Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Swift Action Needed to Stop Bullying

There's an important essay over at Mormon Momma on the painful topic of bullying. Alison Moore Smith's story, and the story of her daughter, should be read by every bishop and youth leader in the Church. And not just religious leaders - there's a message for teachers in public schools and leaders anywhere working with youth.

It is outrageous how often adult leaders are clueless about the tormenting that one bully can cause, even when it is open and egregious. "Oh, he was just kidding. Just ignore him." That's a pathetic way to deal with the abuse and harassment that occur in our halls and classrooms. We cannot tolerate bullying in any of our youth activities or events. We must protect our children from that. Turning a blind eye to the problem is the wrong thing to do.

And once we have our adults trained, watchful, and proactive, we need to train our young people to never go along with bullies, to stand up for those being picked on, to actively resist it and get help when it is occurring.

A bright spot in Alison's post is how the parents of one bully took responsibility and worked with their daughter to stop that behavior immediately - and it worked. I've seen other cases where parents defend the bully - I have run into that many times when I tried to take action about problem behavior - and the problem persists. Parents, wake up: when youth leaders approach you about a bullying problem with one of your children, it's a critical opportunity to help your child. Don't run and hide, but work and pray and communicate and get help.

One of my best friends when I was young was constantly mocked and picked on while we were in high school. There was no help, it seemed. I was his friend, but really wish I had done more to defend him. And I wish that a teacher or two would have helped to protect him. He acted like he didn't care and even seemed to egg everyone on, but I suspect there was a lot more pain going on than anyone realized. His life has been far too painful.


Sarah said...

I don't think we should be surprised at bullies whose parents accept or defend their children's behavior: there's usually a reason the children are acting that way to begin with. It's my experience that the parents who are neither frustrated because nothing has ever worked, nor deliberately turning a blind eye to that kind of behavior, are incredibly few and far between, at least after preschool/kindergarten.

For my part, we don't accept uncivil behavior or attitudes towards adults or children in my class, period. I'm happy to kick someone out of my classroom, I've called out girls for 'playfully' harassing their own cousins and sisters, and I've tossed out lessons just to point exactly what kind of behavior needs to stop. If there's any place that they should feel safe -- and that they should understand that that kind of behavior is evil -- it's in a church classroom. And it's really up to adults to stop it: the way a peer group functions seems to train the idea of standing up on someone else's behalf, against the group, out of the kids early on.

My biggest fear is that this kind of thing will keep going on and that the kids can hide it: one of the nice things about Primary is that they're not very good at hiding things yet. I'd probably be obsessed with the issue if I were in YW.

Mormanity said...

Wonderful comment. Thanks!! And naturally, I agree.

We must make LDS settings the safest place around for our kids. Zero tolerance for abusive behavior.

Alison Moore Smith said...

Jeff, thank you for your insightful words. Writing this, and the response it received, have been rather therapeutic. If others understand this problem and take some action to prevent it in their wards and classrooms, it will be most gratifying.

Anonymous said...

One thing that teachers - especially those at church need to be aware of is the "Second throw syndrome" - If one is teaching and a student throws something, the teacher probably won't catch the event - but it will catch their attention and the instructor will look just as the student who was probably a target - throws it back.

Wanting to stop disruptions and keep the class on an even keel something is said to the student who was seen throwing something. They shouldn't be throwing things in class...but they may be the target of a bully and the teacher has just played into that bullies hands.

I saw this all the time when teaching seminary. A student would poke or kick the another. When you call them on it "So and so started it!" - come to think of it, having been raised with 12 other kids, it was a common strategy to get a sibling in hot water, and we became very good at it.

Well we can try to discipline the one who was caught in action, but we will probably be punishing someone trying to defend themselves, or we can address the person identified as the instigator, when it may be a false accusation.

This is why we really need the spirit and be willing to follow it.

Maybe that's a good time to stop the lesson and talk about why you can't have those "Monkey shines" happening when trying to teach the gospel.

Maybe we should stop the lesson and ask the class to kneel in prayer with us... Lots of different ways can be used to stop abusive and disruptive behavior.

Sure - parent's have to step up, but youth leaders, adviser, and seminary teachers can make a big difference as well.

Jeff L. said...

Speaking of bullying, what do you all think about the tasering of a rowdy student who annoyed Senator Kerry's security staff and the audience with his questions, including the question on Skull and Bones that triggered the disabling of the mic and the arrest? Anyone troubled by how the student was treated?

The videos of this event are haunting, in my opinion.

Ivan Wolfe said...

Many people don't understand bullies, and thus they exacerbate the problem.

The cultural stereotype is that the bully has low self-esteem, and tears other people down to build him/herself up. Thus parents and educators try to the bully to feel better about him/herself in order to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, it ain't true. Bullies are charismatic kids (often they are teacher's pets) with extremely high self-esteem. They pick on other people because they are convinced they are so much better than those who are "beneath" them.

We have to realize that before we can get anywhere.