Bullying is not new; it’s been around for as long as most folks can remember. What is somewhat new however, is what appears to be an emerging trend with which victims of bullying find solutions to their ordeals through suicide and/or murder. Scholarly psychology papers claim that victims of bullying are more likely to demonstrate aggression and in recent years, studies suggest that teenage shooters have been victims of bullying. (http://www.sozialpsychologie.uni-frankfurt.de/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Leary-et-al.-2003.pdf.)
Many schools have some sort of anti-bullying program, but how effective have they been in reducing the incidence of bullying, empowering victims, and changing the behavior of bullies? According to a recent study by criminologist Seokjin Jeong, at University of Texas at Arlington, these programs have not only not been helpful but some anti-bullying programs actually make the problem worse because they teach bullies new and more effective ways to hurt victims! (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57606812/are-anti-bullying-efforts-making-it-worse/)
More and more experts in the field are saying we have been misinformed about the nature of bullies and what to do about them and that at least a dozen myths and misconceptions still abound. Rachel Simmons, cofounder of the Girls Leadership Institute and author of Odd Girl Out, explains that bullies generally do not possess low self-esteem as was originally thought but instead are confident, powerful, popular, and adept at terrorizing others. She states, “Bullies are talented chameleons. The most psychologically aggressive kids are usually the ones who cop angelic poses when adults walk into the room (Eddie Haskell, anyone?). These kids possess high social intelligence. The same skills that enable them to hurt their peers are precisely what allow them to manipulate adults.” (http://mag.newsweek.com/2010/10/14/the-nine-most-common-myths-about-bullying.)
So, if traditional anti-bullying programs are not helping and we have misunderstood the true nature of bullies–then what is the solution?
In my book, Empathy Warriors, I describe how I was tormented and excluded as a teenager and the resulting isolation and depression I endured because of it. I was, in fact, alone with no support from family, teachers, or friends. Because of my own personal experience being victimized, I believe that what schools need is a profound shift in the emotional, social climate of the entire school environment from Pre-K all the way through 12th grade. Inclusive of every breathing human being in the school environment, empathy must preside over all relationships and behaviors. Social and emotional learning must be taught systematically from Pre-K to Grade12 students, teachers, parents, administrators and all staff on campus. This school wide shift into empathy can only occur successfully when everyone is on board with a policy that honors authentic emotions, respects multiple perspectives, and practices empathy in all situations, at all times, with everyone.
Social and emotional intelligence can be taught and learned; it’s the right choice for all schools today.