Although it is illegal in over 40 states to exhibit bullying behavior in school classrooms or playgrounds, bullying remains a pervasive and insidious cultural handicap. Newspaper headlines are all to frequent about children committing suicide because bullying in school became unbearable.
Mayaly Alvarez, of New Horizons Counseling Services, says there is a light at the end of the tunnel for families confronting bullying behavior. Her Bullyproof Your Child seminar being held at the Village of Pinecrest Community Center Oct. 22 and 29 will focus on establishing positive behaviors that can help kids who are being bullied. Alvarez also will address the best way to confront rebellious behavior that often leads to a child becoming a bully.
“Bullying starts at home; when parents use threats or coercive language to get their children to do what they want to do they are setting negative patterns that can lead to bullying behavior,” said Alvarez. “For example, telling a child ‘not to be stupid’ is labeling them and this can lead to defensive attitudes. When parents tell kids if they do not do one thing they will not receive another thing, that is a manipulative approach that does not work in the long run.”
Alvarez believes that since many adults experienced this style of parenting first hand, it is easy to pass it on to the next generation. But she says there is a better way and it is centered on a collaborative guidance approach based on mutual trust.
“Rebellious kids are not getting the support they need at home,” she said. “When a child is rebellious, he or she is saying ‘I am ready to face the world’ but without consequences because they fail to understand the consequences of their actions.”
Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that millions of students are dealing with the consequences of bullying every year. The Youth Violence Project reports that “bullying is so commonplace and ranges so widely in severity that its importance is often overlooked.” The statistics from 2005-06 reveal that 21 percent of elementary schools, 43 percent of middle schools and 22 percent of high schools had bullying-related issues. The results also state that bullying is one of the most frequently reported discipline problems at school.
Jerry Zank, principal of Gulliver Prep, says his school needs to have policies regarding bullying because it is considered one of the gravest infractions of school rules. At the same time, Zank points out that we do not always live in a civil society and children out of naïveté may act out behaviors they see in adults.
“We have a new program this year in partnership with the not-for-profit association The Melissa Institute,” Zank said. “There will be sessions specifically designed to address the developmental issues — more common in middle school girls — that are deemed pre-bullying behaviors.”
Gulliver Prep also will be bringing in pre-selected high school students to work as mentors with the younger kids so they have a confidant closer to their own age. Zank hopes this program will indirectly have a ripple effect among the high school student mentors who may then see themselves as leaders tackling bullying and setting an example among their own peers as well.
According to Alvarez, the psychology of bullying varies from overt to covert. Overt bullies tease, hit or steal from their targets, while covert bullies spread rumors, exclude a child from a group scenario or resort to cyberbullying by posting defamatory messages online about the target for others to view.
“Education offers new ways of seeing reality. We aren’t here to tell parents how to raise their children, but rather to offer suggestions on how to connect with each other that can eradicate negative behavioral patterns.”
The seminars will cover ways parents can talk to their kids to break down barriers such as sharing their own youthful experiences with their children. She also suggests when assigning children tasks to collaborate on how to achieve the goal. For example, rather than telling a child they need to finish their homework by 7 p.m. or no outside play, parents should sit down and help guide their children toward the desired end. “Building trust with specific detailed guidance is so critical,” said Alvarez. “We all work hard and are tired after a long day and it is often easier to oversee your child in the evening rather than engage with them. Interacting regularly together, sharing confidences, and being interested in their daily lives is how we can eradicate bullies and protect their vulnerable targets.” Bullyproof Your Child seminars will be held on consecutive Saturdays, Oct. 22 and 29, at the Village of Pinecrest Community Center. Cost is $50 per person for members and $55 for non-members. Children are encouraged to attend with their parents. For more information, call New Horizons Counseling Services at 305-662-1095 or go to www.nhorizonscs.com.