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Jan 22 2012

A Holistic Perspective on Bullying

Recently while hanging out at my local Barnes and Noble, I noticed a display near the kids’ section. It was about “No Name-Calling Week,” which happens to be the week of January 23, and had a bunch of books for children about bullying.

At first, I was skeptical, as I usually am about well-meaning but generally misinformed interventions like these. But when I actually checked out the books, I noticed that they weren’t just about bullying. I bought two of them for my little brother, and they were called Stick Up For Yourself and Speak Up and Get Along.

Before you drown in a puddle of gag reflex, let me assure you that I actually read a good amount of both of these books before I bought them, and I’m proud to say that they are absolutely 100% Psych Major/Former Kid/Big Sister-approved.

More specifically, the books basically consisted of kid-friendly cognitive-behavioral therapy. There were chapters about understanding and naming your feelings, expressing yourself effectively, and figuring out what your dreams are. Relatively little of it was actually directly relevant to bullying; the focus seemed to be children’s mental health in general.

As I wrote in a previous post, our culture mostly ignores mental health in children unless they’re already seriously distressed and/or problematic, in which case it attacks the problem furiously, if ineffectively (i.e. ADHD, alcohol/drug use, and delinquency). In that post, I discussed my ten-year-old brother’s skewed worldview and how it’s been shaped by the way he’s treated by other kids, and how his issues probably won’t be taken seriously until/unless they develop into something that’s listed in the DSM.

But these books are brilliant in that they approach the problem of bullying in a holistic way–by illuminating the ways in which kids would be happier and healthier if they were taught more effective and positive ways of thinking and interacting.

I was bullied as a kid. I’m not nearly masochistic enough to start describing exactly how or how much, although I can say that it wasn’t as severe as it was for many other people. I don’t think it affected my life all that much; although I’m sure depression can be a consequence of childhood bullying, I’m pretty sure my genetics and inborn temperament took care of that on their own.

But even from an early age, I was curious about why people act the way they do. Although I’m certainly not always nice, I’ve never felt the urge to ostracize someone, publicly humiliate them, or spread rumors about them. Some people, though, do have that urge. Why?

Of course, parents, teachers, and psychologists have been trying to answer this question for decades now. The common assumption used to be that bullies are awkward, ugly loners who mess with other kids to feel powerful. Nowadays, the explanations have tended towards the sociological side, with Rachel Simmons’ Odd Girl Out hypothesizing that, at least among girls, bullying is caused by a societal stigma against expressing anger openly and is usually done by popular girls with plenty of social capital.

The real answer, I think, lies somewhere between these two perspectives. It’s clear that most bullies are socially skilled and aware, at least to a certain extent, or else they wouldn’t be able to exert such influence. (Would you really feel that hurt if some loser came up and called you ugly? I’d laugh.) However, there has to be something missing from these kids’ lives if they turn to making others miserable.

A happy, self-confident person of any age has no need to put others down. I think it’s time that we recognize that even young children can and do have mental health issues–not necessarily ones that need medication or therapy, but ones that deserve attention and respect from their families.

That’s why I bought my brother those books. I hope that they’ll be a good starting point to help him figure out how to start looking at the world in a healthier way and how to talk to us about how he feels. We can’t help kids without listening to them–and resisting the urge to respond with “Just ignore it,” “Just get over it,” and “Just calm down.”

1 comment

  1. 1
    Titfortat

    A happy, self-confident person of any age has no need to put others down.(Miriam)

    This hits the nail on the head. I think this line equates to bullies perfectly.

    Misery loves company…….

    It is obvious that you should be allowed to express your anger and grief when you are confronted with life’s issues. Eventually though we need to move on and not keep rehashing our hurts. If you continuously pick at a scab it will bleed. There comes a time when it needs to become just a scar. One of my main issue’s with certain aspects of the mental health industry is the fact that some dont want you to heal. I think the eagles summed that up best with this little diddly. ;)

    I turn on the tube and what do I see
    A whole lotta people cryin’ ‘don’t blame me’
    They point their crooked little fingers ar everybody else
    Spend all their time feelin’ sorry for themselves
    Victim of this, victim of that
    Your momma’s too thin; your daddy’s too fat

    Get over it
    Get over it
    All this whinin’ and cryin’ and pitchin’ a fit
    Get over it, get over it

    You say you haven’t been the same since you had your little crash
    But you might feel better if I gave you some cash
    The more I think about it, old billy was right
    Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ‘em tonight
    You don’t want to work, you want to live like a king
    But the big, bad world doesn’t owe you a thing

    Get over it
    Get over it
    If you don’t want to play, then you might as well split
    Get over it, get over it

    It’s like going to confession every time I hear you speak
    You’re makin’ the most of your losin’ streak
    Some call it sick, but I call it weak

    You drag it around like a ball and chain
    You wallow in the guilt; you wallow in the pain
    You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown
    Got your mind in the gutter, bringin’ everybody down
    Complain about the present and blame it on the past
    I’d like to find your inner child and kick it’s little ass

    Get over it
    Get over it
    All this bitchin’ and moanin’ and pitchin’ a fit
    Get over it, get over it

    Get over it
    Get over it
    It’s gotta stop sometime, so why don’t you quit
    Get over it, get over it

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