A Realistic Approach to Bullying

Realistically Dealing with Bullying

There is no magic way to get rid of bullying. It’s time to get real.

A fairer more just world isn't going to happen on it's own. Humanism

Ever since I wrote my book, The Bully Vaccine (http://thebullyvaccine.com/), I’ve become more and more enmeshed in the anti-bullying world.  And the thing I’ve noticed most is that people looking for help, rarely seem to get the help they need despite there being a lot of anti-bullying resources available on the web and in schools etc.

I think this may be a problem of information overload. Like, when you google a medical condition and end up more confused and scared then you were before you consulted doctor googles. There are so may approaches and ways to stop bullying, which will work for you?

The answer is that there is no one single approach that works – with the exception of mine. And no, I’m not joking. My approach works because it’s behavioral, but it’s only a tiny part of what needs to happen to get bullying to stop. I have one piece of a larger puzzle. So let’s break this down a bit.

We have a bully. The bully is bullying a victim. Except that they usually have more than one victim.  Plus, the bully isn’t bullying their victims in isolation. They almost always have an audience consisting of bystanders and the bully may have allies that support and assist them. Then, if this is in a school, you have teachers, administrators etc. All are supposed to monitor for this behavior and take corrective action, but often don’t see it happening so they don’t. Plus, kids only report a fraction of the stuff that is going on and need to be cajoled into reporting and documenting what is happening to them.  

The bully may bully for adaptive reasons (because it works for them to get their way and they get status as a result), maladaptive reasons (meaning something is wrong and they are acting out to get some control in some area of their live or as a cry for help). They may be bullying to hide their insecurities and they may be abused themselves. They may have bad parents. There is no single reason why a bully bullies.

Victims are also varied. Some aren’t bothered by it, though most are. Many are traumatized by it and carry that trauma with them through the rest of their lives. Bystanders are also traumatized by bullying. No one escapes unharmed.

Given that there are so many reasons why a bully bullies there is no single way to help a bully stop. Do they need retraining? Punishment? Consequences? Isolation? Mental health care? I have no idea. It depends on the individual bully and their particular situation and reasons for bullying.

But what we do know is this. If they are going to stop, the effort to make them stop needs to be supported over time. There is a protocol that works to stop unwanted behavior regardless of what the behavior is or what animal is exhibiting it. That’s what I teach – operant conditioning extinguishing a behavior. All good anti-bullying programs teach the first part of this technique for a reason, it works. The problem is that there is more to the technique than what is typically taught and what isn’t being taught is the reason why most attempts to extinguish bullying behavior fail. What we need to do is teach the rest of the technique so that victims and people in charge of making bullying stop at least know what exactly they are supposed to be trying to do despite the differences in the way individual situations manifest.

Extinguishing unwanted behaviors is hard to do and there are several ways it can go wrong AND it requires all the people impacted by bullying behavior to work together. Ideally, parents need to be involved in the effort, the school or business needs to take action and the victim needs to be protected and supported too. And as a society, we don’t do ANY of that!

Ideally, if a bully is bullying maladaptive, they will receive interventions to help address the underlying problem causing them to act out. Victims will receive the trauma support they need so that the psychological harm done by the bullying doesn’t continue to harm them throughout their lives in the form of PTSD.  Parents need support and education so they can actually help their kids. As a society, we don’t do ANY of that!

The cornerstone of getting bullying to stop is the extinction protocol. We can’t get a behavior to stop unless we use the behavioral extinction technique. However, that’s not the only thing we should be doing!  In order to get kids and parents to use the technique, they have to be trained, educated and supported.  In order to help bullies rehabilitate, we have to understand why they are bullying and address any social or mental health problems that exist and give them the support they and their parents need to overcome those difficulties. We have to educate and train the schools and businesses so that their steps support behavioral extinction instead of making it worse and so that they have the resources they need to provide the support that victims, bullies, bystanders and their families need. As a society, we don’t do ANY of this!

Maybe it’s time we start.  Here is a suggested 5 point plan on how to get bullying to stop. Read it, share it and work towards making an integrated approach to bullying a reality. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0L27xd7NclMVG9vb0dNbXpuUmc/view?usp=sharing