Thursday, October 31, 2013

How does a Humanist solve the problem of Bullying?

 by Jennifer Hancock

No parent wants to see their child suffer at the hands of a bully. As much as we would like to shield them from horrible people, as parents, we have to be realistic. Our job is to prepare our kids for life in the real world and that means helping them learn how to cope with mean people.

The problem is that most parents don’t know how to actually help their kids aside from general platitudes like – stand up for yourself or ignore them.

The question is, how does a Humanist parent approach the subject of bullying? The answer? With science and compassion of course.

It turns out that science has already figured out how to eliminate unwanted behavior. The field of behavioral psychology has studied this problem extensively. Using operant conditioning techniques, which are so effective, they are standard for every animal trainer in the country; you can train a bully or other obnoxious person to stop and leave you alone.

While these techniques are fairly easy to teach, they are very hard to implement, which is why most anti-bullying programs don’t teach them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

What currently passes for anti-bullying education is good but incomplete. Most programs only teach the beginning part of the behavioral extinction process. They don’t teach kids or adults how to actually complete the process.  This is why most attempts to eliminate bullying fail, despite everyone’s good intentions.

But failure with good intentions isn’t good enough anymore. Kids are committing suicide and killing their classmates to get away from the torment. We need to do better, which is why we need to stop shying away from teaching them what actually works.

The good news is that what actually works is scientifically sound, ethically compassionate and incredibly empowering for the victim.  

Bullying is all about power. Bullies gain power over their victims through aggression and coercion. When victims learn how to train a bully to stop, they regain the control they had lost and it’s amazing to see a child blossom when they learn these skills.

When it comes to bullies, we can no longer afford to let kids figure how to deal with them on their own. That’s a lot like throwing a kid into a swimming pool and hoping they will figure out how to swim. Just as it is saner, safer and a whole lot less traumatic to teach kids how to swim, it is also saner, safer and a whole lot less traumatic to teach kids how to get bullies to leave them alone.

Learn what it takes to get a bully to stop. Teach it to a child and share this information with others. Let’s start a knowledge revolution that will not only make a difference in the lives of children, but in the society in which we live.

Just image an entire generation of kids who have learned these skills. Just imagine an entire generation that didn’t have to deal with bullying? Just imagine what society will be like in 20 years if no child learns how to bully because their peers teach them not to? That’s a society I’d like to live in. It won’t be easy, but it is worth doing.

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