Current efforts to curtail bullying in schools are misguided and ineffective, according to psychologist Izzy Kalman, because bullying is not the issue. Learning to deal with bullying is.
Kalman, a school psychologist and psychotherapist in Staten Island, New York, explains his approach in his book, Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends and on his Web site, Bullies to Buddies.
Creating a world where everyone is nice to each other is unrealistic, Kalman writes. People tease other people because they enjoy watching them get upset. The more upset the "victim" gets, the more fun it is to tease him or her. So rather than encourage children to report bullying and then punish bullies, educators need to teach children not to be victims. The keys to that, according to Kalman, are to learn not to let bullies upset you and to treat bullies like friends so they become friends.
If that sounds unrealistic, Kalman says he has taught children how to do just that through counseling and role-playing. He also has anecdotes from others who have used his approach successfully. Kalman argues that society often has more to fear from victims than bullies -- in school shootings in the U.S. such as the one at Columbine High School in 1999, the shooters were not bullies -- they were students who had been harassed and felt like victims.
Kalman, who is on a leave of absence from his school position to devote time to writing and teaching, talked with Education World about his "bullies to buddies" approach.
Education World: What prompted you to write Bullies to Buddies?
Izzy Kalman: I have been teaching people how to stop being victims of bullying for a couple of decades Then Columbine happened, and it became even more obvious that victims are behind these shootings. However, I was amazed by the country's response. It seemed our efforts were exactly in the wrong direction. Instead of teaching kids how not to be victims, we responded with campaigns and laws to go after bullies. It was obvious to me that such an approach could not possibly succeed and was bound to make matters worse. So I decided I needed to make the solution available to the public. I created the Web site Bullies to Buddies. I wrote a manual called "How to Stop Being Teased and Bullied Without Really Trying," which teaches kids the real reason they are bullied and how to make it stop.
I wrote the book, Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends because I wanted a more comprehensive and detailed guide for victims. It deals with just about all of the typical bullying situation kids are likely to encounter, as well as teaching kids how to get along better with their parents, teachers, and siblings. It has quizzes after each major section to consolidate what kids learn from the book, which makes it useful as a school social skills textbook.
EW: You say that the current whole school anti-bullying models are not effective. Why do you say that and why do you think they are not working?
Kalman: I have understood for many years that adult intervention in children's fighting is what actually causes most of the fighting (this is basic Adlerian psychology, though I recognized this phenomenon before I learned about Adlerian psychology). That is why at home, when siblings are constantly fighting, you will discover that the parents are going crazy trying to make them stop fighting. What the parents don't realize is that the kids are fighting because the parents are trying to stop them!
When parents get in the middle, the fight escalates because the parents are the most important people in the world to the children. Both children want the parents on their
side. Whatever the kids were fighting about is less important than their parents. Now that the parents are in the middle, they start fighting over the parents, and they are going to fight much harder over the parents than over whatever nonsense they had been fighting about before the parent came along to stop them. The parents then decide who is right and who is wrong. Whichever child they decide against is now very angry and wants to even up the score. So that child creates another fight, and the parents get in the middle again. The parents wonder why the kids fight so hard over such nonsense. What the parents don't realize is the kids are not fighting over nonsense. They are fighting over the parents!
In psychology, this process is known as "triangulation". When a third party gets in the middle of a problem between two other people, the fighting escalates and goes on endlessly.
This very intervention that makes things worse at home between siblings is being promoted by the anti-bully psychology as the right thing to do in school! The school staff members -- teachers and principals -- are the most important people in the school. When they get in the middle of kids' business, the hostilities escalate because each child and his or her parents want the school on their side.
Through my Web site and my national seminars, I am in touch with school counselors throughout the country. Many tell me that their school's anti-bullying programs are driving them crazy and making the bullying worse. One said to me, "Ever since our school adopted it's anti-bullying program, we are having three times as much bullying as before!" We hear that bullying is skyrocketing in our country. Why? With all of our anti-bullying programs and education against bullying, shouldn't it be going down? It's because the programs usually make the problem worse.
An article was published in December 2004 that I believe was so important it should have made headlines in every newspaper. In the School Psychology Review, which is the research journal of the National Association of School Psychologists, a Canadian psychologist named David Smith published a paper on whole school anti-bullying programs. He had conducted a meta-analysis of all the research on whole school anti-bullying programs. He looked at all the research to see what's working. You know what he discovered? Eighty-six percent of the published studies showed that the anti-bully program produced no benefit at all or made the bullying problem worse; 14 percent of the studies showed that the program yielded a mild improvement. Not one study showed a major improvement.
EW: How does your approach to preventing bullying differ from the prevailing view?
Kalman: Everyone thinks that the problem is bullying, so we are trying to get rid of bullying. But bullying is part of life. Schools are actually the place where the least amount of bullying goes on. It happens most right at home. My surveys of thousands of mental health professionals and educators show that their own children at home are four times more likely to be hit daily by a sibling than by another child in school. Many of these same experts also are bullies or are bullied in their own lives
This whole anti-bully movement is hypocritical. The anti-bully advocates are expecting kids to be able to do what they themselves can't do. The anti-bully advocates are trying, for the first time in the history of the world, to create a society in which everyone is always nice to each other. I have heard of such a place, where everyone is always nice. It is called Heaven, and you have to die to get in.
The problem is not bullying. The problem is not knowing how to handle bullying.. The most dangerous people, both to themselves and to others, are people who think like victims. Bullies don't commit suicide or shoot up schools. Victims do these things. If you think like a victim, you will be bullied by people throughout your life. You will be made miserable by your bosses and spouses and children.
One of the tasks of life is learning how to deal with people being mean to us, and unfortunately, most people never learn to do this well. Even worse, the anti-bully education is teaching us that we shouldn't have to learn to deal with it; that we have a right not to be bullied, which means that the government is supposed to deal with bullying for us. This can't possibly work. The government can't force people to like and respect me. I am the only one who can accomplish that. All the authorities can do is punish us when we are not nice to each other. That is a really good way to manage social relations!
So I strictly teach people how not to be victims. If I am a victim and I have to wait for society to get rid of bullying in order for me to become happy, I will go to the grave being a victim. But if I know how not to be a victim, no one can bully me, and my misery ends almost immediately.
I also teach teachers how to handle bullying between kids. I have two "magic responses" that, when consistently used by teachers, quickly bring about a dramatic reduction in bullying.
These responses are quick and easy, and allow the teachers to go back to being educators instead of policemen and judges. They are explained in detail on my Web site in the manual for adults.
EW: In some ways your approach sounds like the advice of parents of days past to ignore tormentors and they will go away, which wasn't all that effective. How does your advice differ?
Kalman:"Ignoring" usually is effective, but you have to ignore well. Trying to "make believe" that the bullying is not bothering you rarely works because it is hard to completely hide our feelings. If you are making believe that you are not getting upset, the other kids can sense it. As long as you feel upset, you are likely to keep on being bullied.
Many people think that I teach "ignoring." This is not accurate. What I really teach is how not to get upset. Victims feel like losers and bullies feel like winners. Victims are dying to win against their bullies but whatever they're doing isn't working. How do bullies win? By getting you upset. How do you win? By refusing to get upset. I demonstrate this with the child through a role-playing game I developed. This game makes the child actually feel this truth. They leave the session eager to try it on their bullies.
However, what I teach people is much more than "don't get upset." What I teach is how to treat your bullies like buddies. Then they become your buddies. This is the true meaning of the Golden Rule, "treat others the way you want to be treated." Can I get you to treat me like a friend if I treat you like an enemy? Of course not. You will treat me right back like an enemy. The one and only way I can get you to treat me like a friend is if I treat you like a friend -- even when you treat me like an enemy.
We are very aware when others treat us like enemies. What we are rarely aware of is that we are, at the very same time, treating them like enemies. Things like anger, defensiveness, fear and revenge are, by definition, responses to enemies. So victims are treating their bullies like enemies and don't understand why the bullies continue to be mean to them. So I teach several simple rules that I call, "How to turn your bullies into buddies." They are explained in detail in my book. These rules require essentially no effort, just a change in attitude, and they work for adults as well as for children. If you consistently use these rules with the people in your life, you will always be a winner and people will like and respect you.
EW: What is the hardest part of your bullies-to-buddies approach for kids to execute?
Kalman: One of the hardest things is to get them to stop responding defensively, and this is at least as true for adults as it is for kids. The response of defending ourselves when we are criticized, insulted, blamed, or hit is so strong and seems so right that it often requires a bit of practice for people to stop habitually responding with defensiveness.
The first couple of days of using my approach are usually the hardest because the bullying usually escalates. I warn my clients, "The problem will get worse before it gets better." If someone has been tormenting you every day for years and all of a sudden you stop getting upset, they will think something went wrong with you. They won't believe that you are not really upset, and they will not like the feeling that they are losing. So in
the beginning they will try even harder to get you upset. Therefore, when you see the bullying getting worse the first couple of days, you shouldn't think, "Oh, no. This advice isn't working! The problem's only getting worse!" It is working. It's just that the problem usually gets worse before it gets better.
My approach does not work equally well for everyone. In general, the more neurologically impaired or emotionally disturbed the person is, the harder it is going to be to help them with this technique. But that's true about all techniques. The more impaired the client is, the harder it is to help him.
I would also like to add that this approach is not only about "mild bullying." Many people, even after reading my book, think that I don't deal with "serious bullying," which requires the traditional anti-bullying approaches of getting help from others. It only seems this way because the great majority of incidents that we call "bullying" are verbal: name-calling, rumors, gestures, social isolation. So since this is what kids need to deal with most often, adults think this approach is only effective with these kinds of attacks.
These rules also work with physical attacks, sexual, racial, and religious harassment, and threats of extortion, and I demonstrate it through role-playing. When might they not work? When you are facing a psychopath, an insane person, or a criminal who is looking to attack you regardless of what you do. In such cases, you do need to run away, get protection, or attack physically if you have no choice. These kinds of attacks do happen, but they are very rare, and they are not "bullying." We just think they are because the term "bullying" is being used to cover all aggressive behavior. To get everyone motivated to go on anti-bully campaigns, the anti-bully "experts" are calling things like the Holocaust and slavery "bullying." Genocide and slavery are not bullying. They are serious crimes against humanity. All democratic countries have laws against these phenomena, and the government is required to protect us from them.
EW: What feedback have you received about your ideas from other educators?
Kalman: Some people can't accept these ideas no matter how well I demonstrate their effectiveness, but the feedback I get from educators and mental health professionals is overwhelmingly positive.
Many professionals come to my seminars skeptical, but after seeing how these principles work through role-play after role-play -- my seminars are six hours long -- most are thoroughly convinced that teaching people how not to be victims is more effective than trying to rid society of bullies.
EW: How can teachers use Bullies to Buddies in the classroom?
Kalman: There are two important components to using this approach. One is to have the kids get rid of their victim mentality. This can be done by having them read Bullies to Buddies or listen to my CD program, "How to Stop Being Teased and Bullied without Really Trying." We are currently producing a training video that should be ready within a couple of months. I expect this to be the quickest and most effective way to teach the kids without actually having me come to the school to demonstrate the approach.
The second component is to have the school staff read my manual, A Revolutionary Guide to Reducing Aggression between Children, which explains what happens when adults make themselves responsible for stopping kids' fights, and teaches a less hysterical and more effective approach to the problem. An earlier version of this manual is available for free on the Web site. A revised edition can be purchased through the Web site.
EW: What, if any, training do you offer to schools about using your anti-bullying approach?
Kalman: I give seminars to mental health professionals and educators throughout the country on anger control and bullying, and provide manuals that guide them in using all these techniques in their schools. Schools can also contract with me directly to present my "Victim-Proof Your School" program that teaches students and staff how to reduce bullying.
EW: Are there any studies evaluating the effectiveness of your approach?
Kalman: I have tons of anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of this approach. However, in the past year, I conducted my own preliminary studies with several classes with serious bullying problems in different parts of the country. I wanted to keep the conditions very simple and uniform. I provided a copy of the Bullies to Buddies book for each child in the class. The students' tasks were to read the book, do the quizzes, and act out the two simple role-plays that are described in the book.
The teachers task was to use the two "magic responses" when kids complained of being bullied. Additionally, the teachers were requested to avoid discussing the book with the students for two reasons: I wanted the teachers to be teaching academics and not wasting time teaching bullying lessons, and I didn't want teacher's own attitudes to influence what I teach in the book. In one class, because the kids couldn't read well, I substituted reading the book with listening to my two-hour CD version of the book. In most cases the improvement was dramatic.
This is what one teacher wrote: "It was amazing to see the students implement the program in class and role play as they learned from Izzy. I also witnessed them using the program to problem solve between each other during hands-on activities, free play, and interaction with other peers at other times during the school day on and off campus. What would have earlier in the year been a big deal for some of my students quickly was ignored and forgotten. Discipline was much less of an issue and active learning became the center focus of our classroom activities. Thanks for allowing us to use this program and learn form this wonderful tool."
Recently, a major university agreed to conduct a rigorous scientific study of my program. I expect this to have an impact on the academic world.
This e-interview with Izzy Kalman is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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