Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bullies and Anti-Bullies

The other night I was watching "This Emotional Life" on PBS. I was particularly moved by the segment about bullying, in which the friends and family of a Florida boy named Jeffrey retold the story of how he was bullied relentlessly by a classmate. His mother reached out to the school for help, but the school staff was ineffective in addressing the culture of bullying. When Jeff could no longer handle the torment, he hung himself in his bedroom.

This got me thinking about children I've worked with and known who've been targets of bullies and have bullied themselves. Often, it's the same kids. The children I've known who bully often pre-emptively bully as a strategy (a maladaptive yet effective strategy) to avoid being bullied themselves. The kids I've known who've bullied/been bullied tended to be dandelions. They had low self-esteem, behavioral problems, but none were suicidal. When an orchid is bullied, are the effects of the bullying amplified? Is that the "environmental trigger" that could drive a kid to suicide?

While I was deeply saddened by Jeff's story, I was heartened to hear the outcome of Jeff's mother's saga to change the culture of bullying in schools. She was successful in pushing the Florida legislature to pass "Jeffrey's Law", which states that schools are responsible for providing safety from bullying while children are in school. Kudos to Jeff's family for taking a stand against bullying and ensuring that no family will have to go through what they did.

In my next post, I'll share an experience I had with an elementary class that took a stand against bullying and outline the steps any group can take to make their space an anti-bullying zone.

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