What is the best way to stop bullies?

Questions kept popping up after my video on bullying:

Why do the anti-bullying programs seem to be ineffective, and sometimes even exacerbate the problem? Is there a good way to stop bullies?

There is a simple reason, at least in my opinion, of why so many of the anti-bullying programs fail: these programs do not address two basic issues.

The anti-bully activists come up with ideas and slogans and promote ever expanding definitions of what exactly is bullying. This is part of what has brought us to a point where bullying is almost anything that one finds offensive or insensitive. This ignores the fact that there will always be offensive and insensitive people in the world. And there already seems to be no shortage of people offended by…well…anything. But go ahead and broaden the definition!

Of course, in broadening the definition you will increase the number of victims, by default. This should be common sense, but it seems to be a missed point. Suddenly people who were never before classified as bullied are now victims of bullying.

As with any good cause, money gets in the way. There is a lot of money in selling anti-bullying programs, and parents are stirred into activism by those with a financial interest. But often these programs fail, and they fail by not seeing the problem.

From what I see, the problem is twofold.

On the one hand, we have a person (the bully) who is getting a rush out of their dominance of another person. This is a very real factor that has to be addressed before any anti-bullying program is going to make and clear progress toward solving the action of bullying. But because the act of dominance, as well as the rush a person gets from it, is deeply wired into our brains this is going to be a pretty big challenge. It would take a lot more than trying to make the bully feel bad about how he treats people.

On the other hand, the person who is bullied will spend far too much mental energy on the action of the bully. If there is a bully in your school, or your child’s school, when you or your child are home, the bully has no power over the person they bully and poses no threat at that moment. But the bullied person might run through the event over and over in their mind. They will relive the entire event and in doing so, give it new life and a longer lasting power over them.

Before I go on I wish to state here; it is an act of foolishness on the part of adults to simply tell a child to stop thinking about it and it will go away. That is every bit as stupid as the advice to children to stand up to the bully because they are all cowards and will back down. Unless a person is fully capable of defeating the bully, and willing to go through the hassles from school and court that will follow, standing up to the bully is going to be a big mistake. As for just “don’t think about it”, it isn’t going to work either.

The problem with telling the kid to “not think about it” is that the way our minds work makes such advice impossible. Our lizard brain, the part that is concerned with our survival, kept us from fighting because it knew the danger, it knew that we would not win. But when we back down, walk away or simply do nothing, our monkey brain refuses to shut up and leave us in peace. The monkey brain knows about status and how we are perceived by the group. We backed down or did not act and now we know, or think we know, that the entire group thinks of us as a coward. We tell ourselves we should have fought, we should have acted, we should have done something. The monkey is the one who will replay the scene, over and over. causing the bullied child to relive the event over and over. The monkey is quick to assume that it knows what the other people around it are thinking. It knows that they are looking at him as a coward, chicken, or whatever. Never mind that those not involved probably do not even give the event a second thought, the monkey knows better. At least, it thinks it knows better. It is this mental conflict that causes the damage from bullying, more than the original action by the bully.

This constant chatter in our skull telling us what we should have done, or what people are thinking about us, or our loss of status is very damaging if the person cannot make it stop. If you can address this issue, you will have an anti-bullying program that makes a difference.

You want an anti-bully program that works?

Find one that allows the kid to have time to not focus on this chatter.

Allow the kid time for this every day, and let the kid be a part of a group that enjoys this type of break from the chatter-in-the-skull.

Give the child a safe place that they can go to every day and work on self-improvement in a positive environment.

Give the kid the tools to cope with people who are jerks, because we all know that there are a LOT of them in the world.

Allow the child to discover self-worth.

Teach them that people will always talk about them, but that nothing said about them becomes a fact just because someone said it.

Give them other things to occupy their mind.

Obvious bias aside, I work for just such an organization that puts these ideas into practice. I have spent nearly the last decade-and-a-half of my life working for KICKSTART KIDS, and I have had the opportunity to see this very cure work time and time again. While I cannot provide any double-blind case studies to back this up, what I am saying here has been field tested by KICKSTART KIDS since 1992, and I have been eye witness to the success of the formula many times over. And one important point; KICKSTART KIDS was not even set up to be an anti-bullying program! But by working on the self image of the students in our classes, building up their confidence and resilience, and teaching conflict resolution, we have changed the lives of those in our classes for the better, and in this way we have made many children bully-proof.

THAT is the formula for defeating the bully. Strengthen the child. Equip the child with the tools to be successful no mater what he or she faces. I am willing to bet that it would work better than t-shirts and slogans.