report

A Victim Inoculation Program for Bullying

School Bullying

National and international studies strongly suggest that preventive programming is very effective in a significant reduction of bullying behaviors in school environments.

Though schools may have anti-bullying policies, a bullying response protocol, and even educational programming concerning bullying in place, not many have programs designed to help potential and actual victims learn how to take care of themselves when they perceive that they are being bullied. In addition, many school anti-bullying efforts are not nearly as effective as the school believes, with a great deal of clandestine bullying still occurring. It’s clear that programs need to have more than a posted “bullying policy” and teach more to potential bullies and victims than “be nice” and “go to an adult for help if someone is mean to you”.

Bullying, by its nature, is a behavior set that is not readily demonstrated in a public fashion, especially if doing so would put the bully at risk for sanctions. It is also perhaps axiomatic that peer bystanders of bullying incidents are just so grateful that they are not the victim, they stay silent about the bullying so as not have the bully’s attention or negative peer attention for ‘snitching’ pressed against them.

Since it is not unusual for children to avoid telling an adult at home or school that they are in fact being bullied, incidents are often unseen by adults and only come to parent or administrative attention when the bullying behavior gets extreme, true psychological damage has been done, or the victim begins to engage in self-harm. Indeed, there are too many sad cases of children committing suicide to escape bullying.

It can be highly embarrassing for a child to need to go for adult help with a bully; it is a de-facto admission that one cannot manage one’s own social pressures. We live in a culture that has high expectations of social competence and low opinions of anyone who appears to be ‘weak’ (especially if there is no obvious or defined disability). In addition, there are countless examples of children (and adult female victims of abusive men) who do in fact, seek help from others only to have their accounts minimized or even downright denigrated or disbelieved. Some school staff may find it difficult to relate to the bullied child, or cannot break out of the attitude that “all kids get bullied; they need to get a tougher skin”, or: “I was bullied as a kid and I handled it, so can they.”

It should also be recognized that the majority of bullying in school aged children is not physical, but relational and emotional, which again, often goes completely unnoticed by parents and teachers until it is too late to avoid serious damage to the child. The image of a bully “roughing up” a younger child for their lunch money, while it does happen, is a dangerous stereotype. Most bullies are far more clever than that, and have a great deal of skill in psychological torture of victims.

Where Do Bullies Come From?

Though the source of the child-bully can come in many forms and from many different sources (most all children will have some incidence of acting as a bully to another child at some point), the truly problematic bullies tend to be repeat offenders, and have bullying incorporated into their developing personalities. When a child-bully discovers the relative power and false ego-boost that manipulating another person’s emotions and self-esteem can give, the bully will likely repeat the bullying behavior for as long as it is rewarding to them.

And where do children learn bully behaviors? From surrounding older siblings and adults, of course. The longer the behavior set is practiced without challenge, the more likely it becomes incorporated into the individual’s fundamental way of interacting with others; it becomes a disorder. Indeed, adult bullies are often identified with specific diagnosable mental health disorders in the category of ‘personality disorders’. It is important to note that not all bullies are personality disordered, but a great number of them are or are on the way to being so. The rate of personality disorder in the general public is estimated at a bit over ten percent, with the variants associated most with bullying at about three to four percent.

While the mental health field does not diagnose children with personality disorder because their personalities are still forming, the previous statistics demonstrates that there are a lot of children living with or exposed to a personality disordered adult on a regular basis. It is a pretty strong theory in the field that there is both a genetic and nurturing element to the formation of personality disorder. In other words, people with personality disorder tend to come from a family where a close relative has a personality disorder. In addition, personality disorder does not spring into being at age eighteen, it has been in development during the childhood years.

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The Usual Attempts at Solutions

Some bullied children may get so frustrated by their bullying situation that they resort to physical violence against the bully, only to find that they are then disciplined by the school for their violent act. It needs to be noted that many a school shooter has a background of having been bullied during their school career; being bullied with no sense of adequate response or self-determination can lead to life changing damage for a child, and even end with tragedy.

Some parents, when they discover their child is being bullied, will want to place the child in a martial arts program to 'build the child's confidence' or 'self-esteem'. Though martial arts are often a fine activity and sport to have kids pursue, the child certainly cannot be using a violent and potentially lethal means to get a bully off of their trail, and not all martial arts programs or instructors teach strong alternative means to the martial are to get by the bully. It is foolhardy to rely on the simple fact that the child publicly states that they may have martial arts skills to dissuade a bully; bullies love to test such things.

There are some school systems who still employ an antiquated approach that puts both the victim and bully together to "work it out and then shake hands", which is usually just a guarantee the the victim will get pounded later for 'snitching'. Other approaches schools use may include giving the bully detention or a "note home from teacher" (also a pretty good bet that the bully will retaliate for this). Very few schools have a mandatory re-socialization and sensitizing process for the offender, with a counseling-recovery and victim inoculation for the victim.

Each of the former ‘solutions’ leaves the victim defenseless when the bullying inevitably continues, perhaps even with minions of the bully deciding to pile on the victim with even more sources of harassment. What is needed is to give potential and proven victims of bullying a viable, effective, and socially acceptable means to respond to the bully.

The Art of Peace

Relational Aikido (RA) is a non-violent, but firmly assertive training program to help vulnerable students defend themselves effectively right in the bullying context. Using a pattern of learning and training mirroring traditional martial arts, RA focuses not on holds, kicks, and punches, but on positioning, but other techniques that help the student to remain very calm, neutralize the attack with words and relational positioning, and then resolve the situation in a way that 'saves face' for the bully and creates harmony.

Aikido (the martial art) was developed by Morihei Ueshiba in Japan during the second world War. Ueshiba wanted to develop a marital art that spurned the attacker, but did not harm the attacker. Ueshiba maintained that the practice of Aikido in its truest sense would reduce the need for the physical martial art. The word “Aikido” means: “Ai=Harmony, ki=life and do=the-way-of”. Thus, Relational Aikido is a learning and training program to help people to respond respectfully, peacefully, and effectively to those who they believe are verbally or relationally aggressive. It also produces a non-violent, centered, balanced, and strong self-validation and self-esteem in the student that can increase the student’s sense of security and social competence beyond conflictual situations.

Much like martial arts training, in RA, students are given lessons and practice on how to ‘center’ themselves emotionally in order to make great decisions on how to respond to verbal, relational, or emotional attack. They are given specific skills to neutralize such attacks and then ‘turn’ the situation in a direction where the attacker can ‘save face’, and both parties can move in a positive and peaceful direction. Successful RA students do not just learn how to peacefully cope with bullies, but also learn how to cope better with social pressures of all sorts, which enables them to become calmer, more focused, and successful students.

RA students earn 'belts' (bracelets of different colors and meaning) as they move up in their skill level, from 'beginner' to 'student', to 'practitioner', to 'master'. The belt system provides RA students with a tangible sign of their progress and status as instructors and promoters of peace.

The benefits of RA should be obvious: a more confident, calm, centered, focused, and socially competent student that no longer needs to be anxious about going to school or what is around the next corner on the way to the cafeteria at lunch. The added benefit is that the potential victim is now inoculated against the bully, so there is far less potential for the need for administrative intervention. In addition, part of the RA training is that each student of Relational Aikido has a moral duty to teach the 'art of peace' to others around them. Each RA student becomes an ambassador of peaceful resolution to conflict, and a teacher of RA to other students.

RA can be taught during in-school sessions to students who have already been bullied, those students that have been identified as likely possible victims, or are very sensitive and hyper-reactive to perceived bullying. Indeed, RA can be taught to the entire student body and school staff as well! RA training can be given to school staff to become ongoing RA instructors ('train the trainer'), monitors, and cheerleaders, so that the momentum of RA does not weaken in the school environment over time.

Of course, RA is not just for children to learn and use to deal with peer-bullies, it is also a very useful tool for adults who also have to contend with bullies in the form of neighbors, co-workers, bosses, family members, or even spouses!

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