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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

5 Tips to Overcoming Bullying (Guest Post)

This is a guest post from Macheru Njaga, author of Patch, a young adult novel loosely based on his personal experiences with teen bullying.  His book is an effort to encourage discussion among teachers, parents and students.

Bullying has become such an eminent problem that when offered the opportunity to share this article, I felt obliged.  I was on the underhand of bullying as a young child.  I think about my own children as they are making their way in life and I consider myself an advocate against such abuse.

Let’s Address the Real Problem: 5 tips to overcoming bullying

By Mucheru Njaga
Author of Patch
858 words

I was a bully.

I didn’t plan on being one. In fact, before then, I was the victim of bullying. As a freshman in an all-boys boarding school, I, along with all of the junior students, served every command of the "prefects,” the senior leader students. They ruled our school with a heavy hand and had more power than the teachers. They bullied us physically; once I had to jump on my knees. Another time, they took away our privilege to wear pants so that we had to walk around in our boxers. Verbal humiliation was an everyday occurrence as well.

Four years later, I became a “prefect,” a bully and a part of a system I once despised. We would raid the freshman sleeping area in the middle of the night and make them follow whatever we ordered them to do at 2 a.m.—or face a worse punishment. We called them names in front of others in the cafeteria. We made sure to tackle them harder than necessary during rugby practice.

All of this was acceptable— condoned by the school faculty at the time because the "prefects" were seen as the mentors and guardians of the young students.

Today, the danger of bullying and its impact on our society is finally shaking people awake. Many groups and organizations have made significant steps in our fight against bullying, but there continues to be a growing number of bullying related deaths and suicides in America.

So where is the disconnect? Why are we letting this happen? Where does bullying start?

In our efforts to address this growing problem, we tend to focus more on the end result of bullying rather than where and why it starts. The kids we recognize as bullies and vilify as the aggressors could easily be our very own children or next door neighbor. In other words, for every victim, there is a perpetrator, and I set out to find out what transforms a lovable kid or teen into a bully. For the last couple of years, I compiled case studies that I believe could be a catalyst in our bid to stomp out bullying.

Throughout my entire experience, I noticed the common motivation behind bullying is fear. As a victim, I was afraid to fight for what I knew was right, and as a bully, I feared losing the tight grip of power I held. It is this fear that keeps things at status quo and continues the cycle.

This same basic principle plays out in today’s schools. Bullying is almost always a direct or indirect byproduct of "fear." Fear of being labeled. Fear of being uncool. Fear of being seen as weak. Most if not all instances of bullying are rooted in some sort of fear. Sadly, it is this fear that prevents kids from living a free life, where they are free to be different, to be gay, to love a certain kind of music or activity, to be themselves.

So, how does true, progressive change take place?

1. Define bullying with your kids and talk it out. For teens, public perception has substantial influence in their daily decisions. We need to clearly explain to kids what bullying is, how to spot bullying tendencies within themselves and how to avoid acting them out.

2. Take away the cool factor. Show kids that bullying stems from fear, and we could effectively render bullying as an "uncool" deed. In the largely successful anti-smoking "Truth" campaign and the anti-drug "Rise Above the Influence” campaign, ads rendering smoking and drug abuse as “uncool” helped to significantly reduce those habits among young people. A well-executed marketing campaign endorsed by popular teen celebrities that showcases bullying as an unacceptable act can help garner attention for the cause.

3. Be aware of tendencies toward bullying developing in kids. Educators, parents and children alike must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of bullying before the problem gets out of hand. If there is a widespread understanding that fear is the underlying emotion and perpetuator of the bullying cycle, those who observe a child exhibiting signs of fear and insecurity can spot a potential problem early on and raise concerns.

4. Encourage self-reflection. Talk with children who are bullying others and encourage them to consider their behaviors. Often, another problem is bubbling beneath the surface, and it is necessary to determine the root of the behavior in order to fix it. Since this self-examination can prevent those problems from manifesting into something more harmful, the earlier it takes place the better.

5. Promote open communication about bullying problems. We have to change the way kids view talking to adults and authority figures about bullying issues. Kids are often worried about “snitching” and have a negative perception of telling adults when they’re having these types of problems. We must convince them that it is courageous, brave and admirable to put an end to the situation instead of remaining silent.
Thank you to Mucheru Njaga for sharing his article on my blog.  Thank you also to Megan Renart at Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists for sharing information and wonderful books with me.  Allowing me to share with all of you.

Oh, and be looking forward to my review of Patch coming soon!

Happy Wednesday!



Gary's third pottery blog said...

yes, seems many kids are killing themselves to get out of being bullied, jeez!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is a terrific article. Thanks, FW!

Farmer*swife a/k/a Glass_Half_Full said...

KC, thanks for reading this article and visiting it. It is all so true and unfortunate so I was happy to be allowed the opportunity to publish this author's article as a guest blogger.

I am really anxious to read his book; it's YA but based on his real life experiences on both sides of 'the bully'.

And, I get to offer a copy as a giveaway so I won't feel torn between sharing or keeping it for my own kids and their friends. :-)

Farmer*swife a/k/a Glass_Half_Full said...

Big G, You are so right. It is un.. un.. un-everything that children are taking their own lives because other children don't know any better than how to be @$$holes.

I wonder the impact the bully-s feel one day when it dawns on them the havoc and wretchedness they forced others to endure.

It is a lose lose. At least for those who develop a conscience. :-(

Nairobian Perspective said...

Mucheru Njaga's book captures a story and an experience that can be retold many times by many of us, I am privileged to have been a classmate and its interesting he vices that one can be caught up in all in the name of bullying, often the victim later turns out to be the perpetrator.Dark clouds in the form of memories always tags along some of us who bullied and were bullied as part of the norm in "Patch"