With fist or words, bullies hurt peers

Is bullying the latest national epidemic?
At a recent event at Congregation Beth Israel, children’s advocate and best-selling author Trudy Ludwig was emphatic that although bullying is a complex issue, it is over hyped by the media.
According to the latest research, bullying has actually decreased in the last decade.
An award-winning writer and speaker on bullying, Ludwig has been featured on Good Morning America, PBS and Sesame Street’s bullying series. Her nationally acclaimed books focus on helping children thrive in their social world and have received multiple Mom’s Choice Awards.
Ludwig provided engaging, thought-provoking and detailed information on bullying to an audience of about 25 parents at her talk entitled “Understanding Our Kids’ Social World: Friendships, Cliques & Power Plays,” sponsored by WRJ/Beth Israel Sisterhood. However, Ludwig made it clear that bullying is not a simple issue with simple solutions.
While Ludwig insisted that the media has overblown the pervasiveness of bullying, she also argued that, at the same time, our society underreports the negative consequences of “relational aggression.”
“Intentional exclusion, gossip, the silent treatment, teasing and the spreading of rumors are often dismissed as normal rites of passage, but these emotional bullying behaviors are a form of relational aggression that are as harmful as physical bullying – with devastating long-term effects,” said Ludwig.
Astoundingly, according to Ludwig, “Kids report relational aggression as the most accepted and the most harmful form of aggression.” In other words, even though it is the most hurtful, kids believe relational aggression is less punishable than a punch in the face.
Daphna Stadig, the social action chair of Beth Israel’s Sisterhood, decided to bring in Ludwig to address bullying because “Jewish ethics speaks of treating individuals with respect. There are not only Jewish bullies, but there are also Jews who have been bullied and teased.”
Stadig hoped Ludwig would also bring solutions to the community, which Ludwig provided in spades.
Ludwig encouraged parents not to buy into the media hype and instead to focus on what is actually going on with their children. She also shared the importance of working as a community to address the normalization of relational aggression.
“We have these societal myths that standardize relational aggression like, ‘Boys will be boys,’ or, ‘They’ll grow out of it.’ But these ideas are harmful to our children!” exclaimed Ludwig.
She encourages parents to help children work through bullying incidents at school by using talking point questions after confrontations (see box).
Juliana Gellman, mother of four, loved these practical tips. “This was so informative. I loved that she gave us lots of tools about what to actually tell our kids,” said Gellman.
Ludwig hopes that the community will begin to talk more about the variety of ways bullying affects Portland neighborhoods.
Ludwig warns, “Bullying doesn’t just affect victims. It affects bullies, bystanders, teachers, parents and the schools–everyone in the community.”
For more information on bullying and bullying prevention, visit Ludwig’s website: www.trudyludwig.com

Questions to Help Kids Talk Through Relational Aggression:

  • What went wrong?
  • What role did you play in what went wrong?
  • What did you learn from that experience?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What can you do to make up for the hurt you caused others?

    Vanessa Van Petten is a freelance writer and speaker who lives in Portland. Her latest book for parents, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?,” won the 2012 Mom’s Choice Award.

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