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Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders: How Parents Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence

Mara R. Lockard
Newnan GA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 6, December 2005-January 2006, p. 127.

Barbara Coloroso is a world-renowned speaker, educational consultant, and author of two international bestsellers: Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline and Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief and Change. Her latest book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School -- How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence, was the topic for a Conference session at the 2005 LLLI Conference.

Many (including myself) who signed up for this session expected to hear how we could help children to deal with bullies. We did not expect to hear that to eliminate bullying from our communities, we also need to work with the bullied and the bystanders. While the session held some surprises, it enlightened us toward "rewriting the script" for children through encouraging "positive leadership activities," recognizing "non-aggressive behaviors...as strengths that can be developed and are honored," and developing the bystander into a "witness, someone willing to stand up, speak out, and act against injustice."

Barbara Coloroso was full of energy and thought-provoking stories. She was charged with emotion about her subject, and despite the baby sounds, her message came through clearly. To address the problem of bullying, we all need to be involved, not merely the bullies' parents. Bullies exist not only due to psychological advantages that bullying imparts to the bully but also because of the interplay of relationships between bully, bullied, and bystander. Coloroso warned of the:

Deadly combination...a bully who gets what he wants from his target, a bullied child who is afraid to tell, bystanders who either watch, participate in the bullying, or look away, and adults who see bullying as teasing not tormenting, as "boys will be boys," not the predatory aggression that it is.

She cited tragic examples of such deadly combinations. She also has a special perspective, having raised her children in the community near Columbine High School in Colorado, USA, site of the 1999 tragedy that was rooted in bullying.

Coloroso defined bullying as a "conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity, intended to harm." Yet despite the hostility, bullying is about contempt, which psychologically enables the bully to hurt others, whether physically or emotionally, without feeling empathy, compassion, or shame. Coloroso has compiled a list of seven steps to encourage more appropriate behavior on the part of the bully:

  • Disciplining (including restitution, resolution, and reconciliation);
  • Developing "do good" opportunities;
  • Encouraging empathy;
  • Teaching friendship skills
  • Supervising television viewing, video games, and computer time;
  • Occupying with activities that are more beneficial, enjoyable, and motivating;
  • Instructing in ways to "will good."

Regarding the bullied, Coloroso described how each "was singled out to be the object of scorn...merely because he or she was different in some way." I spent seventh grade being bullied, and I acknowledged her point in my own experience. I matured more slowly than the others in my small class, not yet wearing makeup or shaving my legs as the rest of the girls did. The bully in my case, an eighth-grader, pretended to be interested in me romantically and kept taunting me to date him. Coloroso differentiates teasing from taunting in that teasing is:

Not intended to hurt the other person, maintains the basic dignity of everyone involved, and is discontinued when the person teased becomes upset or objects to the teasing.
Taunting is:
Intended to harm, is meant to diminish the sense of self-worth of the target, and continues especially when the targeted kid becomes distressed or objects to the taunt.

Despite my obvious trembling and inability to look the bully in the eye, the mockery continued, much to the delight of some bystanders. Coloroso explains that bystanders are:

the supporting cast who aid and abet the bully...who stand idly by or look away, or they can actively encourage the bully or join in and become one of a bunch of bullies.

One of the bystanders in my situation became and still is one of my best friends. In talking about seventh grade, she shared that she "was too scared herself to risk rocking the boat" by stepping in on my behalf. We all know from recent history that it is not only the bully who can impart such fear in our communities, and that bullied children whose pain went unrecognized have sought their revenge on those who tormented or did not help them, or have entered into the "tragic and final exit" of suicide.

In order to break the cycle of violence, Coloroso asserts that we are obligated to "examine why and how a child becomes a bully or the target of a bully (and sometimes both) as well as the role the bystanders play in perpetuating the cycle." Rather than the bandage approaches of establishing "zero-tolerance plans," placing armed guards in our schools, or even shutting one's eyes to the problem (in hopes it will disappear), we must encourage our children's ability to:

Stand up for their own rights while respecting the rights and legitimate needs of others; to handle conflicts nonviolently; to act with integrity when confronted with difficult situations such as peer pressure to cause harm; and to develop a personal code (inner moral code) that gives them the wherewithal to do what is right in spite of external consequences and never merely because of them.

Our job as parents in this respect will not be easy, but our "kids are worth it." To view the handouts from this session, which have been excerpted in this article, go to www.kidsareworthit.com.

Mara Lockard is a Leader for LLL of Peachtree City, Georgia, USA. Her husband, Bill, an Army contracting officer assigned to Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, is currently deployed in Egypt. They have two children, Gabrielle (5) and Alexander (2).

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