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The Bully, The Bystander And The Witness – All Are At Risk

Removing doubts about his comments, he continued, “This is not a criticism, it’s a reality.”

Surprising some of his guests, Dr Salvatore said, “You might think we’re talking about a bully, but we’re talking about you. Children are sponges and they learn by watching and they learn by what you do.”

Stressing his point, Dr Salvatore said, “It starts at an early age and continues…they will listen to you, but do you believe what you are saying? They will pick up cues from you.”

Overall, bullying is complex. “It has a lot to do with you as parents,” Dr Salvatore said. Part of explaining the dynamics of a bully found Dr Salvatore’s explanation penetrating the locked front doors and security systems of the community’s homes and pushing into the living room.

“Part of this is looking at your own household – the foundation of all behavior, and all behavior is purposeful to meet needs,” he began.

He focused on power. “A bully’s behavior has to do with power.”

Dr Salvatore also spoke about choices, and whether an individual feels able to make a choice. From different choices come different behaviors, which he also explained.

“We are not addressing the child here, and we’re addressing behavior,” he said.

Posing a question that prompted parents to assess themselves, he asked, “How do you talk to your child? ‘I don’t like you,’ ‘I don’t like your behavior,’ ‘I don’t like the choice you made.'” Each approach reveals a different type of relationship, different needs, and different choices, that all add into the bullying equation, he said.

“You may say to your child, ‘I don’t like your attitude, change it,’ but that’s backwards. You have to change the behavior,” and he then explained how this goal might be achieved.

Social skills are part of his solution.

“Be assertive and say, ‘Stop it, Don’t do that.’ That’s different than being aggressive. [A child] has to know that you can only change your behavior. [a bully] has to change what they do.”

Returning to the child who tripped a friend in the hallway who broke his leg as a result, Dr Salvatore raised the theory of restitution. Adults asked the prankster what he thought he should do.

“He carries his friend’s books for six months…” Dr Salvatore said, favoring the act of restitution over punishment.

Parents And Children

Delving further into the at-home parent to child relationship, Dr Salvatore said, “You have to look at parenting style – are you a bully as a parent, do you come across as a victim? As a bystander? Only you know that, but there are definite roles.”

He explained each role and its likely results.

The “punisher” uses threats or silence. From the punisher come the threatening words, “You’re going to pay for this.” A child perceives that dad or mom can make the child feel bad, he explained.

“The child learns resentment, anger, and rebellion,” Dr Salvatore said. “This equals a family with the potential for breeding a nasty person.”

The “guilter” presents another problem.

“How could you do this to me?” is a remark that the guilter would make, and a child wonders, “What have I done,” said Dr Salvatore. He also noted that the child would also feel that, “No matter what I do, it’s not right.”

Here is another child, like the child raised by the punisher, who may search for another way to fulfill the need for power. The children will also seek ways to feel better about themselves.

Illustrating his point, Dr Salvatore said, “There is the medicine cabinet, I’ll make myself feel better that way; there’s the liquor cabinet, I’ll make myself feel better that way; there’s the gun cabinet…”

He notes another parental role – the “buddy,” from whom a child learns dependency. “I can only be happy if mom or dad shows me how,” said Dr Salvatore.

The “manager” is what you want to be, Dr Salvatore said. The manager instills ideas of self-discipline and will say, “Your clothes are all over the floor and we’ve got to get to school…” A child learns how to make choices to pick up the clothes, and get dressed in time to get to school. Both the manager and the child get what they want from the scenario.

“[The manager] breeds resilience – a key to combating bullying,” he said.

Outside the parent-to-child relationships are another set of categories; the bully, the victim, and the bystander. Empathy now enters the mix.

The ability to empathize or understand another’s feelings is a key ingredient that a bully lacks, Dr Salvatore said. “Empathy is number one – to know how another person feels – and we have to help them process how another person feels.” He pointed out that a bully often believes that a victim “deserves it.”

“The most infuriating comment we can hear from parents is, ‘Not my child,’ or ‘He [the victim] probably deserved it.'”

Who Are The Victims

And The Bullies?

The passive victim may have had overprotective parents and does not have the skills to combat a bullying situation. A provocative victim is worse. Dr Salvatore explained that this child might be restless or agitated, which the bully recognizes.

“He will pick this up and know what to say to that kid to set the kid off,” he said. Often, the provocative victim is the child to end up in trouble, and is often caught when trying to fight back.

Bystanders are what Dr Salvatore calls vicarious victims and stand in a very dangerous category. Absorbing any direct attacks on the victim are the bystanders who also will suffer because of the bully. Bystanders are also in danger.

“Twenty or 30 kids may be watching and they are all victims. What happens to them is probably worse than what happens to the victim,” Dr Salvatore said. “They begin to believe the myths.” Myths could include thoughts such as “I deserved it,” or “I had that coming,” “Losers deserve to lose,” “Nothing can be done.”

He offered a scenario with one bully and 23 other children. They may all agree that they are many and have the advantage over one bully. “So why don’t you say something?” he imagines himself asking them.

Troubling thoughts occur to the bystander. Describing layers of bruising emotions, he said, “They feel guilty at not doing anything, they feel bad for the victim, and then they begin to feel bad for themselves, ‘I am a loser.'”

Most potent is the bully victim.

“This bully is one who was victimized and then turns to do it to someone else,” he said, and explained that school shootings are often led by bully victims.

Newest on the list are cyberbullies.

“This is the latest and greatest and probably most dangerous bully…they develop disinhibition. The more they do, the more they will do,” he said.

Dr Salvatore told the story of one student who committed suicide and on his email were repeated insulting messages from “friends” who claimed the boy had no friends at all, among other cruel statements. The Internet and cellphones can be used to bully someone without having to see the victim’s face.

Several Steps To


In the classroom the students will see a teacher’s reactions to classmates’ behavior.

“If a child sees or hears something they will know a teacher saw or heard it and if the teacher does nothing, the child thinks, ‘Why bother?'” Dr Salvatore said. If children feel capable of doing something to stop the bully, they will, however. “That gets back to perception.”

He again mentioned social skills, and ran down a quick check-list triggered by an acronym, HA HA SO.

Help, or seek assistance from an adult or friend. Assert yourself, including making assertive statements to the bully about how you feel about the bully’s behavior. Humor can deescalate a situation. Avoid the situation, walk away. Self-talk is a way to maintain positive self-esteem. Own it, or own the putdown by agreeing with the bully to diffuse the situation with comments like, “Yes, I did fail the test, but I don’t appreciate you looking at my paper.”

(Editor’s note: A televised version of Dr Anthony Salvatore’s discussion will be aired on communityVision21 on Sunday, February 11, and February 18 at 11 am and 7 pm, which will provide his full presentation into the psychological and behavioral aspects of bullying, various studies’ results, anecdotes to illustrate bullying scenarios, and a thorough list of this school system’s efforts to combat the problem. His information also includes resources and references for parents to do more reading about bullying. Contact the Board of Education, 426-7621, for references to Parent Tool Kits for each grade level.)

Used with permission Copyright © 1999-2004 Bee Publishing Company


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