have failed to protect.

Always with the questions...

Always with the questions...

What does it mean?

When children are trying to establish their identities in a school setting, they are willing to change instinctual behavior and reactionary behavior they have learned at home in order to fit in with their peers and please those who are in a position of authority. This adaptation occurs under the force of expectations to perform academically and to behave orderly to avoid disciplinary action at school.

Your Turn

Tonight, let’s focus on the three examples. We are limiting the scope of tonight’s discussion to elementary school children (up to age nine). If you would like to cover a specific topic relating to older children, please use the inbox. Here is your chance to Talk Back. Let’s get Talk Tuesday underway. The floor is yours.

  1. What is the negative impact of the influences above? 
  2. What identity traits are seeded or reinforced when children are exposed to these negative influences? 
  3. What counteracts these negative influences? 
  4. How do you help forge identity traits which will not be sacrificed in the schoolyard for acceptance?

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Based on audience request, tonight’s post will go live at 1900 EDT (GMT-5) so it can be read in advance of our discussion. If you cannot stay until 2000, feel free to leave your contribution in the comments. We will be discussing this in real time from 2000 until we are finished!

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(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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33 Comments

  1. I have a 7 year old niece in 1st grade. She’s the nicest little girl there is. It pains me when she tells me of what happens to her, and her friends at school. One little girl makes fun of people with learning disabilities, and another girl for the color of her skin. She also teases Kaedie for being friends with these children. At one point, Kaedie wanted this girl to accept her, so she was turning into a little brat. She wouldn’t listen to her mom, so I had a talk with her. I asked her if she liked it when she was picked on, and of course, she said no. I then asked why she’d pick on someone else if she didn’t like being picked on in return. She had no answer. Since then, she treats others the way she wants to be treated, which is how we should all treat people.

    I think the thing that makes me the most irate is that the school officials don’t allow children to “tattle”. I don’t feel like it’s tattling when Kaedie tells them of a child that kicked her & called her a horrendous name. It’s harassment, and should be addressed, but to them, it’s “tattling”. The thought of her going to school everyday makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t feel like we had as many mean kids as she does. Everyday, she has a new story to tell us that just breaks my heart. She’s a sweet little girl, who plays alone at recess because no other kids want to play with her. It makes me very sad.

    Reply
    • I am concerned with the prevalence of the “no tattling” rules. It belies a fundamental role we play in society. As whistle blowers, we help curb criminal behavior. In essence, and in some cases fact, that is precisely what telling a school official about bullying really is.

      I am glad you got a chance to talk to her about it. Please continue to reinforce it. She will need additional support, especially if the school continues to allow it. I certainly hope her parents went to the school to protest. Schools do not listen to students, and many times do not listen to parents, but are far more likely to listen to parents with the wherewithal to mention they know a telephone book full of attorneys.

      I agree. I do not think we had as many mean-spirited children when we were growing up. What does that fundamentally say about us as parents?

      Thank you for sharing, Becky,
      Red.

      Reply
  2. I remember when I was in elementary school, I was being bullied a lot of times. I was an easy target because I sickly and frail looking. During one of those times, I had enough, and I decided to fight back. The bully challenged me to a fight at the school backyard. I thought I never stood a chance – but I was so fed up I accepted. Word got around about the fight, and a lot of my classmates watched. Towards the end of the fight, amazingly (probably it was pure adrenalin), I was able to pin down the bully. I was now on top of him, and my classmates were egging me to break his face! Fortunately, I didn’t. From that time on the bully stopped bullying me.

    Fighting back is, of course, not an option, most of the time. We really have to find ways and means to solve this problem because it could have negative effects in the lives of our children. They could carry the scars of bullying for the rest of their lives…

    ~ Matt

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, most do even if there are no physical marks. Most all schools in the US have “no tolerance” rules. If children get physical, both students are suspended or expelled, regardless of who starts the fight. The biggest problem is bullying happens in every school, but little is done about it.

      Parents need to be talking to their children about bullying and being sure their children are not bullies.

      Do you think you look at aggressors in a different light because of your experience with the bully?
      Red.

      Reply
  3. authormjlogan

     /  February 21, 2012

    Brings back bad memories. So many it is hard to believe. It was not until I learned to swing back that I gained any self respect and peace.

    I remember other children and teachers who were bullies. I also remember a bus driver named Alex.

    Alex was as least as big as I am, and I’m no slim Jim. A kid got on the bus with the express intent of beating me up when I got off. A kid who was older and much bigger. It was revenge for my finally fighting back and not cowering in a corner, running or just letting someone taunt and kick me.

    Alex recognized that something was up. This kid was sitting next to me, elbowing me and telling me how I was going to be a bloody pulp when he was done with me.

    Alex suddenly loomed large, grabbed him with one hand by the jacket and picked him right out of the seat. “You. Don’t. Belong. On. This. Bus.” he said, each word punctuated by lifting the guy up and hitting his head on the ceiling. With one hand. Then down the aisle and literally, throwing the kid off the bus.

    Please do note the guy was probably a junior or senior in high school, I was in sixth grade. I later found out Alex heard someone else saying why the kid was there.

    Today, Alex’s response would be unacceptable. Back in the early 70s, Alex became my hero. As I grew older and more aware, I realized that Alex took care of kids who were on the receiving end of being bullied. He had for me a few times, I just never realized it before.

    Now that I’ve told my story, I’d like to say that back in the 70s is was okay to stand up for yourself. Today it isn’t. Today, those who are bullied have to rely on someone else to handle it. And too often, it does not get handled and then some kid finally gets pissed off enough and starts shooting.

    /rant.

    Reply
    • Makes me question whether or not the sensitivity training is working or is just mollycoddling the little miscreants. We took care of neighborhood bullies behind the bushes when I was growing up. There weren’t but a few, and they were always newcomers trying to make a name for themselves. Once that name was “mud”, bullying over.

      What do you think is to blame for today’s over-bullying? Why do we as (grand)parents and educators tolerate this behavior?
      Red.

      Reply
  4. On hindsight, I now realize that a lot bullies are also wounded children. They may have problems of their own, probably home-related. For all we know, some of them are even victims of child abuse, and bullying is just a way of venting out their frustrations. But this realization came only to me many, many years later – when I was already an adult…

    Bullying, I guess, is a complex problem. And we have to approach it in a wholistic manner, taking into account a lot of factors (background, environment, emotional states, etc.)

    ~ Matt

    Reply
    • Where does that taking into account become enabling? We forgive this atrocious behavior because Bully has an alcoholic parent or an absent parent. When do we take responsibility for hitting the problem head on and making the environmental changes which discourage bullying in schools?
      Red.

      Reply
  5. OK I read the how to handle a bully handbook and nowhere did I see that it said don’t fight back. Although that is what’s taught today, what I see is adults being politically correct by telling their kid don’t fight back, go tell someone. It only works if the person you tell cares.

    I was bullied as a young, short, overweight child that lasted until JR high then one day I snapped and beat the crap out of a older kid, when taken to the office for fighting, I wasn’t in trouble but the principal wanted to know why it took me so long to stand up for myself.

    I must say that I was confused that they (school Officials) knew what was going on but allowed it to happen.

    I was in several more altercations in the next few months up until school was out for summer vacation. Did I win all my fights? No. Did I gain respect? Yes. Did the bullies quit? Yep. Did I become a bully? No. That’s what the rest of the fights were about… me defending others.

    It upsets me that we have gotten to the point that we teach our young not to defend themselves. This translates into a lot of other issues that is wrong with the USA but I will stop….. for now.

    Reply
    • I think you have gotten to the part I cannot possibly understand. Why do the schools look the other way? I have a theory…

      The ppl running the school are the same age group as the ones sending the bullies to school. The same “do nothing” attitude at school is the same “do nothing” attitude at home which allows bullies to hone their craft.

      Just floating a theory.
      Red.

      Reply
  6. Forgiveness doesn’t mean foregoing the demands of justice. (Unfortunately that’s a misconception a lot of people have – that to forgive means simply to forget the whole thing and let the abuser go his/her merry ways). There still has to be accountability, and consequences for harmful actions,regardless of whether one forgives the bully or not. Forgiveness, or compassion simply means that we help also the bully while he suffers the consequences of his/her action/s.

    ~Matt

    Reply
    • I certainly understand the difference. If I could bottle it, I could make a fortune.

      I think the current mode is going to produce a different sort of monster. When children manage to get out of school after having spent a childhood as a bully, they go to college and may miss the reality check of becoming nothing more than a number.

      So, is the solution merely giving discipline at the school level (sending them home for three days to a week)?

      Or is it parenting stronger children to resist bullying?
      Red.

      Reply
  7. authormjlogan

     /  February 21, 2012

    I don’t know why bullying is tolerated to this degree. My niece was being threatened by a kid who kept saying he was going to kill her with his peanut butter sandwich. She is deathly allergic to peanuts.

    My sister-in-law had to go “mama-bear” on the principal, threaten news teams, attorneys and police before anything was done. Until then, the principal was like, “you’re making a big deal over nothing” . Yeah nothing when a kid is waving his peanut butter the face of another kid who could die from it.

    We’ve broken too many systems in the name of progress and social whatever (note censored word). It starts in the schools and then the universities, and then we have another generation of bullies and idiots. It’s at the point where I have begun to wonder if there will be a USA at all in the near future.

    Reply
    • I have a similar doomsday approach to this country. We are now a land of exceptions with very few rules. Shame we have to resort to taking their money away before those in authority are willing to ….wait for it…. do their jobs. (Rant of epic proportion evolving.)
      Red.

      Reply
  8. It’s true, striking the balance between compassion and justice is a very tricky affair. We certainly would make fortune if we knew how to package and market it.

    I really don’t pretend to have the answers. As I have said, it’s a complex problem. Discipline alone won’t solve the problem. Discipline without love is cruelty. Love without discipline is weakness, Parenting stronger children would certainly help our children resist bullying

    ~ Matt

    Reply
    • Which is what we need to explore. By teaching them to resist bullying when it happens to them, they are strong enough to band together and stop bullying. It is a team sport I would like to get national endorsement.
      Red.

      Reply
  9. I had a relatively stress free elementary school experience, as I had a lot of friends from sports and other activities which put me in a larger group of kids. I do remember, with haunting memories, about a poor girl, whom everyone nicknamed “Typhoid Rose.” Red, I hope your blood doesn’t boil when I tell this story.

    My memories of her are that she was a little bit on the skinny side, and had a very pale complexion, with freckles and red-orange wavy hair. She was poor and wore the same cream colored dress just about every day. I have no idea how she developed this reputation, but during recess, everyone would literally run away from her, as though fleeing a tidal wave. You could see a wave of kids running toward you, screaming in a mock fear, and others joining the flight. Almost like a flock of birds scattering into smaller groups in every direction but one, hers. She was there one year – maybe a fourth grader when I was in sixth. I went to middle school the following year and I have no idea if that kind of incredible cruelty and abuse was inflicted on her in the playground afterward.

    Through the years, I’ve often thought about this poor child – most likely a perfectly normal kid who was simply ostracized for what, I cannot imagine. As I reflect on it now, I sit and wonder, why in the hell didn’t any adults in the school step in and knock some damn sense into all of us? Where were they? How in the world could they let this happen? I am ashamed as I reflect on my own feelings as a sixth grader – finding it rather amusing actually. Only later did I really start to think about how devastatingly cruel that was. I wish I would have told my parents about this. I’m sure Mamma and Pop would have smacked me upside the head first, then marched me to the school administrators while Pop would have asked a lot of questions about the competence of folks who were supposed to make sure I wasn’t becoming an idiot and monster while under their charge. I wasn’t smart enough back then to act – maybe I should have been. But surely, some adult should have acted – right? I mean this went on for the whole damned year!

    I am still haunted about this poor girl. I wonder what ever happened and became of her. Whenever I do, I pray she was strong enough to overcome some rather overwhelming odds of peer rejection at its very worst, and that somehow she’s survived. I would not expect her to ever forgive a single soul that ever fled from her, but I do hope she is OK. Glad I got that off my chest. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll go smack myself upside the head and try to make sure as an adult, I’ll never let that kind of behavior happen to children. We are the adults and it is our duty to protect them, one and all.

    Sorry for rambling on and on Red. This was a bit of a catharsis…

    Reply
    • No apologies needed. I hope she is, too. I think the biggest thing we need to take away from our own experiences is:

      1. It was wrong.
      2. We need to teach our children it is wrong.
      3. We need to stay in close enough contact with our children to find out if they are the bully or the bullied.
      4. Impersonate your father and hold the administrators’ feet to the fire.

      I know what Rose went through, but my story will have to wait for the upper grades post. As always, I was the enigma.
      Red.

      Reply
      • Sad thing is I don’t recall “Rose’s” real name.

        I too had some issues in High School, but stuck to the elementary school experience in keeping with the spirit of the post. I am eager to hear your story when you are ready to tell it and will look for it.

        Coaching High School Basketball has enabled me to stay in touch and keep a close eye out for this kind of behavior. I have a very low tolerance level for any kind of bullying, fighting, and intimidation – something that might seem paradoxical in the framework of sports. I’ve noticed that coaches who do emphasize sportsmanship and respect, coupled with hard work, discipline, and dedication, turn out not only the best teams athletically, but also a good group of young future citizens. The primary overarching principles in coaching any sport, outside of the actual athletic instruction, are as follows: 1- we are all in the same boat, 2- the strong carry the weak and develop them without complaint, and 3- no one gets left behind; we win and lose as a team, we arrive or fall short as a team, we live or die as a team. So far, it’s worked out well.

        Reply
        • Team sports are a good way to develop work ethic. I am not going to expound on the virtues of it as yet, as it may come later in another series…and it is past my bed time…and the time has come to wrap up tomorrow’s post so I can squeeze one more cuppa out of the urn so I can shut the one eye still open 😉
          Red.

          Reply
  10. Bullying stories? Sheez, the stories I could tell you!!!! No Red, not personally but from observation. Being a loon and extremely shy I was immune to such childish behavior and spent most of my time hanging with the older kids and teachers. Anywho, I do have a story which I would like to share.

    A new girl arrived at primary school one year, she was poor and from a broken family, which was unusual for the area I lived in. To make matters worse her mother was always dropping her off late. This of course made her a sitting duck for what I also classify as bullying …being ignored!

    One day I saw her sitting on the bench outside our classroom all by herself and as I passed I noticed she was holding the most shiniest red apple I had ever seen. I stopped and said to her ” Wow, what a great apple” and she looked up at me with the biggest smile and said “It’s my birthday today and this is the present my mum gave me, she stayed up all night polishing it.”

    This had a profound affect on me. A little girl who had so very little in life could find such joy in receiving an apple. What a great mother she must of had. No teasing or ignoring could destroy her world.

    I was looking forward to playing with her the next day, but she never came back to school.

    Reply
    • Share as much as you would like, Loon.

      How infinitely sad. Being shunned is just as hurtful as the other types of bullying. Children need the healthy socialization of peers.

      You have come to the conclusion I believe is the answer to the bullying issue…stronger parents raising more resilient and stronger children. Not to mention children who are grateful. Great lesson in that one, Loon.
      Red.

      Reply

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