SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When people hear about kids being bullied, it’s natural to feel bad for the victim and condemn the person behind all of the tormenting.
But, experts say, if you understand the mind of a bully, you’ll realize they deserve empathy, too. Their behavior is often the result of problems at home or psychological issues
In order to change bullying behavior, Clinical Director of Samaritan Counseling Center Tony Garascia says intervention needs to happen early on.
“Bullies need an audience and, oftentimes, other students are afraid to speak up to the bully, to say what they’re doing is inappropriate,” he said.
That means, sometimes, the bullying behavior goes unchecked – silent encouragement that causes the relentless tormenting to continue.
“When you watch bullying, you’re just there watching it, not doing anything, you are giving a message to the bully, ‘This is OK, this is no big deal, this is acceptable,’” said Notre Dame professor and bullying expert Clark Power.
That’s why Garascia says it’s important to work with peer groups.
“What you have to do is round up the kids who are witnessing the bullying,” he said. “And, there has to be some form of intervention with them, as well. They need to speak up, they need to say something, they need to talk to a teacher, or vice principal, or someone.”
That’s what the staff at Brandywine Elementary School in Niles is teaching students. They’ve adopted the popular ‘Stand 4 Change’ program.
Teachers talk to students about proper behavior and how to handle bullying on a quarterly basis.
“What we try to do is we try to educate the kids as to how to handle the situation,” said Brandywine Principal Tim Bagby. “We have a process that the kids are taught for them to follow. And, we make sure to follow up with everything that gets reported.”
Students even take a pledge, vowing to speak up when they witness bullying.
“You go get a teacher or tell the bully to stop doing that,” said Brandywine student Ezra Vance.
Power says parents can also help catch and stop bullying, too – simply by talking to their kids.
If they notice their children expressing feelings or negativity or hostility toward a classmate or friend, it could point to a bigger problem.
“Parents should be aware that there could be things going on in the home that are contributing to the cycle,” Power said. “It could be that in the way we parent our children, we do bully them. We parent I ways that are over authoritative or power assertive, that we’re not listening to our children, not trying to ask them, ‘How do you feel about that?’”
If the problem persists, Power recommends seeking out the help of a school counselor or a child therapist.
Because, if the bullying isn’t stopped, it doesn’t just hurt the victim.
“Psychologists regard bullying as a risk factor,” Power said. “If we find in a person’s history that that person was a bully, that person is at risk.”
More information on how to stop bullying can be found at www.stopbullying.gov. The website features resources for both parents and teens.
In the final part of our special “The Mind of a Bully” report, Barbara Harrington will explain why it’s so important to change a bully’s behavior --- and what can happen if we don’t. .