Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bullying: A personal perspective

This series of posts explores the roots and provides recommended responses to childhood bullying. Here’s the introduction to the series:

 Dealing with Bullies and Bullying: Introduction

Bullying: A personal perspective

Note: Master Eric Johnson is a 7th Level Black Belt in Tien Tae Jitsu martial arts—an eclectic, self-defense-based and family-oriented martial art that blends elements of karate, kung fu, jujitsu, hapkido and kickboxing.

I was bullied

I have the unique—well, maybe not so unique, but unfortunate—experience of having been severely bullied in Junior High School. I was extremely small for my age and I grew up in a logging and lumber town. Needless to say, some of the kids I went to school with were rough and rowdy.  It was pretty common to have parents take the position of “Let the kids work it out” or “What’s wrong, your kid doesn’t know how to fight?” I had the opportunity to take Karate and Judo lessons when I was in the Cub Scouts, but didn’t take it all that seriously when I was in elementary school.

Moving to a new town

My problems began when I moved to a new town and started Junior High in the same year. It was mostly pushing, shoving, teasing, and name calling (being the youngest of 6 kids, I was pretty used to all of that). The one time I was confronted by a violent bully gave me the opportunity to try out my new running shoes. They performed admirably! Later that same year, I began training in Kenpo karate. The instructor did an excellent job of conveying a message of peace through self confidence. We learned to fight while hoping and praying that we would never have to.

Putting martial arts to work

Through my time in Junior and Senior High School I had cause to use my self-defense skills on multiple occasions. I attended Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. As you may or may not recall, this was the site of Oregon’s deadliest school shooting to date. On May 21, 1988 a student named Kip Kinkel opened fire in the school, injuring 24 students and killing 2. That morning, Kip had killed both his parents in their home. I knew Kip Kinkel as a child and knew his father as a teacher at Thurston High. Kip was a pretty average kid. He enjoyed riding his big wheel in the driveway. He liked ice cream and he had a great personality. He was a good kid who went down a very dark path.

A history of violence at Thurston High School

Thurston had a history of violence long before that fateful day when Kip went on a shooting rampage. There were fights all the time. Cliques of jocks, preps, stoners and loners exhibited gang-like behavior. I was personally sucker punched, tackled and faced multiple attackers on various occasions. I had a knife pulled on me twice and received a stab wound on my right arm on one occasion. I was shot at for standing next to my best friend who was dating the ex-girlfriend of a jealous psycho.

Learning about human nature and psychology

As I continued my education in martial arts over the next several decades, I learned as much as I could about human nature and psychology. It occurred to me that the best methods of self defense did not lay within some ancient fighting style, but in education and the compassion of our own hearts and souls. In time, I myself became a parent and did my best to instill positive virtues in my daughter. She’s since graduated from High School, has a good job, and is out on her own. Sometimes that’s the best we can hope for.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Responding to bullying: Winning through losing

This series of posts explores the roots and provides recommended responses to childhood bullying. Here’s the introduction to the series:

 Dealing with Bullies and Bullying: Introduction

Winning through losing

“Winning through losing” is a concept that requires a high level of personal maturity but can provide a valuable tactic and life lesson for a bullying victim.

The power of agreement

An example of “winning through losing” would be when a bully says something like, “you’re a dork” and the individual on the receiving end agrees with him to keep peace and act like the bigger person. They might say “You are right…I am a bit dorky but I’m working on it.” The power of this approach lies in the fact that a lot of times the bully is simply trying to get a rise out of his victim in order to affirm himself (or herself). This is accomplished by embarrassing/humiliating them and maybe trying to get them to cry.

What if the bullying escalates?

A bully may lose interest if they can’t get a rise. This is the ideal reaction. If instead, the bully persists and the encounter escalates to the point of violence, (or threats of violence), the victim should take a passive ready stance. This is performed with the hands and arms raised, palms facing toward the bully, (the widely understood “take it easy” or “please calm down” gesture). As an added benefit, this hand and arm position provides a barrier between the bully’s attack and the victim’s head and face.

Reacting from a ready stance

If the bully shoots in for a tackle, the recipient should take a step back and push straight down on the bully’s shoulder blades.

If the bully throws a punch, move one or both hands to intercept the attack (blocking). This will buy a second. If there’s no other options available, the receiver of the attack should deliver a palm strike to the nose. This will stun the bully for a second or two and allow them to be pushed out of the way long enough to make an escape.

Most importantly: Get away fast

In any of these situations, the child should run as fast as they can to the nearest adult for help. Once again, I have to warn that this action will most likely leave the bully plotting their revenge and direct parental follow-up, as well as greater awareness on the part of the bullying victim is recommended.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Can bullying be a life lesson?

This series of posts explores the roots and provides recommended responses to childhood bullying. Here’s the introduction to the series:

 Dealing with Bullies and Bullying: Introduction

Can bullying be a life lesson?

We do not live in a utopian society. Look anywhere and you will inevitably see some sort of conflict. Between humans. Between any species of animal. In fact, if we take a look all the way back into prehistory, we would inevitably see big dinosaurs picking on little ones—it’s sheer animal nature.

Helping a child who is being bullied

When helping a child who is being bullied, the child should be encouraged to express how the bullying makes them feel and what they think they should do to resolve the issue. The responsible adult should listen carefully and earnestly to what’s being said. It is vital that the child feel like they are being heard and acknowledged. Oftentimes, we give kids too little credit. They’re surprisingly perceptive and can easily see through inauthentic concern or false pretenses.

When to seek professional help with bullies

If a bullying victim is having thoughts of hurting the bully or hurting themselves, a professional counselor or therapist should be consulted. A qualified counseling professional can be recommended by school professionals or found online. At the same time, a responsible adult should privately approach the bully and explain clearly what their actions are doing to their victim(s). While it can often seem like a losing battle, try to get them to empathize with the person who was on the receiving end of their harassment.

Life lessons for the bullying victim

The life lesson for the bullying victim is one of working through problems and difficulties with reasoning and compassion—without resorting to violence to stop violence. Help the bullying victim understand the root or source of the issue. If you have a building that keeps catching fire, do you keep sending the fire department to put it out day after day or do you try to determine the cause?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why Do Kids Bully?

This series of posts explores the roots and provides recommended responses to childhood bullying. Here’s the introduction to the series:

 Dealing with Bullies and Bullying: Introduction

Why Do Kids Bully?

With bullying on the rise in our schools, it’s more important than ever for kids and parents to understand the underlying causes of bullying and bullies. This is the second post in a series examining bullying and offering insights for adults and students interested in reducing the negative impacts of bullying.

Why do kids behave this way?

A lot of bullying occurs in or around school (on the playground, cafeteria, bus, etc.). While there are more serious reasons behind bullying behavior, most bullies are kids who are trying to impress their peers. (These days, it’s equally likely that a bully can be a girl or a boy.) The bully will usually choose as their victim someone who is perceived as “different” or weaker than them.

Who is bullied?

Reasons a bully might single out their victim can be wide ranging, including everything from a speech impediment, body weight, small size, shyness, lack of coordination, or any other variety of causes. The one common trait is that the bully perceives their victim as weaker and a target. In a recent study, 77% of the students said they had been bullied. 14% of those who were bullied said they experienced severe (bad) reactions to the abuse.

What does the bully feel?

Bullies are driven by an urge to make others feel inferior—often due to their own insecurities. Trying to impress others by showing how big and tough they are helps them to feel more powerful and gain some limited sense of self worth. Unfortunately, it can have a damaging, long-lasting, and negative impact on the victim. Frequently, victims of bullying can be afflicted with depression, can consider suicide and may even lash out with violence that extends beyond the bully to friends and classmates.

Bullying is a learned behavior

In some cases, the bully is acting on learned behavior. They may have issues at home with an angry parent or parents. In their home environment, the message (spoken or unspoken) may be that violence can be used to solve problems. As a result, their pent up emotions, aggressions and frustrations boil over into aggressive and often violent behavior. When unresolved, these issues can continue on into adulthood. More often than not, bully parents produce kids who are bullies and continue the cycle.