An article in The Atlantic magazine on elementary school anti-bullying curricula is sure to be controversial. Its headline suggests the way to go is to “Fix the Victims.” But would a more accurate wording be “Blame the Victims”?
Here is my response to the controversy over who to focus on to end bullying; bully vs. victim
I have second grade boy- girl twins…. need I say more? My son still hasn’t figured out why his best friend at home has no use for him at school. She has her clique of girls well formed and is truly the ring leader of an “anti- brother” campaign. As her rejection increases, his aggression increases. Thus, without a doubt both need intervention: What is the root of her insane jealousy? What does he need to change in order to extinguish her bullying? What can be done to prevent any serious issues in self-esteem?
My daughter has amazing social skills, and is well liked by all who meet her. In any other situation, she uses her social skills to her advantage. However, her sibling rivalry has gotten the best of her, and she is now using her very powerful social skills in very hurtful ways. Fortunately getting rejected by his twin sister at school has forced my son to make his own friends. However, he continues to be affected by her actions daily. He describes the progression of events as , “.. .. a virus that started last year with just my sister, then it spread to one of her friends, and now her WHOLE group is mean to me, and tells me to ‘go away’.”
My case does not involve an obvious bully or enemy, but rather a tiny sister, 20 pounds lighter and 4 inches shorter than her twin brother who is providing a subtle, yet steady dose of toxic rejection on the school playground without any school personnel knowing (sneaky girl syndrome). This highlights the importance of expanding our perception of bullying. Bullying often occurs within our own circles of friends, neighbors and families.
What is really needed is student education along with K-8 teacher training on social mediation in the classroom to strengthen the social-emotional climate enough to lower the incidence of bullying early on, and consequently lower the incidence of anxiety,depression and academic failure later on in high school. There is much attention from preschool to 1st grade on peer relations, but as academic demands increase, the attention to social behaviors and conflict resolution gradually decline. The focus tends to pick up again in the middle school years when things appear more serious, and after much emotional scarring has already occurred.
I share my own personal story for all of us to learn. Fortunately, we caught the problem early enough, but we can only wonder how much of this behavior goes unnoticed enough to not get any attention or intervention. Thus, it is not an issue of bully vs. victim, but rather the social emotional climate of our society and of our schools that need attention. The issue is a more global issue than bullying. It involves careful consideration of today’s social and academic pressures, competitiveness and tolerance to differences in general. The same child can be both a bully and a victim, and in any bullying incident both the bully and the victim need attention.