Stand up or put up? Which gets the best outcomes?

I’ve been observing the media attention on the bullied boy who had enough, and stood up to an attacker. He’s become a bit of a hero, and I can see why. Many of us have been n situations when niggling between people crosses the fuzzy line and becomes abuse, and many of us would love to stand up to our ‘attackers’, but have felt unable due to personal, professional, social and other reasons.

However, are we really teaching ‘stand up or put up’ through our schools. The response of the boy being bullied is in direct conflict with my understanding policy and guidelines within the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) in Victoria and perhaps, elsewhere. For example, it is stated on the DEECD website “Give sensible advice – don’t encourage your child to fight back, this will most likely increase the bullying”.

I don’t like this whole webpage, the advice provided, and its underlying assumptions. Here are some of my reasons why:

Bullying is defined as: “”Bullying is when someone, or a group of people, who have more power at the time, deliberately upset or hurt another person on more than one occasion. Bullying includes physical bullying such as hitting; verbal bullying such as name calling;and indirect bullying such as spreading rumours”.

This definition doesn’t include notions of systematic and ongoing abuse. This means it is possible for children to use the system to engage in their own bullying if something happens more than once. Where is the space between kids learning socially how to negotiate difference and kids engaging in bullying behaviour?

Different personalities, experiences, and reactions are not considered. If great books like Andrew Fuller’s Tricky People: How To Deal With Horrible Types Before They Ruin Your Life exist to help us deal with different personality traits, surely we should accept diversity within children’s social interactions. Some bullies may stop if confronted, some will enlist others or increase their torment. Others will view silence, walking away etc. as forms of weakness, and may try harder to provoke a reaction.

There is no information about what children should do if they are being physically cornered, poking/prodding/punching or other physical contact is continuous or unceasing, chased or is in genuine fear of physical harm. Children should be able to physically defend themselves if required and not be penalised for doing so. Genuine self-defense is recognised by law, but not in schools e.g. the boy defending himself was also suspeded.

There is no discussion about the potential consequences if a child does not report being bullied, or if the matter isn’t addressed properly by the school. This could provide the space and confidence for the bully to continue, target other people, increase their activities, or become more stealthy in their activities.

There is also encouragement to avoid places where bullying may occur. While it is wise for children to be aware of their surroundings and the social interactions that should/can occur, this advice does not provide guidance in relation to other situations. If bullying occurs on a sports team, in the playground, in a science area, etc… the child may be turning away from activities and places they really enjoy. Rather than learn that they have a right to their interests and the spaces where these interests occur, children may learn it is more important to put their interests aside in order to avoid conflict. Sometimes strength comes from claiming rights to interests, places and spaces.

I am really left wondering why should children not stand up for themselves? Why does there always have to be adult mediation? What are the consequences for future social relations?

Walking away, being mature, being ‘nice’ and all of that, has it’s place, but issues of dignity, strength, and self-efficacy also need to be appropriately considered.

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About Julie Rudner

With great excitement for the adventure we were about to go on, my mother would shout out, "We're off to see the Wizard"! It didn't matter if we were going to the shops for milk, the museum or a holiday. My mum focused on the joy of the everyday, knowing that if we engaged with life, we would always find something new and positive. With great animation my dad would explain the workings of things and how to pull things apart, put them back together, and if the situation called for it, make something new. My sister and I were taught to evaluate situations, make our decisions, and reap the consequences (both good and bad). We were encouraged to push our boundaries and not let fear prevent us from pursuing our dreams. Importantly, we learned to pick ourselves up, learn from our 'failures', and use our valuable lessons to build our confidence, independence and strength in ourselves.
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3 Responses to Stand up or put up? Which gets the best outcomes?

  1. Kath says:

    The school I attended had an interesting approach to the question of bullying and it had an interesting impact on me. I am not sure that the lessons taught were what the school intended, but… In practice, the school would not act in anyway to either defend a victim or punish an offender unless: an single incident was witnessed by a staff member where whoever was seen to be the aggressor was sometimes meted some standard punishment (with no reference to past events), the victim’s parents were from the overseas cohort (and thus paid more money to the school), or the parents were of the wealthier and more powerful domestic types or came in “swinging” to the school. The result was inaction on bullying (sometimes even when it was conducted in front of a staff member), punishing a victim fighting back and letting the bully go, a realisation from a young age that power, position and favoritism was more important than justice or ‘doing the right thing’, and that if you were powerless you could be physically assaulted in front of a teacher or staff or other parents without anyone coming to your aid. And the worse the serial offending, the less that was done about it. In one outrageous, but unsurprising episode, a bully had caused a student in my class to start being absent from school and so the teacher sent the offender off on an “errand” so that they could explain to us what was happening to the victim (duh! We all knew!) and to make sure that the class knew it was its responsibility to protect the victim! A few months later this bully was badly beaten up by another student he tried to make into a new victim (one of the wealthy overseas students). The school’s response: punish the buly-now-victim for a single instance of fighting.
    What I learned from all this: victims are on their own and unless they have a powerful family or are able to fight back and be sure to win, they may be continually bullied until they are destroyed by it with the full support of the school community. I found this outrageous and unacceptable than and I still do, but it was my school life reality.
    So with that experience in mind I congratulate that bullied boy for piledriving that bully into the concrete. He only did what he had to because no one was going to help him and he had enough power to do it. Its a credit to his character that he didn’t stick the boot in to finish the fellow off, but walked away once the threat was brougth to an end.

  2. Julie Rudner says:

    Thanks Kath,

    Some really strong memories and observations. It’s funny… in my adult life I seem to encounter the same sorts of things. Many who stand up, and refuse to put up, often end up being on the receiving end of some sanction, rather than the person(s) who instigated and perpetuated the problem.

    I wonder about the long term effects of this: how much do children take on the indentity of being bullies, victims and bystanders? Are kids now, or as future adults, less likely to stand up to oppression/repression because the way that bullying is addressed is so institutionalised?

  3. Kath says:

    There does seem to be a push to make victims more passive. They are expected to avoid physical retaliation at all costs and report the incident to the teaching staff. Then the teaching staff may or may not deal with it (in my experience it was vague action and inconsistent to say the least)). Honestly, if someone is beating you up and you have no recourse to run or to get help immediately you should be permitted to use force back to stop the situation (if you can). This is the law for adults, why not for kids.

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