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By: James Burns

I speak to teachers all over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia so I was thrilled when I got a call from my hometown school district, and they asked me to do a workshop for their teachers. Some of the teachers I had when I was a student were still there, and it was a lot of fun for me to be teaching them something. The topic that they asked me to speak about was “Student Behavior Management.” I started to talk about bullying which is a significant part of behavior management today, and what an impact this horrible behavior can have on the school climate, individual classrooms, students, teachers, and even the community where the students live. When I gave the group a break one of the teachers in the audience came up to me and said, “When we were kids, you and I were both bullied by Tommy.” I looked at him and realized that he was the cousin of two boys that I played with when I was in elementary school. One of those was Tommy, who had bullied me. As soon as he mentioned Tommy and the fact that I was bullied by this boy I automatically started to look around to see if Tommy was there, even though I knew he probably wasn’t. This young teacher shared with me that even though Tommy was his cousin, Tommy had bullied him. He told me that his cousin used to hold him under water, push him, shove him, slap him, and to sum it all up, terrorize him. Both of us agreed that we were still scared to death of him, even though we were grown men. We talked about how he had been much bigger than we were and used his size to intimidate and frighten us. The part of our conversation that concerned me the most was that even after more than 30 years we both still remembered every bullying thing Tommy had done to us; we still had the experience of being bullied tucked away somewhere in our minds. It is no surprise to me that bullying has gotten worse over the years. Bullying has gotten so bad that the government has had to step in and make it mandatory that programs be created to stop bullying in our schools and in society. Not all people understand this behavior, and some people don’t even realize what bullying actually is. Many people don’t understand how they contribute to the continuation of the behavior, and in their own way make it worse. What is bullying? Bullying among children is most commonly defined as intentional, repeated, hurtful acts, words, or other behavior such as name calling, threatening, and/or shunning committed by one or more children against another. These negative acts are not intentionally provoked by the victims, and to be defined as bullying, an imbalance in real or perceived power must exist between the bully and the victim. Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional, or relational. Bullying interferes with learning. In schools, acts of bullying usually occur away from the eyes of the teacher or responsible adults, consequently, if the bully goes unpunished, a climate of fear envelopes the victims. A comprehensive approach to bullying is necessary. Many children and adults seriously underestimate the effects of bullying and the harm that it causes the victims. Educators, parents, and children concerned with violence prevention should be concerned with the phenomenon of bullying because it is linked to more violent behavior.

By: James Burns
With the bullying epidemic on the rise and schools now being mandated to establish stricter rules to combat the problem, it is time to answer a question that truly begs an answer. How and why does someone become a bully? The answer to this question may surprise some, and make sense to others. But, if you study the intergenerational tendencies over the years this explanation will shine a light on the many aspects of bullying that has resulted in unending relational aggression during the past two decades.

Acts of bullying were brought to the forefront after the devastating incident at Columbine High School in April 1999. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold demonstrated many telltale signs of the victims of bullying that were left unnoticed, and the reality is, no one saw them at all.” If you look at acts of violence, you'll find comments from friends, neighbors, acquaintances saying that this person was weird, he was odd, it was only a matter of time," retired FBI criminal profiler Jim Wright said. "All of a sudden -- when the act is over -- a lot of people knew it was going to happen." Knowing what we know now it is evident that victims of bullying develop tremendous hate for their perpetrator, and fear establishing relationships with others because of the chance that they will be hurt again. This anger and fear resides in the heart and soul of a victim and roots itself causing the person to become so bitter and so debilitated by these emotions that it is only a matter of time before this rage will manifest itself. Unfortunately, this rage expresses itself often in adulthood when the person’s spouse or child discovers that their husband, wife, mom or dad is not the person they appear to be. Acts of bullying including violence may permeate the home creating an environment of fear and intimidation. The message that you get what you want through fear or asserting yourself through intimidation becomes a thought process that children develop and ultimately use on others outside the home, in school, and in the community. The victim if not dealt with using appropriate interventions and counseling produces the next bully.

That is one of the reasons why bullying is an intergenerational problem. Bullying can take on many forms and forensic psychologists have studied serial killers, rapists, and murderers for years and always track the problem back to a dysfunctional relationship in their childhood that was not dealt with. Usually, not always but usually the problem involved an abusive, belittling, violent parent who was carrying around his/her own emotional struggles with anger that leaked out onto his own family. The intergenerational youth conflict which was not managed became an adult conflict. What one generation did in moderation, such as a smack on the fanny, the next generation took to the next level using violence, fancying it as corporal punishment. This is only one example, but you can see where anger and bitterness can lead if it is not dealt with when a child is very young.

Am I using this as an excuse? Perish the thought. I am merely citing reasons why an individual can become a bully. The question remains, what do teachers and parents do with this information? The answer is twofold. Bullies lack respect which I define as having a regard for the rights and privileges of another person. So like it or not, feel like it or not a bully must be pressured into developing this lost quality and be held accountable for his words and actions. The word here is consequences. They must at a young age develop respect for authority and be made to feel uncomfortable when they display acts of disrespect. Bullies are anti social, and lack empathy for others. School activities at the elementary level such as class parities or class trips should be seen as a privilege not a right. Bullies should be barred from participation to make the point that this behavior and attitude will not be tolerated. At the secondary level activities such as participation on a sports team or club, should be forbidden by individuals who have involved themselves in acts that produce fear or intimidation in others. You cannot grow a conscience, but you can create what I call consequential thinking, forcing the bully to ask himself the question: what am I going to gain and what am I going to lose through my actions?

The victim needs to develop a responsible attitude and become aware that he/she does not deserve the treatment that they are receiving. Victims can blame themselves. Often victims are asked by teachers when they report acts of bullying, “well what did you do?” They are then placed on the defensive. They may get to the point where they don’t even want to report anymore and decide to take matters into their own hands. The level of anger and bitterness will determine the actions that he/she will take. In the case of Columbine the actions affected society and made us re-think what these actions might be. Victims cannot be afraid to report but when they see no relief they just stop out of frustration. A staggering statistic revels that 75% of teachers believe that they intervened in a bullying incident, while only 25% of students believe that teachers intervened. The true reason for this statistic is that most often a teacher will talk to the bully because they did not get an eye witness view of the incident and don’t have the ammunition to impose a consequence. A good talking to is not a consequence, ergo the behavior continues. Victims need to develop the ability to be in tune with their emotions and know when they feel uncomfortable with what is being said or done to them. They may even need some anger management work to quell the initial stages of rage before it has a chance to root. Victims need to learn how to express themselves when they feel intimidated and maybe just say “Stop knock it off” and walk away. Keeping a journal of when they were bullied and the emotions they felt that they can review with a counselor or therapist is another way for the victim to express negative feelings.

Right now in New Jersey the laws are getting tougher. The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” has been passed letting students, teachers, administration, and parents know that bullying behavior is now being taken very seriously. The intergenerational tendency from moderation to excess has revealed that because of the severity of the problem and because it is no longer some rite of passage the victim is having a much more difficult time coping with acts of bullying and intimidation. The law was passed because of the suicides that have occurred in the state by the victims of bullying. Bullies are truly created and not born.

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