Anti-Bullying: New Strategies for an Old Problem

By Becky Herberger | Published March 7, 2014 | The Bolton Independent

“Aren’t we all so tired of hearing about bullying?” asked Meghan McCoy, Program Coordinator of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, at a recent presentation to Florence Sawyer School students. “Yes,” McCoy said, “but we still need to talk about it because it’s happening.”

McCoy delivered several anti-bullying presentations to Florence Sawyer students last month and altered her approach based on grade and maturity levels of each audience.  And she didn’t just talk about bullying – she armed students with fresh strategies to use and conveyed the realities of Internet privacy.

The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center is an academic center at Bridgewater State University that provides educators, communities and families with research-based resources and programming.

Florence Sawyer School Principal Joel Bates commented, “Bringing MARC to our school is one of the ways we are working hard to ensure that the Florence Sawyer School is a physically and emotionally safe environment. I’m grateful to Darlene Perkins and Nicole Johnson and our Safety Committee for organizing the presentations.  We are fortunate to have our Parents Advisory Council sponsor this event and I know the students will get a lot out of it.”

According to MARC, bullying is a situation in which one person intentionally exerts power over another person, on more than one occasion.   The range of bullying behaviors includes physical taunting, cyber-bullying, relational aggression, gossiping and spreading rumors – even eye-rolling or turning one’s back to someone.  McCoy explained that other anti-bullying programs suggest stepping in between a bully and the target to put the brakes on a bad situation, but MARC advises that the tactic doesn’t work because most kids are afraid to take a big step, for fear of retaliation.

So what alternatives does MARC suggest? Walking away from the situation sends a clear message, said McCoy, explaining that bullies are performers who want us to watch and laugh at them.  By walking away, the message is clear: “This is not okay with me.”

Another tactic McCoy shared is to ask the target a subject-changing question to divert the attention away from the bully.  Seemingly small actions such as checking in with the target later in the day, including him/her in activities, smiling, waving, and not laughing when people are being mean, all make the target feel better.

McCoy introduced the term “eggers,” created by MARC, as a key part of the bully-target-bystander group.  Eggers support and encourage bullies by spreading rumors, laughing at mean jokes and joining in on bullying situations. The program suggests that most people have been eggers at some point and that these mistakes should be acknowledged and not repeated.

McCoy’s presentation was appropriately interactive.  During her Internet privacy discussion with seventh- and eighth-graders she asked, “Is it fair that you are judged by what you put on-line?” She continued, “Yes, we get it now.  It is public information put out there by you.”

McCoy counseled students to see their online posts as billboards and think of the absolute worst way messages could be interpreted.  Screen name choices, verbal aggression, belonging to any form of hate group, posting criminal activity and sexting can all form bad impressions and, at times, be illegal.

She provided examples of illegal online behaviors such as threatening someone, stalking, taking a photo where there is an expectation of privacy, committing civil rights violations and harassment.  McCoy also alerted students that sexting an image of a person under 18 years old, even if it is of themselves, is transmission of child pornography.  She reminded students that their online actions can be tracked back to an Internet Protocol address, the “fingerprint of a computer.”

McCoy stressed that nothing online is private.  She pointed out that we can copy and paste or “screenshot” anything, even a private chat or a briefly-posted image.  So what can students do to protect themselves?  McCoy says that, although privacy settings offer only a false sense of security, students should check them monthly anyway.  She also advised students to watch tagging, to Google their names to see what pops up, to post good things and try not to react to the negativity of others.

Remaining cool-headed can be a challenge when anyone sees upsetting posts, texts and tweets about themselves, McCoy said.  She discussed strategies to use before getting angry, such as:

  • Talking things through with a friend or writing out a response before it’s delivered, which can help prepare for successful face-to-face encounters with a wrongdoer.
  • Waiting 24-hours before responding, which can reduce anger levels and encourage better decision-making, rather than fighting.
  • Venting anger in other ways, such as exercising, taking a nap or punching a pillow to help ward off a negative reaction.

McCoy encouraged students to use their personal power for good as did Carson Jones, a varsity high school football quarterback in Queen Creek, Arizona. When bullies were throwing trash at Chy Johnson, a sophomore with a brain disorder, Jones walked her to class, sat with her at lunch, made her a part of his group and the bullies backed off.

The anti-bullying program gave students in all grades the opportunity to develop a new understanding of how to help themselves, and maybe others, in difficult situations. With a new twist on an old problem, they were equipped with coping strategies rather than just how to identify bullying behavior.