Over ten years after Tyler Clementi’s tragic “bullycide,” bullying still seems to be a problem. How is it that we haven’t solved this problem yet? Why is it that people are still being mean to each other?
“Anti-Bullying” vs Bullying Prevention
One of the challenges I see in our current approach to bullying is that most of the focus is “anti-bully.”
We valiantly attempt to get everyone to be kind, sensitive, caring and polite so that no one’s feelings are hurt and everybody can feel good and get some learning accomplished. And when we can’t shame or beg our kids to be nice to each other, we attempt to bring a law enforcement mindset to the school. “Bullying is not tolerated here!”
The presupposition in the very statement implies that force will be used.
Enforcement will be expected. Intolerance to anything that isn’t being nice. And yes consequences for negative behavior need to be in place and clearly communicated. But in a very real way, “anti-bullying” can actually become a type of “bullying.”
The challenge from a neuro linguistic perspective with this is that our minds are pre-programmed to give us what we focus on. If we only focus on intolerance to bullies, then we are not focusing on learning how to solve conflict and learning how to deal with the fact of life that not everybody is nice all the time in the “real world.”
Here’s an example that I learned 20 some years ago back when I first started doing school assemblies as a storyteller. If there was a kid who was being wiggly and disruptive I could
- Yell at him or her and tell them to sit still
- I could ask them nicely to sit still
- I could stop the program and ask a teacher to take the child out or
- I could simply point out a kid or kids nearby who were sitting nicely, quietly and attentively and build THESE kids up. “Wow! look at you sitting here so attentively! Thank you!”
The first three approaches never really worked.
And after literally thousands of assemblies, I’m usually a fan of what works. Pointing out the positive behavior works. All of a sudden all the other kids are eagerly complying with that positive reinforcement.
The same principles can be applied easily in a lot of social interactions that might not be positive at first (BTW I am not saying my tools work all the time. Nothing works all the time).
It just seemed to me back in 2011 when I set out to create the Bully Proof Kid / Bully Proof Teen that very little focus was given to helping kids to learn how to stop being the easy targets of the people who just “didn’t get the memo” that it’s not cool to be cruel. And again, I am ALL FOR people being kind to each other.
I just know as a bullying victim for most of my life, I tended to draw the same kinds of reactions from people wherever I was.
The only common denominator was me.
If someone had taught me then what I know now, I would have actually enjoyed school. It all hit me one day when I had a realization.
After working with a number of top high school and college athletes in my private Sports Hypnosis Coaching practice it was clear that even THESE kids who were pretty much universally ADMIRED by EVERYONE in their school, were all doing exactly what I used to do as a bullying victim: Using their own Minds to defeat themselves.
What neuroscience has taught us:
Neuroscience has proven over and over that our minds don’t actually need to do anything other than imagine something to develop the same neural pathways as actually doing something.
So a basketball team can imagine practicing and get the same results as if they actually practiced.
Well that works in the negative as well.
If we imagine the “bully” in our mind’s eye being mean to us, then we are actually “bullying ourselves” when the bully isn’t even around. The implications of this are enormous. If we can teach kids to take charge of what is being projected on their own mental movie screens when they are AWAY from actual social interactions, then we can reduce their experience of suffering or adversity significantly.
Another approach I use is to teach some very simple state management tools that help to keep the thinking/logical brain functioning instead of pulling all the neural resources into fight or flight limbic reactivity.
If we stay conscious in conflict, we can resolve the conflict and resolving the conflict is good for both people in the interaction. So instead of labeling a “bully” and a “victim,” we can have two young people actually learning some valuable social interaction and self management skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.
I’m currently in the process of booking my 2016/2017 school assembly calendar for the Bully Proof Kid/ Bully Proof Teen in Vermont and Massachusetts. Since I’ll be in California and Florida in January and February and since it seems to do this very inconvenient thing called SNOW in the Northeast during winter anyway, I am blocking out some dates in Spring and Fall 2017. I also have a limited number of openings at the end of October and early November 2016.
So have your people call my people. Let’s give your students some real life coping skills for dealing with bullying and other forms of adversity!