Tag Archives: bullying

Parents key to reducing youth violence

sad young person

Telling children not to feel what they feel can lead youngsters to stop confiding in trusted adults, giving more energy to bottled up feelings that can become destructive.

Why are they so angry?,” columnist Ana Veciana-Suarez asked rhetorically in a recent Miami Herald (“Senseless rage sparks inexplicable tragedy,”  4/2/10), listing five tragic examples of teen-on-teen violence that have received national attention this year.

While each story is unique, the issue of young people’s feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and frustration turning deadly is not. For each example, there are dozens more that have not been featured by the local or national media. The murders of three teens in nearby Liberty City during the first three weeks of March alone went almost unnoticed by the press.

This month marks the 11th anniversary of the horrific killings at Columbine. More than a decade later, many schools have implemented valuable lessons. Yet millions of families and communities across the country are tragically missing in action when it comes to taking actions to make America safer for all our children. While school administrators, counselors, and educators struggle to assure the safety of children on their campuses, they cannot succeed without active community support that begins in each of our homes and neighborhoods.

Rarely is violence against children as premeditated as the attack that left 15 dead and 24 injured in Littleton, Colorado. More typically, it’s a result of young people without constructive, healthy outlets for upsetting feelings either unleashing stored up emotions inward or outward. Parental messages that urge children not to feel what they feel (“Don’t be angry,” “Don’t be sad,” Don’t be scared.”) often lead youngsters to stop confiding in trusted adults, giving more energy to bottled up feelings that can become destructive.

Emotions turned inward show up as sadness, depression, and at the extreme, suicide. For those who release their feelings outwardly, they can be unleashed as anger, rage, and at another extreme, violence.

parents fighting in front of daughter

Many young people do have much to be upset about. The financial stresses that are impacting millions of families touch their lives too, both as they witness increasing conflict and uncertainty within their families and become innocent victims of marital and family breakdown.

Many young people do have much to be upset about. The financial stresses that are impacting millions of families touch their lives too, both as they witness increasing conflict and uncertainty within their families and become innocent victims of marital and family breakdown. For others approaching the end of high school or college, educational and career aspirations may feel unobtainable as traditional paths to independence become increasingly elusive. Pressures to fit in, achieve academic success, and beat an uncertain path to a successful future lead many young people to despairingly surrender their dreams altogether.

Those who do stay the course often have assets in their lives – human assets – that support, encourage, and urge them forward:

  • Parents who model healthy conflict resolution skills within their families; ·
  • Parents whose actions regularly show children they are valued and loved; ·
  • Parents in whom they can safely, consistently confide and seek comfort.

Communities in which children are regularly deprived of these vital family resources are far more likely to produce angry adolescents who are a threat to themselves and others.

Programs that encourage caring, responsible adults to spend hours each month mentoring youngsters have proven themselves invaluable when children aren’t able to seek support from their own parents.

While some parents may not naturally have the skills to model healthy conflict resolution within their homes and create relationships in which it’s safe for children to seek counsel and comfort, educational programs that teach relationship skills to adults have been shown to make a difference.

Assuring more children grow up with two parents who are actively engaged in their lives within neighborhoods where caring adults are regularly a positive influence is the most important contribution we can make to a future that’s safer for all of our sons and daughters.


Hurt People Hurt People

Impact of bullying

“Hurt people hurt people,” a youngster shared in a recent conversation about bullying at a local elementary school.

Hurt people hurt people,” a youngster shared in a recent conversation about bullying at a local elementary school.

In an instant, I too was back in elementary school, present to 38 years of feelings about the kid who bullied me in fifth grade; remembering my mother’s boyfriend, Joe Griffis – a retired marine colonel she’d fallen in love with after his return from Vietnam – urging, insisting, almost requiring that I stand up to the bully. My adult gut still twisted in knots as I recalled the fear I felt as I realized at the age of ten that I had no choice.

I searched my mind for evidence that the boy who so hurt me with his taunts, threats, shoves and constant belittlement may have been hurting too. After nearly four decades, I couldn’t find his face, name or any other memory to identify the boy, just the feelings of shame, fear, anger, and sadness I felt and the horror that overcame me during those days as I arrived at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School on the bus from our home in nearby Lake Barcroft.

Hurt people hurt people?

Brothers who bully, David Eisenberg, center.

Eisenberg Family, circa 1963. From left, Milton Eisenberg, Lori Eisenberg (now Lori Gordon), Beth Eisenberg (now Beth Redwood), Jonathan Eisenberg; in father's lap, Seth Eisenberg; Front and center, David Eisenberg.

I thought of my older brother – seven years my senior — and his bullying that became my daily life from the time our oldest brother graduated high school and left for college. Had he been hurt, I wondered? What was he so angry or sad about that led to the physical and emotional violence he subjected me to when he thought he could get away with it?

With few exceptions, I felt very much alone during those years, withdrawing into myself or hidden behind my camera from threatening people and events.

Today I realize how much I wasn’t alone; that my experiences are repeated daily in classrooms, playgrounds, neighborhoods and increasingly in homes, retailers, offices, and courtrooms too. Story after story in newspapers, magazines, journals, television, and blogs reveal children and adults leaking bottled up feelings of anger, fear, sadness, guilt, jealousy, and frustration by bullying others.

Some seventy years ago, Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest scientists, said:

“The world is a dangerous place; not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing …”

Einstein was referring to a different kind of bully; bullies who capture the reins of political, economic, and military power and turn their sites on innocents. In either case, witnesses to intolerance, abuse, and the fanaticism that can be borne from both are not innocent bystanders – the very essence and meaning of their lives emerges from the decisions they make to act, speak or, tragically, look away.

Having survived my childhood, raised two sons through their own elementary, middle and high school years, and spent hundreds of hours in their classrooms and many others teaching skills for healthy relationships, here are some suggestions for people living, learning, playing, or working with a bully.

  1. Know that a bully’s actions are about the bully, not the target. When people bottle up emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, frustration, and guilt, those feelings have energy that doesn’t just disappear. For some, feelings leak out through bullying, threatening, sarcasm, taunting and other dirty fighting tactics until eventually either imploding, which looks like sadness, depression and at the extreme suicide, or exploding, which comes out as anger, rage, and at another extreme, physical violence. Either way, the actions reflect what’s happening inside the person bottling up their feelings. Those who are closest to them – at home, work, schools, and neighborhoods – are rarely the cause of the intense emotions, although they are often the targets.

  2. Share your feelings about being bullied with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Feelings have energy. Negative energy can be toxic, like poison. Holding in negative emotions, especially for long periods of time, is like keeping poison inside. Before long, it spreads and infects others. Finding positive ways to release negative emotional energy is vitally important to both emotional and physical health. Some enjoy nurturing conversations, meditation and physical activities; others have found benefit from PAIRS Emptying the Emotional Jug, Heart Math, Steven Stosny’s H.E.A.L.S., and similar exercises.

  3. Create boundaries that define unacceptable behavior. Differences are a natural part of any close relationship; in fact, every single human being is unique. What are the boundaries – some call them belt lines – appropriate for you in your closest relationships? It’s important to know your boundaries and clearly communicate them to others, whether at home, school, or work. Some may not be bothered by a raised voice or certain language while others might take great offense and consider those actions “below the belt.” In some cultures, people naturally touch each other; other people might consider any physical contact inappropriate. Know your boundaries and speak up to let others know what is, and isn’t, okay for you.

  4. Encourage compassionate support both for victims and bullies. When someone you know has been bullied, reach out with compassion and respect. Ask how you can help. Listen with empathy and understanding to their experience. Support the person in seeking and getting assistance needed to get through the situation. Actively help create an environment in which future threats of bullying are eliminated. At the same time, recognize that people who bully may be crying out for attention. At school, support zero tolerance for bullying by insisting that people who bully be counseled, including involving a parent, and separated from others who have been the target of their actions until they recognize their behaviors are unacceptable, accept the consequences, and apologize to those they’ve wronged.

  5. Never keep it a secret; call attention to bullying. While some think they will boost their popularity and low self-esteem by taunting, threatening and abusing others publicly, many bully only when they think they won’t be seen, caught, or prevented from lying about their abusive behaviors. Don’t let them succeed! Whether you’re the target or witness, call attention to bullying and help create a world in which others don’t have to fear emotional or physical abuse at home, school, work or anyplace else. People who are abusive to others need attention so their actions don’t escalate. People who are victims need active, compassionate support within a culture that collectively protects every human being’s right to live, learn, play and work without being bullied.

Impact of PAIRS in Reducing Bullying Behaviors

“The skills have helped me better control my anger.”

~ Kevin, 18

“The information has taught me how to show and control my emotions.”

~ Robin, 17

“PAIRS has give me so many new and positive ways to express my anger.”

~ Jessica, 16

“My experience in PAIRS allowed me to relieve so much stress and pain.”

~ Danyell, 17

“PAIRS has made me aware and of ways in which I have been dirty fighting, I now have the tools to positively release my negative feelings.”

~ Melodie, 33

“The emotional jug allowed me to release so many negative emotions.”

~ Jennifer, 31

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