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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bullying and what to do about it

Today I saw a horrible story about bullying from my friend Bridgett on Facebook, and it brought back memories of my own childhood. I usually keep those memories fully buried, but this image brought them all back:

The image breaks my heart. The URL says she beat herself up:

Little Girl Kicked & Assaulted, School Determines That She Injured HERSELF

http://realitywives.net/blogs/little-girl-kicked-assaulted-school-determines-injured-self/

The article via Gulf Live says:

An Arlington Elementary student was injured on the school’s playground on Tuesday and her mother filed a police report on Thursday, according to Pascagoula Police Department Lt. Jim Roe.

The child was beat up on the playground.

“The mother alleges another child kicked her child on the slide,” Roe said. “Right now, there’s no indication something criminal took place. I have spoken with school security and an assistant superintendent is investigating the matter.”

Instead of acknowledging the reality the school Authorities here are real ********, they compound her injuries with the same kind of bull chips that authorities always put out in response to bullying. The idea of confronting it is foreign to authorities, who just plane don't know how to confront bullies. Teachers are intimidated. They often are bullied by the same miscreants themselves!

Roe identified the mother as Lacey Harris and the student has been identified on social media sites as AvaLynn. There is a Justice For AvaLynn Facebook page created as well as a gofundme.com account that is raising money to help pay for her medical bills. It indicates about $1,000 has been raised in one day.

I think I'm not the only one who has first hand memory of being Bullied. But the School district? Do they know what to do? No:

"The Pascagoula School District issued the following statement about the incident:

“A student was injured while playing on the playground at Arlington Elementary School Tuesday afternoon. School officials responded to the situation. The parent was contacted and the student received medical treatment. No other children were involved in the incident. The Pascagoula School District remains committed to the safety of all its students.”

So regardless of the little girl's testimony, "no other children were involved" -- which is an obvious lie.

"The gofundme.com page indicates AvaLynn was “was badly injured in an incident at her elementary school.”"
The Justice for AvaLynn Facebook page says she was “attacked by another student on the school playground. We are fighting for answers and for greater supervision at school.”
[http://realitywives.net/blogs/little-girl-kicked-assaulted-school-determines-injured-self/]

Greater supervision is important. But I don't see any evidence schools are any less clueless now than they were then.

My own experience with Bullying

I'm sure I also did some bullying. But I also remember going through years of bullying that in retrospect I see as even more horrendous than it seemed at the time. We had unrestricted play time in my school. They might have had one playground mom, but there were hundreds of us. Then they integrated the school and new kids came in who picked on me. I remember getting into fights and getting beat up. And then after that every day at lunch time I raced the bell out into the field and dived into where there was a thicket with blackberries, wild roses and rasberries. I'd dive under the bushes and wait until the bell ran again and then run again. I was terrified.

Then one day the kids ran with me, caught me and formed a circle around me punching me over and over again until I collapsed on the ground. Then they kicked me until I couldn't move. Finally one of them helped me into the Principle office and said "This kid got beat up on the field". Instead of being grateful I shouted he was one of the kids who beat me up. He got suspended. After that I sat out recess reading books.

Eventually I got to know some of the kids a little. But I'll talk about that more. The bullying went on, but one day I traded lunches with the smallest of them. I had forgotten my lunch and left it outside the school in the morning. A boy nick-named Junior with a tiny thumb who sucked it all the time. He had a really small lunch and I remember being hungry that day. I was angry because after lunch I realized my mom had simply packed the wrong type of cupcake. I traded lunch for a wishme sandwich because I couldn't believe my mom would give me a coconut covered cupcake. I guess I was an entitled little asshole. But it became a lesson later.

My Karma sucked. We moved and I rode the bus with the same kids. One day one of them put out a cigarrette on my head and I got even more hurt when I tried to hit the guy who did it. They would just laugh at me. Shortly after that two other kids. One named Daniel and the other one I've been wracking my brain to remember ever since, stood up for me and stopped them. I became friends with Daniel and his friend. This was the sixties. I learned a lot from meeting Daniel. For one thing I learned to look at the people bullying me as individuals. I also was being bullied by white kids, so it was really nice to find friends. Later the kids from my own neighborhood tried to attack me and I simply attacked one of them and broke through their circle. I'm sad to say I didn't become a bully myself, but I did come close to killing people. I remember having fantasies of bringing a machine gun to school. Fortunately I was broke.

I don't even like thinking about this, but there are methods for dealing with bullying, and they involve a variety of approaches that are also approaches for improving school hermaneutics.

Lessons Learned

1. Bullying doesn't end by ignoring it.

What is happening to that little girl will no more stop because the School administration denies it, than bullying stopped for me when I was a kid. Later, when I was a little more recovered friends would excuse it by telling me "well you're so pickable." Bullies pick on people because they are vulnerable. If Children aren't protected, the bullies take advantage. Unfortunately.

2. Bullies ignore efforts to stop them and escalate.

As we are learning from the experiences of law abiding black people with bullying cops one of the important things is to know how to de-escalate situations. When I was a kid I would fight back when I shouldn't or react to taunts, and that pretty much guaranteed Bullying. But the way to de-escalate is to act somewhat submissive while while trying to switch the conversation transaction from "parent-child" or "child-child" interactions to adult ones. That is why black people, who are expert at dealing with bullying, raise their hands and bow their heads a little. Cops would understand how to de-escalate situations but currently our cops are being taught bad Doctrine, Policy and getting bad guidance on how to deal with suspects or crowds, all involve teaching de-escalation. And that is also true with handling bullies. As long as a person is in "macho mode" (male or female) they're "fight or flight" brain is engaged and the rational analytical one is suppressed. You have to stop bullying. But then you have to find a way to de-escalating the conflict that drives the bullying. Whether it is angry racist prejudice, or criminal rebellion and fear, it won't stop until the parties decide to stop it. And that requires de-escalation.

3. Bullies need Intervention. Ironically intervention involves as a first step de-escalating the situation. The Crisis Prevention Website [http://www.crisisprevention.com/Resources/Knowledge-Base/General/De-escalation-Tips] has instructions for Police, for intervention. But they apply to bullies and demonstrators dealing with dysfunctional police too:

4.  First step in intervention is de-escalation

Dealing with Bullying as law enforcement with the Mentally ill

“A difficult and potentially dangerous situation for officers involves being called to a scene and engaging with a person who may be mentally ill. Most individuals with mental illness are not dangerous, but a special set of skills is required to bring a mutually successful end to the encounter.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Essentially dealing with bullies or cops is dealing with mental illness. It may be illness so common it's like the common cold, but it is illness nevertheless. Bullies are often hurt people themselves. The kids who bullied me on the playground were dealing with issues I (literally) could not comprehend at the time. The ones in my neighborhood also. In fact a study out of Brown University says that:

“Bullies often continue the cycle of social abuse that they have experienced themselves.”[http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/10/22/bullies-more-likely-to-have-mental-disorder/]

The author, Hilfer, continued:

“They can be depressed, fearful, and they often take out some of their anger and frustration on others down the pecking order,”[mental-disorder study]

And he continues:

“Support is often given to the bullied peers who are seen as victims. Many bullies should also be viewed as victims and offered help to change their behavior, they said.”[mental-disorder study]

So it is apt that a conflict de-escalation involves treating police, rioters, mobs, and deranged individuals as folks needing mental health support.

“This finding emphasizes the importance of providing psychological support to not only victims of bullying but bullies as well.”[mental-disorder study]

So while “The study did not look at the likelihood that bullies would have a mental health disorder.” experience with bullies suggest they need to be treated as if they have one. Bullying Behavior may be a symptom of a disorder. It certainly is disordering to both bully and bullied. The report notes that those bullied often bully in turn.[mental-disorder study]

Thus de-escalation requires intervention, and de-escalation:

“Although an officer's inclination may be to intervene immediately, that may not always be the best response. As long as the individual isn't an immediate danger to self or others, there's time to make a quick assessment. CPI, an international training company specializing in violence prevention and crisis intervention, recommends evaluating the person's behavior before acting, if at all possible.”[De-Escalation Tips]

The following steps apply to stopping bullying as well as stopping violence. I've added [or teacher/principle] to emphasize the quotes apply to schools too:

“How does an officer [or teacher/principle] make the decision about how to treat that individual? Of course the answer is communication: talking to the person and evaluating the responses. But what if the person is unable or unwilling to speak? Again, as long as the person is not a danger to self or others, there is time. Use it to listen to what the person is saying—not only with words, but also with body language and tone of voice.c[De-Escalation Tips]

Empathy

“CPI stresses the importance of listening with empathy, trying to understand where the person is coming from. Like other skills, empathic listening can be learned. The five keys are: give the person undivided attention; be nonjudgmental; focus on the person's feelings, not just the facts; allow silence; and use restatement to clarify messages.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Empathy is important because there is a strong link between bullying and trauma. Not only is bullying traumatic for the victim but bullies are often passing on what they learned as victims of trauma, of other people's bullying. The British Journal of Psychiatry [http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/193/5/378.short] reported:

“Adolescents who reported psychotic symptoms were significantly more likely to have been physically abused in childhood, to have been exposed to domestic violence and to be identified as a bully/victim (that is, both a perpetrator and victim of bullying) than those who did not report such symptoms.”

Bullying and Being Bullied as forms of Trauma

Bullying and being bullied are both forms of trauma. It could be that they induce Post Traumatic Stress symptoms in people. It really changes perspective to consider that both victims and victimizers are being traumatized. [http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/11/28/bullying-can-lead-to-ptsd-symptoms/48213.html

So when we endure Bullying from police, authorities, school mates and others some empathy is needed. That doesn't mean that it doesn't have to stop. Or that it is right. It just means that stopping it requires a different paradigm than simple violence or punishment. We are dealing with wounded people. Empathy has a practical role too. When someone is out of their mind or one is dealing with a person who is not fully rational. Empathy also helps one figure out where the person is going and maybe even understand where they are coming from. A good hunter knows his quarry so well he/she can anticipate their moves. That too is empathy. "Not fully in one's right mind means "handle with care." We have to give them:

Undivided Attention

“When people are paid attention to they feel validated; they feel important. The converse is also true: people feel less important and sometimes feel they need to up the ante if they feel like they need attention. Paying attention doesn't just mean saying, "I'm listening." It means looking at the person, making eye contact if it's culturally appropriate, and virtually listening with the entire body. By really listening, and conveying that through body language as well as words, an officer [or teacher/principle] can take away the person's reason for escalating the situation.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Often times just listening to a person calms them down enough so that they begin to think more clearly. So because school bullies, police, violent people aren't always in their right mind. De-escalating a situation usually also requires we make sure we understand the situation fully. That means:

Be Nonjudgmental

“If someone says, "The sewers are talking to me," an officer's [or teacher/principle] immediate reaction might be to think that the person is crazy. That reaction, especially if verbalized, will probably upset the individual even more. Even if not said aloud, that attitude may be conveyed through the officer[or teacher/principle]'s body language. If someone is psychotic, she may tune into the nonverbal communication much more than words. So besides paying attention to what is said, ensure that body language and tone are nonjudgmental as well. This will go a lot further in calming the individual.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Focus on Feelings

“Going back to the previous example, if an individual says, "The sewers are talking to me," a feeling response might be, "That must be pretty scary," or even, "Tell me what that feels like." This isn't getting into a therapist's bailiwick, but it is using a handy therapeutic tool. Most likely it will elicit a response that is positive, since the individual will know that the officer [or teacher/principle] understands what's happening.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Allow Silence

“As people devoted to protecting and serving, officers [or teacher/principle] are quite comfortable using silence during interrogations, but may not be quite so comfortable using it on the street. Officers [or teacher/principle] want to make sure the incident is handled quickly and peacefully. However, sometimes allowing that moment of silence can be the best choice.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Patience

“If the individual doesn't immediately answer a question, it doesn't mean he didn't hear you. It may mean he's thinking about his answer, or even that he wants to make sure he's saying the right thing.”[De-Escalation Tips]

More Patience

“Allow a moment of silence. If the person's face registers confusion, then repeat the question and let the silence happen again. Just as officers [or teacher/principle] are taught in basic training, another good reason for silence is that no one likes it—and people tend to start talking when silence lengthens.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Clarify Messages

“When a subject makes a statement, an officer [or teacher/principle] may think he knows what the person means. The only way to be sure is to ask. Sometimes a question may be perceived as challenging and can make the subject defensive. So restatement is used instead.”[De-Escalation Tips]
“For example, someone living on the street might say, "I don't want to sleep here anymore." The officer [or teacher/principle] might think he knows what the person is saying, but instead of just making an assumption the officer [or teacher/principle] could restate, "Oh, you're ready to go to the shelter?"”[De-Escalation Tips]
“The homeless person could say, "Yes." Or perhaps, "No, I don't want to sleep here anymore. I'm going to move over to Main Street where it's safer." In either case, the officer [or teacher/principle] has shown an interest in the individual and has kept the lines of communication open.”[De-Escalation Tips]
“One of the most important actions in any crisis is for the officer [or teacher/principle] to remain in control of himself. This factor, which CPI calls rational detachment, will be the key to whether the officer [or teacher/principle] helps de-escalate or escalate the situation. To rationally detach: develop a plan; use a team approach whenever possible; use positive self-talk; recognize personal limits; and debrief.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Develop a Plan

“Devise a plan before one is needed. Decisions made before a crisis occurs are more likely to be more rational than those made when on the receiving end of emotional outbursts. Think about those things that are upsetting and practice dealing with those issues ahead of time. This is called strategic visualization and is effective in helping officers [or teacher/principle] get through some stressful and even dangerous moments. Just as with other professional training officers [or teacher/principle] receive, this training will kick in when needed.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Use a Team Approach

“It's easier to maintain professionalism when assistance is nearby. Support and back up are both crucial pieces when trying to rationally detach.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Use Positive Self-Talk

“Positive self-talk has been the butt of many jokes. Picture Al Franken on Saturday Night Live saying, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Sure, that's funny, but positive self-talk really can work wonders. Just as saying, "I can't deal with this" might cause an officer to behave in one fashion, saying to oneself, "I'm trained, I know what to do" will cause another response.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Recognize Personal Limits

“Being a professional doesn't mean that a police officer must be able to excel at everything. That's an unrealistic expectation. Know what your limits are. Know that sometimes it's not easy to leave problems alone. Sometimes the most professional decision is to let someone else take over, if that's an option.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Debrief

“Be sure to debrief with coworkers, team members, or a supervisor after a major incident. Talking about it can relieve some of the stress and is also a good time to start planning for next time: what was done correctly, what could have been handled better, how could the response be improved the next time a similar situation occurs. This serves to assist in being able to rationally detach in the future.”[De-Escalation Tips]
“Assisting someone with a possible mental illness is only one example of when an officer's evaluation, assessment and negotiation skills come into play. There are many other examples: domestic disturbances, dealing with children, assisting victims, helping traumatized witnesses, and even calming down an out-of-control colleague. No matter what the situation, keeping the lines of communication open can help to de-escalate a potentially dangerous crisis.”[De-Escalation Tips]

Bullying is also socially unacceptable and requires Adjudication

But like dealing with criminality. Dealing with bullying doesn't stop with de-escalation. It requires an adjudication. Someone has been hurt. And someone else hurt them. All this trauma doesn't justify bullying. It just is the vehicle by which bullying is passed on generation to generation.

It's pretty established that our formal legal system is incapable of handling school crime. There have been scandals where judges have been caught funneling children to private prisons. One reason why schools are loathe to turn offenders (such as the bullies of the little girl in Arlington Elementary, into the police is that the consequences are either the ruination of a child's life, or the kids getting away with it. There has to be a better way.

Trial by Peers in School

Schools have used mock trials for years to teach kids civic and laws. I'd suggest that schools have real trials with the Principle acting as judge and teachers acting as counsel. The trials would not have force of law beyond school discipline, but the students would pass judgment on the accused and the teachers would ensure that rules of law and procedure are followed. A conviction might involve escalation to the the Police. But more likely some kind of arbitration type solution can be found. And kids know the circumstances of what happened better than outside adults. The goal isn't to shame the perpetrator but to teach the kids about bullying, violence and the consequences of violence. I can't find any literature on that idea. But it seems like common sense idea so long as the basic principles of separation of officers (Separate Judge, jury, executive and counsel for all involved) are observed, and the adjudication is informal and informational. Kids literally are a jury of one's peers.

I'm not anyone important and I can't find any evidence of this working well.

Mock trial information: http://19thcircuitcourt.state.il.us/services/pages/mock_trials.aspx

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