SuEllen Fried is co-author with Blanche Sosland of "Banishing Bullying Behavior."
SuEllen Fried of Prairie Village, Kan., is co-author with Blanche Sosland of “Banishing Bullying Behavior” (Rowman & Littlefield Education), and she gives anti-bullying seminars in schools around the country.
For more information and resources about bullying prevention go to www.bullysafeusa.com, Fried’s site, and www.stopbullying.gov. This conversation took place at a restaurant in midtown Kansas City, Mo.
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Q: In March you attended the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. Was President Obama there?
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A: Yes. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hosted the event, but the Obamas opened the conference in the East Room of the White House. President Obama turned to us and said, “If you look at my ears and you know my name, you know I wasn’t immune from bullying growing up.” He went on to close his remarks by saying bullying is not normal and not inevitable.
Q: Do some people today think bullying is a normal behavior?
A: Yes. You hear: It is a rite of passage. Boys will be boys. All kids are cruel. Everybody goes through it. It builds character. It makes you tough.
It is none of those myths. It is painful. It is hurtful. It is devastating. It causes lifelong consequences.
Q: What are people at the forefront of the anti-bullying movement working on today?
A: Cyberbullying has grabbed everybody’s attention because it has taken bullying to a level unmatched before.
Q: What is cyberbullying?
A: Any use of technology to cause hurtfulness to another person. You can do it with a cellphone, a computer, in chat rooms, through texting or instant messaging.
Q: How does technology make bullying different?
A: Before, a bully looked you in the face. You knew who the bully was. With cyberbullying, a person who would never have the nerve or the courage to say or do anything directly can sit at a computer and make up lies and press a button and send that to thousands of people.
And when kids are victims of cyberbullying, they are very afraid to tell a parent because they are afraid the parent will take away their technology.
Q: So what should parents do?
A: Parents should initiate discussions by saying, “I’ve been reading about all these things kids are doing to each other with technology, and I’m very concerned about that. Do you know any kids who have been affected by this? What are your thoughts about this? Have you received any messages like that? If you have, how could we support you?”
You can tell your child, “I’m not going to take your technology away from you, but whatever comes we need to document it because it can be followed up in a legal way.” Tell your child not to respond, because that kind of vicious attack does not deserve an intelligent, mature response.
Q: What can schools do?
A: Schools are in terrible dilemma, too. They are reluctant to take on discipline and consequences for bullies because they don’t want to take on the enormous role of dealing with actions outside school.
Schools need to have some role, but we can’t put the whole problem in their laps. The best course is to try to capture the hearts and feelings of kids.
Q: What can kids who know about specific instances of bullying do?
A: Witnesses are people who are there when the bullying action takes place, and they play a key role. There are a number of ways they can intervene that carry different levels of risk.
Confronting the bully carries the highest risk. The least risky course is to go up to the target when no one else is around and say something like, “You don’t deserve to be treated this way, and I’m sorry I can’t make it stop but I want you to know it hurts me to see what’s happening to you.”
And there are things in between where you can try to include a target in social activities. Or you can tell an adult what you’ve seen. There have been many cases where potential attacks have been prevented because witnesses knew something was being planned and reported it to an adult.
Here is another point parents can make to kids: I have talked to so many adults who witnessed bullying as a child and didn’t do anything because they didn’t know how to stop it. And to this day they carry around a wound in their soul that will never heal because of it.
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