Walter G. Meyer is a nationally recognized anti-bullying champion who has been on numerous television and radio shows including NPR. He has written about the timely topic of bullying for newspapers and web sites.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions Walt has received:
Physical bullying takes obvious forms: pushing, tripping, hitting, knocking things out of someone’s hands or breaking something of theirs.
Psychological bullying includes things like ostracism, shunning, gossiping, and other forms of exclusion. Spreading rumors and other forms of psychological bullying is often harder to spot and therefore can operate “under the radar” longer. Although it far from universal that different genders use different forms of bullying, girls are much more likely to engage in this type of bullying and boys in physical bullying, but either gender can do both.
Workplace bullying is almost always psychological. Anyone shoving a coworker or writing crude graffiti on a coworker’s desk is likely to be fired rather quickly, so workplace bullies often have to be much more subtle. How do you tell your boss or an HR representative, “He rolls his eyes every time I say something in a staff meeting”? But that and other subtle forms of insults can diminish an employee’s performance. Read more about workplace bullying here.
Cyber bullying is a relatively new form of torment. Cyber bullying is using technology to harass someone via text, tweet or other social media such as Facebook or Instagram. In many cases of bullycide, (the bullying of someone into suicide) the final straw that caused the victim to end their own life was something posted about them on line. Often when I speak I do a Powerpoint presentation that addresses ways to combat bullying and there are tips on cyber-bullying. People often ask me if things are better or worse than when I was a teen and I say, “Both.” Things are better in that schools are much more likely to take action and do something. Recently some boys in San Diego got arrested for assault after harassing a fellow student–that would never have happened in my day. But things are also work in that there is no way to escape bullying when kids come home and turn on their computers, there is bullying on Facebook and they get it via Twitter and texts.
Depending on the child’s interests, perhaps martial arts would not only boost their confidence or give them some self-defense skills–and if taught properly, they can provide the confidence to walk away without a fight. If sports aren’t of any interest to the child, perhaps getting involved in something else–band, theater or some other club. Taking acting or music lessons over the summer may given the child the confidence to try out and the opportunity to make friends and those friendships could continue into the school year, giving the student people to have lunch with, hang out with, and there is safety in numbers.Feeling better about one’s self, and having the confidence in your own strengths makes one less of a target. If you act like a target, you’ll be one.
Over the summer, the child can engage in activities that will make her or him walk and act with self-esteem. This is easier said than done and may require professional counseling or achieving something tangible that makes them feel differently about themselves—perhaps skydiving or bungee jumping or learning to speak another language or going to science camp to make friends among like-minded people. Perhaps volunteering in the community so the student can see how valuable to the old people he is helping and if they instill in him enough appreciation he can come to appreciate himself.
Gaining self-confidence may require a bit of a make-over. A new hair cut or new clothes or new car. Sometimes just as actors feel differently when they don their wardrobe for a part, learning to be the new, confident you may require a new look. And there is some accuracy to old saying, “fake it till you make it.” Acting confident even when you’re not feeling so brave can actually make you feel braver. Studies have shown people are happy because they’re smiling, not that they are smiling because they’re happy. Often the look precedes the emotion.
Talk to your child about how and why the incidents were occurring. If there is something going on that he can avoid doing. For instance, in one case a boy would flaunt his straight A’s to kids who weren’t doing as well in school. And they responded the only way they knew how–with their fists. Explain to your child that is great to be proud of your grades, but not a good idea to brag about them to other students. Role play ways to talk your way out of situations. Use humor and reason to deflect bullying.
If the student develops enough confidence, they may find the courage to approach the bully one-on-one (never when the bully’s followers are around, because there is no point to bullying if there isn’t an audience) and ask why she or he feels the need to attack. Amazingly, appealing to the humanity of the bully is one of the best ways to end the problem.
Many well-meaning parents want their child to get a new start in a new school. Numerous studies have shown that once the pattern of target or bully is established in that unless something is done to address the underlying problem the student will quickly fall back into their old ways. There are ways to make either bullies or targets accept and respect themselves and others. After some adjustments and changes are made, for a child to have the confidence to start over they may feel better at a new school, but it is unlikely a new school alone will be the answer.
If you child seems to be down too much of the time and dreads getting up for school and shows any other signs of deep depression, take those things seriously and seek professional help.
If you are in need of help, there are people to talk to including the Trevor Hotline: 866-488-7386.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year-olds, accounting for over 12 percent of deaths in this age group; only accidents and homicide occur more frequently. (National Adolescent Health Information 2006)
For every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made. (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey 2003)
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. (Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey 2007, stats courtesy the Trevor Project)
When I speak about this topic, I focus on the bystanders. There are many more of them than there are bullies or targets. If bystanders would speak up, incidents would end quickly. Teach your child not be a passive bystander, to say something when he or she sees someone else being picked on–bullies usually have more than one target.
If the child doesn’t feel big enough or strong enough to stand up to the bully and his or her followers, run and get help–a teacher, principal, or staff member. Talk to the other targets, so they will do the same.
Assault is assault even if it occurs on school grounds. If someone punches or trips or kicks you and the school does not take immediate action, call 911. Knowing there is recourse may help the child be more confident.
It may be necessary to contact the school to let them know what is going on and that you will be monitoring the situation to make sure your child doesn’t have another bad year. If the school will not take steps to protect the child, groups like the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center will threaten legal action.
In my own case, I was bullied all through grade school and high school. My junior year I made one really good friend, who, before he graduated (he was a year ahead of me) sat me down and told me that I had to change the way I handled myself. That I was a good person, worthy of respect–more than just telling me this, he had shown me respect, even when I had no self-respect) and that if I acted that way, people would treat me differently. He acknowledged that it would be hard to change my image in the same school my senior year, but I could start. And when I went away to college, I could reinvent myself. Senior year, I did learn to skirt most issues rather than deal with them, but things were a little better. When I went to college, I made a conscious effort to leave my past behind and became one of the most popular students at my university–getting invited to the biggest parties and getting asked out by people who I would have sworn were out of my league.
I talked about the transition I made in my “It Gets Better” video.
Often students who are bullied at school will come home and use social media to bully someone else. If parents find out their child is bullying—whether on line or in person—they need to get to the root of the problem. Just punishing the child will not only not solve the problem, but often makes it worse.
If your child is being bullied and that is why there are bullying others—find out by whom and where that bullying is taking place. Often a child is embarrassed to admit to a parent that they are being bullied, so it’s important to let them know that it’s not their fault and that is okay to tell you what is going on. Parents need to look at their own behavior.
Are they bullying their child?
Are they letting their other children or someone else bully their child?
Are they disrespectful of others?
Case in point. A father told me he was shocked one day when a driver cut him off and he blasted his horn at the offending driver. His 7-year-old son yelled an obscenity at the other car. He was shocked to hear the vehemence and language coming from his son’s mouth. He pulled into the next parking lot and stopped. His son looked at him, thinking he was going to be punished for saying something he knew he shouldn’t have. Instead his father apologized. He told his son, “I know where you learned that. From me. And it’s wrong. I shouldn’t get that angry while I am driving and I am sorry that that is what you have learned from watching me behind the wheel. I never want to hear you yell that at another driver. It’s wrong and dangerous. I will try to do better and if you ever hear me say that again, please correct me.”
If you are a bully behind the wheel, at sporting events, while making fun of people on reality TV shows, you are teaching your child to be disrespectful.
While watching the news, you can disagree with a politician with whom you disagree and not do so in a way that is belittling or rude.
You can express your desire for a certain contestant to win American Idol without ridiculing the constestants you don’t want to win. And you should ask yourself if some reality shows where the entire purpose is to manufacture conflict are really what your children—or you—should be watching.
That sort of humiliation will only make that child more of a bully. It will teach him that it’s okay to humiliate someone if you’re bigger than them. Punishing a child, likewise, will not solve the problem.
Finding out why it is happening and addressing that cause is the only thing that will fix the problem—not only the immediate problem—but prevent future occurrences. Bulling behavior tends to go on through someone’s life unless the cycle is broken.
The policy should be specific. Not just a statement, “Bullying will not be tolerated,” but specifying what sort of actions are prohibited and on what basis, along the lines of “Disrespectful language, whether spoken or in writing, in school or on social media about other students will not be tolerated.
Derogatory comments about others based on their appearance, race, gender, gender expression, religion, actual or perceived sexual orientation, disability, national origin, choice of activity, or any other criteria is forbidden. In far too many schools, the hostile atmosphere starts with the teachers and administrators. Teachers will actually ridicule students. This is particularly true when it comes to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) students.
Systems by which students can anonymously report bullying have been found to be very effective. Most students will report incidents if they can do so anonymously. Most will not if they must give their name. This is especially true if the perpetrator of the bad conduct is a teacher or staff member.
School projects such as videos:
mix it up at lunch day is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center encourages students to sit with someone other than their usual group for at least one day a year: At a high school in New Jersey, the jocks—especially the football players—have take the lead and pledged that no one eats lunch alone.
Some elementary schools—at the suggestion of students—have started “buddy benches” where any student feeling in need of a friend can sit before or after school or during lunch or recess and be joined by others who are feeling down or lonely.
In some cases more popular students take turns staffing the bench so there is always someone there.
- Keep personal data private -There are liars and fakes on every web site
- Avoid web sites where there are trouble-makers
- Don’t react or respond
- Block the offensive person
- Tell a trusted adult/school authorities
- If there are real threats, contact police/school authorities
- Save screen shots of what is being said or print out offensive comments
- Notify the web site/service provider when warranted
- Stick up for others
- Ask the bully (bullies) to stop
People often ask me if things are better or worse than when I was a teen and I say, “Both.” Things are better in that schools are much more likely to take action and do something.
Recently some boys in San Diego got arrested for assault after harassing a fellow student–that would never have happened in my day. But things are also work in that there is no way to escape bullying when kids come home and turn on their computers, there is bullying on Facebook and they get it via Twitter and texts.
There are things targets can do to reduce their risk of being targeted–changing their privacy settings and not posting things that might provoke an unwelcome response. The bullies should be taught respect for others and why it is wrong to target anyone. If a bully posts something rude on Facebook or Twitter and others “like” it, it encourages the bully to do more. If several people post things telling the bully that his comment was inappropriate or in support of the target, the bully might think twice about engaging in similar bad behavior.
Recently a friend posted something on Facebook about a mutual acquaintance that I thought was rude and inappropriate. I don’t particularly like the target of this snarky comment, but know the guy is going through a bad time and thought it was wrong to kick him while he is down. I sent my friend a private message asking him to take down the post, explaining why I thought it was wrong. And he did.
Facebook provides ways to report bullying and harassment and there are apps to monitor your children’s texts and tweets, but the real solution is to prevent it by dismantling the environment in which such behavior grows and is tolerated.
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” – John F. Kennedy, paraphrasing Dante
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Wiesel
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. – (attributed to Edmund Burke)
The largest group in the equation is the bystanders and therefore they have the most power. Psychologist Ron Holt likes to say, “The bully will do what the crowd will tolerate.” If the crowd eggs the bully on, he will escalate the harassment, but often if even one person protests, the incident ends.
In one study it was found that if anyone says anything—almost anything at all—that disapproves of the conduct, in more than 50 percent of cases, the incident ends. Bullies seek reinforcement for their actions, and if they get the opposite—disapproval—they are likely to stop immediately. I have been on panels with members of the San Diego School Board and their district’s policy states that there are no bystanders.
By standing silently by, you are helping the bully. If you do not feel you can safely speak up, go and get help. Or you likely have a cell phone in your pocket or purse—use it! Call for help. But do not let the situation go on even if it seems harmless at the time.
If left unchecked, often things will escalate—if not this time then the then next time the bully sees the target.
Many students have problems, ones they may never want to talk about in school…maybe their mother or little brother has cancer. Treat everyone you meet as though you just found that out about them. You can’t go wrong that way. At worst you were nice to someone who was already having a good day. But I’ve lost count of the number of kids I talk to who said the only thing that kept them from killing themselves was a smile or kind word from a stranger.
In the case of someone suffering from a disease or disability or other trauma, or someone being bullied for their race or religion, they can usually seek solace at home but in the case of LGBT kids, they don’t dare tell their parents and try to hide the fact they are being bullied for fear their parents will find out the reason why. And the “gay” child you or your school protects is most likely straight: 81 percent of the kids bullied for being gay, are not gay. If a boy wants to play the violin instead of football, he will often be ridiculed for being gay, but there are lots of straight ballet dancers and lots of gay basketball players. Don’t make assumptions and everyone be free to be who they are.
Here is a typical day on Twitter.
And Humboldt State mapped the hate.
Each time a child hears such a put-down it tears away a little more of their self-esteem. Learning to respect and accept themselves goes a long way to armor-plating them against such abuse, but kids can only take so much and it does damage. Schools must teach acceptance. Many studies have shown that teachers are much less likely to intervene when an anti-gay slur is used than a racial one is.
I am certified by the international nonprofit No Bully to conduct their in-school interventions. Their program has had 85 or 90 percent effectiveness, based on two different follow-up studies. And just as important in no case has their intervention made things worse. This is key, because in many cases if the bully is just punished and there is no follow up or any changes made to the underlying problem, often the bullying is exacerbated as the target is attacked by the bully for “snitching” and getting the bully in trouble. If the school doesn’t do proper follow up, it can make things much worse. Although the situation is rarely that bad, the most common response of school officials is to do nothing.
There are places a parent can go for help, including, as a last resort, legal action, often brought by the ACLU at no cost to the parents. A parent who hears that their child is being bullied, has to take it seriously. Even though it may not seem like the end of the world to adults, the number of young people who have killed themselves over this proves it can be the end of their world.
Parents should tell their children they will not take action without informing the child and without the child’s consent. Then the parent should thoroughly research the situation: what is the school and school district’s policy about bullying? How is it enforced? Are their applicable state laws? What other resources available to back them up, including legal action? Because the school is unlikely to follow up, if a parent starts, they need to make it very clear to the administration that the school had better make sure real action is taken and remind them of the numerous law suits that have been won against schools for not protecting their students.
As I say in my talks, sadly many administrators seem to care more about money and bad publicity than they do about their students. Threaten to call the local media if nothing is done–and then do it if no action is immediately forthcoming. As I have a character in my novel, “Rounding Third,” say, “There is nothing in the law that excuses assault if it happens on school grounds.”
Do not hesitate to call the police and if they give the standard “just kids being kids” answer, remind them how embarrassing bad publicity can be. And given the media’s eagerness to cover bullying stories these days, remind the administration how likely it is that a story about bullying will be picked up. Schools are responsible for seeing their students attend classes. If necessary for their children’s safety parents should keep their children home from school until the administration has a plan in place to guarantee no harm will come to the children.
Once parents have done their homework, and form a plan of action, they should take the appropriate steps and assure their children that they will be unrelenting in pursuit of their children’s safety.
The guys in the video are teasing their co-worker. Teasing is different from bullying in that teasing among friends does not involve an imbalance of power. One guy calls the other name, if the friend knows he can respond in kind, that is not bullying. There is no attempt at dominance there and the one being “picked on” for the moment doesn’t see it that way because he is free to retaliate.
In bullying, the teasing or name-calling or physical actions are one-way. The bully does them to her target. Her target is not on equal footing to retaliate. So friends do shove and trip each other to be funny and as you put it “goof” around and it might be hard for a teacher who sees this in the hall to know whether the two people involved are friends. But the reaction of the person who was tripped would often be the tipoff: if he laughs it off or playfully threatens to get even, rather than looks ready to cry. If he turns on his friend with an “insult” to tease him back, that is different than a target who is afraid to speak up for himself.
As with children of any age, it is important to get to the root of the problem. Many children “learn” at home that it’s “okay” to torment others—a parent, older sibling or someone is harassing them. And sometimes the bullying is actually something else. They don’t yet know how to properly show they are interested in a boy or girl and this may be a way of getting their attention.
If their child is being bullied, it is best for a parent to take the matter to a school counselor or official. Dealing directly with the parents of the bully often makes things worse. And if the parents are the root of the problem, this will definitely make things worse.
The parent needs to ask the school what their policy is, how it will be enforced and tell the school officials they expect a report on the outcome—make it clear there will be follow-up. Too often the principal talks to the bully once and thinks it is over. And if the bully is only punished, that will often make things worse—the bully will take it out on his/her target for snitching.
According to one study, over three-quarters of students will report it if they can do so anonymously. Only 57 percent would if they can’t.
In many of the school shootings, the shooter had told one fellow students that he had guns and planned to use them at school. In very few cases have those who were told shared that information with a responsible adult. At one of the first highly school shootings in 1997 in Kentucky, the shooter told four other that he had guns and school and was planning to shoot people. None of those students four told anyone.
The shooting at Santana High School in Santee, California, because Andy Williams was being bullied. But as so often happens, when the shooting happens, he didn’t target his bullies and just shot anyone he was unfortunate to cross his path that morning.
When I speak to schools, I tell the students—imagine that your best friend is among those who cross paths with the shooter that morning.
How would you feel if they got shot and you could have done something to prevent it?
How would you face your other friends and the dead friend’s parents?
Whoever gets shot will be someone’s child and friend. The silly idea that it’s wrong to “snitch” doesn’t apply when lives are on the line. You’re also helping the would be shooter: if you can stop a shooting before it happens, instead of the shooter likely going to prison for the rest of his life, he can get help and maybe someday have a normal life.