Robyn Margulis Vernon Ogrodnek

Recently I have written about bullying, how technology has made it easier, and how its prevalence is apparent.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an anti-bullying workshop at my kids' school that I found enlightening and informative. Despite my previous research and writings on the subject, I learned some new things that I wish to share with my readers.

Jim Jordan of described bullying as aggressive intentional behavior, whether physical or emotional, toward a specific target (a word he prefers instead of victim) intended to make them feel inferior. There are two types of bullying, according to Jordan: Direct and indirect. Direct bullying is distinguished by more physical overt actions, such as punching, fighting, or knocking books to the ground. Jordan indicated that boys are far more likely to engage in this type of bullying. Indirect bullying, however, is the preferred method for girls, which consists of gossip, intimidation, humiliation or otherwise rude behavior toward others in a social setting. Cyberbullying is an indirect form of bullying.

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Bullying is learned behavior, either from other bullies, parents, or other adults. Bullies take pleasure out of controlling other people. It makes them feel superior. Bullies feel bigger by making others feel small.

Jordan's anti-bullying program centers on a campfire analogy. You cannot have a campfire without ignition, fuel, and oxygen. The bully is the ignition, the victim (or target) is the fuel, and the complicit bystander is the oxygen.

Jordan focuses bullying prevention on the bystander. He purports that the intimidating and humiliating behavior would be meaningless for the perpetrator if it is not witnessed and/or celebrated by others. The vicious cycle of bullying occurs when the bystander chooses to join in on the bullying, cheer on the bully, or simply say nothing (complacency). Generally bystanders, deep down, recognize that the behavior is wrong and hurtful, but they typically choose one of these three reactions either out of fear of becoming the victim, or simply to fit in. By doing so, the bystander has fueled the campfire. If the bystander chooses, however, to confront the bully, or report the behavior to parents or teachers, the behavior is less likely to continue. The bully needs an appreciative audience. The fire needs oxygen.

After my 11-year-old son attended the student version of the anti-bullying workshop, I asked him what he learned from it. Interestingly, the first word out of his mouth was bystander. He paid attention. He admitted witnessing bullying behavior but not saying anything or doing anything about it. He told me that he would no longer be the bystander that doesn't speak up. He recognized that he could have a role in helping a friend from feeling humiliation, intimidation, or fear.

This program is not necessarily advocating confrontational responses by bystanders, but rather it suggests that if bystanders fail to demonstrate approval or they report the behavior to teachers and parents, change can occur. If the bystander speaks up to the bully ("That's not cool, Dude.") or reports what's going on to parents or teachers, the bully loses the control, he is no longer impressing his peers with his superiority, and he no longer gets pleasure out of it. Jordan's program stresses the importance of integrity and compassion for others. It encourages students to care more about the feelings of the victim, rather than their own concerns about fitting in.

Bullying usually occurs outside of view of authority. Parents and teachers cannot respond to what they do not see or know about. That is the reason for focusing on the bystander. Jordan suggests that the bystander holds all of the power. With the recognition, though, that many students might be fearful of reporting or addressing the bully directly, Jordan's program suggests using a "bully box" (where anonymous notes may be dropped) or an online reporting system.

Those that are bullying are not going to get the message from their parents. School involvement is necessary. Jordan suggests strategic planning that involves the school board, principals/teachers, and students/parents. That seems to be in line with the proposed New Jersey legislation that would mandate anti-bullying protocols and education in schools.

Many people commented on the website following an article in reference to Jordan's workshop and the proposed New Jersey legislation. Most comments were critical of overregulation and spending more on school programs. It seems that this is the popular stance to take these days. But encouraging schools to adopt comprehensive programs on bullying education and reporting is the right move. The cost to school districts would be minimal, but the reward has the potential to be great.

No child should be deprived of a good education because he fears going to school, walking the halls, walking home, or taking the bus. And no child should miss school out of fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation. It's time to take a hard stance on bullying.


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