Massachusetts passed a new law entitled, "An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools," in 2010. The purpose of this new law is to "create more positive school climates and age-appropriate instruction on bullying prevention in each grade, and schools must offer information to parents on bullying prevention." (Worcester Medicine, July/August 2010). School personnel (teachers, guidance counselors, aides, bus drives and cafeteria workers) are required to report incidents to the appropriate officials for them to investigate and to take disciplinary actions when appropriate. Bullying includes not only verbal, physical and written repeated acts of aggression and gestures but now includes cyberbullying through electronic means-Facebook; Twitter; Emails; Texting, and through other electronic devices.
As counselors, we see the direct effects on bullying on our clients who come to us with a variety of symptoms:low self-esteem; sadness; agitation; anxiety and fears; nightmares; refusal to go to school; bed wetting; binge eating; and low school performance. Sometimes, some parents just don't know what is going on their with child because their child is either afraid or ashamed to tell them. For a boy raised in a home with a male parent/caretaker being macho and proud and/or culture promoting this environment, he may be afraid to tell him for fear of ridicule or shame. For girls, it may be a little easier due to cultural acceptance to share with their parents/caretakes. However, both girls and boys may be afraid to tell due to fear of being a snitch in school or are facing similar abuses at home where they don't know who to tell or to trust.
I provide my clients a booklet put by the American Medical Association Alliance entitled, "You Don't Have to Be Bullied," (2006) that tells a story of cartoon character by the name of Keith who is experiencing symptoms anxiety and nervousness due to a kid picking on him in school. The booklet provides good and bad choices in handling a bully in school ,and most of all, promoting prosocial behaviors of being calm and cool in dealing with these situations.
However, I need to share with you one caveat that was discussed at a past work meeting this week. Despite teaching our clients to handle bullying in a positive way, a fellow colleague suggested that letting the student punch back the bully would cease it. Honestly, I punched a girl in high school who kept repeatedly taunting me for weeks at a cooking class in high school in the 1980's. The teacher ignored it and my peers did nothing about it. I had enough as I got tired of ignoring it and could not take her hitting me one day in class. I hit her back but the teacher did nothing to stop it. After this incident, the girl became my friend in school. As I look back on this encounter and teach my clients coping skills to deal with a bully, I sometimes find it hard to not agree with their parents' suggestion and my colleague's comment "to punch back" to defend yourself if nothing is done to positively stop it.
What do you think?
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts.