tormentors and their victims find ways out of anger and isolation
September my son Jacob, then 11, was attacked twice by a bully. The first
time, the bully and his sidekick asked for money. When Jacob said he
didn't have any, the boy asked for Jacob's psychedelic pencils. Jacob
handed them over and got several kicks to his legs and groin.
second time, the bully knocked Jacob's glasses into the road. For days,
Jacob dreaded school and walked the long way home. "Mom," he
said, "school can never be the same."
any child assaulted by a bully, the shock of unprovoked meanness endures.
One in seven children -- male and female -- is either a bully or victim of
bullying, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
And the consequences of those roles persist. A 1991 study found that 60
percent of boys tagged as bullies in grades 6 to 9 had at least one
criminal conviction by age 24.
of bullying are likely to bear lasting scars in the form of poor
self-esteem and depression. Seven percent of
its affront to personal freedom and dignity, bullying detracts from
learning -- for both the bully and the victim. As violence in schools
increases, teachers are more and more often called away from teaching to
intervene in bullying situations.
are the bullies?
(students' names have been changed), a 5th grader at
had regularly intimidated Mary, an intelligent but insecure girl, into
doing Angela's homework. One day when Mary didn't complete the work,
Angela told every girl who would listen that Mary had herpes. Several
girls explained to Mary what herpes was, and Mary, mortified, went to
held an impromptu workshop on gossiping for Mary and the girls who had
shared Angela's gossip. She asked them: What does gossip do? How do you
stop gossip? "By the time the day was over, the girls were friends
again, so the bully's control was gone," says Glass.
two, Glass included Angela in her gossip workshop, repeating the lesson.
She praised the victim for coming to her and not taking the gossip
elsewhere. She praised the girls who stopped the gossip. "When you
hear something, write it on a piece of paper, hand it to me, and together
we'll tear it up and throw it away," Glass told the girls.
Angela was on the outside watching everyone else get praised. Soon she too
was scribbling any gossip on a piece of paper and ripping it up. "If
you catch the circle instead of the bully, the problem disintegrates from
the inside out," says Glass. "You defuse the bully."
bullies like Angela, belligerence has become a habit. To bullies, the
world seems a hostile place. They strike out with little empathy for their
victims, usually a younger, weaker or smaller child. They often see
themselves as the victim, imagining threats where none exist.
children develop these habits because they have been victims of their
parents' physical or verbal abuse. "Typically they come from homes
where parents prefer physical punishment," says Batsche, "where
they teach their children to strike back, or are inconsistent or
overpermissive." Criticized repeatedly at home, the bully expects
attacks in kind from teachers and students.
agree that punishing the bully usually backfires. The bully's worldview is
verified -- that the world is a harsh place where he can survive only by
striking out first -- and he's more likely to re-wallop his victim than
repent. Still, teachers agree a bully is hard to like and, at times,
nonpunitive solutions seem scarce. The first step, of course, is
recognizing the bully.
can spot a bully by the way he approaches other children, telling them
what to do, never compromising. Andrew, a 5th grade bully, made his way
through the classroom by knocking into each child he passed. An overweight
child, he lashed out before other children had a chance to call him names.
Every day, he'd arrive in class without a pencil, singling out a smaller
boy, David, to grab a pencil from.
she recognizes such a child, Glass works hard to earn his trust. "I
want him to understand that my classroom is safe. If something's going on
in the family, it's OK to tell me. It won't go on the front page."
When Andrew smacked other children and refused to participate in group
activities, for example, Glass kept him after school, acknowledged his
unhappiness and asked about family and friends. "My stepfather hit
me," the boy said finally.
arranged for Andrew to talk to the school guidance counselor, and together
they decided that, when his stepfather started yelling, Andrew would go to
a safe place like his room to read or play. She also began to work
one-on-one with Andrew and his victims. She taught David to speak up for
himself, to say "No, I didn't give you my pencil, and I want it
back." Each time David stood up to Andrew, Glass praised him.
"Suddenly Andrew realized David's getting all the attention,"
important to help Andrew explore what he hoped to accomplish by pushing
David around, Glass said. She discussed each bullying incident with him
and eventually discovered that what Andrew really wanted was friends.
"This is no way to get them," advised Glass. Then she asked both
Andrew and David, "What do you each want in a friend?" David
wanted to be chosen for a team -- that was a sign of friendship. So Andrew
chose him to play flag football, and the former victim was all grins.
also increased her general supervision of Andrew and his victims, making
sure Andrew had no chances to act up. She zeroed in on group work, placing
Andrew with children who were sure of themselves and good listeners.
"I want bullies to notice that someone is listening but not accepting
everything at face value," says Glass.
parents became involved when Glass offered them the social skills training
she uses in her classroom so that they could reinforce what she was
teaching Andrew, helping him evaluate choices and think about
consequences. In sessions with the school counselor, parent and child
practiced listening skills as well. The counselor and Glass set ground
rules: no accusing and no insults. "They talk about how they feel,
what they are afraid of," says Glass.
year Glass and Andrew's parents worked to support nonbully behaviors.
"We started by sending notes back and forth from home to
school," Glass says. "All I wanted to do at first was make
Andrew realize we were talking. The notes were simply to get a
communication going. So if he brought the note back, he got a reward
[sparkle pens, stamps, stickers], whether the note said he'd had a good or
10 days of notes, the counselor and Glass also began addressing home
issues. For example, Andrew's stepdad wanted him to make his bed every
day. So the stepfather sent Andrew to school with a smiley face note every
time he made his bed.
typed up a script for Dad and Andrew, and one for Andrew and me so the
stepfather would know what I was saying, too," says Glass. "We
held to that script for 10 days. I said, 'I'm very proud of you for making
your bed. What are you going to do tomorrow?' 'I'm going to remember to
make my bed,' said Andrew." Together Andrew and his stepdad kept a
bed-making chart, so the successes were visible, verbal and immediate.
clarifying the rules of her classroom, Glass helped Andrew separate the
school environment from the home one, a technique advocated by William
Porter, author of Bully-Proofing Your School and coordinator of pupil
services at Cherry Creek Schools in suburban
Batsche suggests giving the bully consequences that are helpful to the
school and appropriate to the crime. For instance, a 5th grade bully might
hand out stickers to 1st graders who are treating each other well.
gets recognition from the younger kids as a powerful caring person,"
says Batsche. "And he learns to recognize a positive interaction. The
bullies love it because they gain the same sense of power [they get from
bullying] by doing positive things."
process has worked with Andrew. One day near the end of their year
together, when Andrew saw one child picking on another, he went to Glass.
"Do you want me to help?" he asked.
are the victims?
self-esteem and depression are common among victims of bullying, and many
skip school. Bullies gain power, in part, because victims don't know how
to react. Victims develop an incapacitating sense of fear, says William
fear is what teachers must address first. "Just comforting a victim
won't solve the problem," says Porter. "Encumbered with the fear
is a sense of self-blame, the notion that 'If I do what the bully asks, he
won't pick on me.'"
suggests that teachers take the victim aside and acknowledge the fear:
"The teacher's first inclination may be to rectify the situation, but
instead you need to allow the child to talk about how he can solve the
situation." Porter suggests asking the child, "What kind of
things have you done to solve this?" The child may say, "I take
a different way home" or "I bring candy to school to make Johnny
happy." That's when a teacher can help the student realize he doesn't
have to accommodate the bully: "You have a right not to live in fear.
It's not your responsibility to make this kid happy."
can then enlist other students to help support a victim on the playground
or when he's walking to and from school. "Kids want to be
helpful," Porter says. "They respond positively to such
also teaches victims exercises to help them know what to do -- for
instance, whom to join on the playground. Victims are often loners, unsure
of ways they can surround themselves with children to stay safe. And he
teaches them to ask for help from teachers and classmates, and to assert
themselves by saying, "I don't like what you're doing. Stop it."
suggests ways victims can affirm themselves through "self-talk,"
where they acknowledge to themselves the bully's abusive behavior but deny
its validity. A child being victimized because of his size might learn to
repeat to himself, "They may think I'm a short runt, but I know I'm
Porter, Susan Glass teaches victims how to handle a bully, beginning with
prerequisite skills: how to ignore, how to talk in a brave voice or join a
group. She then tackles bullying head-on through role-playing exercises.
"First I talk about what a bully is. Then I ask what they can do when
they are bullied. I want them to come up with choices. I teach them to
ignore, to break eye contact, turn their bodies and walk away. Or I teach
them to ask the bully to stop."
the students have come up with choices, Glass models a lesson, showing
them how she would handle a bully. Then she asks if anyone has had a
problem with bullies. She picks one child to tell her story, and the child
picks someone to play the bully. "Nine times out of ten, they pick
the real bully," says Glass. "So now the bully is standing there
with all the kids staring at him."
bully and victim play out their frictions, the bully bullying, the victim
responding by ignoring him, or talking in a brave voice, until the bully
stops. Once that happens, Glass praises both children. "There are no
confrontations, no arguments. The children handle it. And after that,
whenever there's a bully-victim problem, I stop the children and repeat
steps a teacher takes to help a bully, victim or bystander, the first has
to be establishing trust, says Susan Glass. "You are the permanent
person in that child's eyes. You should be the one to discipline and to
encourage. These children are often living in chaos, and they need the
stability. But they also need to be able to handle themselves in a group
because that's what society is -- a group. We can't run off to the
Foltz-Gray is a freelance writer based in Knoxville, Tenn.