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  arrow pointing to the right   Home arrow My Thoughts arrow Pop Culture arrow Inoculating Against Bullying


Inoculating Against Bullying PDF Print E-mail

Inoculate and Insulate Against BullyingInoculating Against Bullying

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Not just because of the recent death of Jamey Rodemeyer, but because it really seems to be a problem that defies a solution. Not just in schools, but for adults as well. My mom always taught me that bullying behavior is about the bully and their insecurities and usually has nothing to do with the victim of the bullying. If you ignore them and don't respond to them emotionally, they will go find someone else to bully who will. When I first had to deal with bullying in school, this advice worked wonderfully.

As a result, I've always rather felt that attempts to stop the bully from bullying are doomed to failure because, obviously the strategy works for the bully. Instead, I think the effort should be put into inoculating kids against the effects of bullying so that they aren't good targets for bullys. If we remove the payoff for the bully by inoculating kids against their tactics, perhaps the bullys will try being nice.

As an adult and a mom, I’ve taken a renewed interest in bullying. My son is now in kindergarten and is starting to get teased. Some are girls at lunch who are trying to get him to drink pink milk instead of his preferred chocolate milk. The others are a couple of boys who are teasing him for singing like a girl in class. These are 5 yr olds. Of course their voices are high. When I talked to my son about the boys who tease him about singing. I asked him if they sing in class. He said no they don’t. Most likely, because they are too afraid to sound stupid or “like a girl.” so their attempts to harass my son are because they want him to be afraid like they are. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to be working.

What these two stories have in common is that the teasing/harassing is an attempt to coerce my son into conforming to others behaviors, expectations and fears. And according to the wiki on bullying, that is indeed a major component of bullying (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying )

What I find most interesting is that for me, and my son, being fearless in the face of such harassment brings with it some level of respect from your peers. I know I experienced that in school. And my son tells me that all the other kids want to work with him at whatever workstation he is at. He’s apparently rather popular despite being teased for being a bit different.

And to me, that’s part of the power of inoculating kids against bullying through knowledge. It’s why I wrote the chapter of my book about being a dork. I want to help kids learn that not only is it ok to be a dork. Those that truly embrace their dorky tendencies are pretty darned cool precisely because they are pretty fearless.  It also helps to know that bullies are really just trying to hide the fact that they themselves are dorks.

Jamey RodemeyerThe problem is that this sort of inoculation through knowledge only really seems to work when the bullying is verbal (and not physical) and when the bullying is rather situational as opposed to chronic. For really severe cases it doesn't work. Jamie Rodemeyer  is an example of this. He seemed to know quite well, that the problem wasn't with him, it was the bullys being idiots. Still, it overwhelmed him and he committed suicide. 

And this bothers me. If you are the target of extreme bullying, it doesn’t matter how much support you have. You are still the only person who can deal with your emotional response to the harassment. And that isn’t easy. Even for people who are inoculated. For example,  Rebecca Watson of Skepchick is apparently coping with extreme harassment as a result of Elevatorgate. While she thinks her harassers are largely a group of idiots, she is also becoming withdrawn as a result to avoid having to deal with it at all. (see her post at skepchick here). 

The problem I think lies in the fact that, knowledge of how stupid something is doesn't prevent us from being emotionally bothered by it.  CL Hanson in a recent Letters from A Broad post (see here) points out the problem.  We know rationally we should ignore it, the problem is our feelings are hurt. And that is the crux of the problem. We can tell ourselves all we want to ignore stupid harassing behavior, but that doesn't mean we have the ability to let go of it emotionally. 

And from this, no one is immune. Everyone struggles with this. The only thing that makes emotional stress better is either for the harassment to stop or to know, truly know, that it will come out ok in the end. But if the harassment is ongoing or you don’t have confidence that it will end at all, it can take an immense act of will to not respond to your harrassers.  Yes, ignore them and they will eventually go away. But how long might that take? And how can we ignore people and continue to live our lives to the fullest, when our harrassers are following us?

At this point, the only thing I can think of is how I coped with my stalker.  I went through a really bad period in my life where I had to deal with a stalker and I think the lessons I learned are relevant. 

1st: and most importantly, I didn’t start to recover from the stalking until I really grasped that nothing I did would impact what my stalker was doing. In short, this was not something I had control over. And yeah, not being in control of what is happening to you is scary, but if it’s true, then once you embrace that fact, it’s actually liberating. It freed me from the mind game of trying to think of how to respond or not respond. It simply didn’t matter how I responded, my harasser was going to continue doing what he was doing because, literally it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his mental state. Relief and freedom! Once I realized this, my panic attacks stopped, and I had been having two or three a day, so that really was a big deal.

2nd: Ignore them and they will eventually go away really does work even if it takes your harasser a few years to move on. They really do need a response to stay interested. When I stopped paying attention to what my stalker was doing because literally, I stopped caring because I had realized it had nothing to do with me (and yes, it took me a few years to get to that point), things started to get better. I could actually ignore him without emotional distress because I really was ignoring him and not just pretending to ignore him.

3rd: Get Help. While you can’t impact what your harassers are doing, you can insulate yourself from what they are doing. But usually, you need other people’s help for that. And if the harassers are threatening or using physical violence then either they need to be separated from you, or you need to separate yourself from them. No exceptions and you will need help for that.

So while your support network can’t help you cope with your emotions, they can help provide a ring of support to help insulate yourself from them. And that is sometimes all you can hope for.


User Comments

Comment by Warwick on 2012-11-24 01:46:48
It's true, bullying is not cfiolnct, it's abuse and should be dealt with like any other abusive situation. The hardest part of bullying is trying to find out who is the bully and why they are picking on others.

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