We all know that kids can be bullies. I confess that I do not understand why, but anyone who has spent any time in schools has seen it. A group of kids pick on someone they perceive as weak and there it starts. Bullying is always unacceptable. It seems worse if it happens to someone we know and/or love. On NPR this morning (5/7/12) there was a story about the effects of bullying and ostracism by class members on kids with disabilities.
What does bullying do to kids?
NPR reported that there has been research published recently that found that both psychological pain and physical pain show activity in the same part of the brain. They reported that the effect of psychological pain lasted longer than physical pain. The study reported that suffering from the bullying was harder to deal with than living with a disability. They also reported that experiencing bullying and ostracism was the best predictor of depression.
What can teachers do about it?
Obviously we need to be vigilant. We all need to watch carefully and look for signs of bullying and be very firm about the fact that it is not acceptable. Teachers need to keep an eye on kids with disabilities, and any other kids who may seem weak and look for signs of sadness or depression. And they must act quickly if they see it. A group discussion about bullying with the entire class can be a very effective way to get everyone thinking about it. Kids should be encouraged to tell other kids to stop if they see bullying, and if they do not feel comfortable with that, to go get a teacher. As they say in the NYC subways “If you see something, say something.”
What can parents do?
Parents also need to be vigilant. Watch your kids. If they seem sad or uncomfortable, if they express concern about going to school, find out what is happening. And do not assume it is the hearing loss or other disability that is the problem. Kids can live with hearing loss. It is the way they are treated by others because of the hearing loss that is the problem.
Kids need to learn to advocate for themselves. They need to feel good about who they are. It will help them deal with bullying and other difficult behavior. Kids need the opportunity to talk about their feelings and to learn how to ask for assistance when needed.
Groups of kids with disabilities including hearing loss often do very well meeting with each other to discuss their concerns and to share ideas about how to deal with issues affecting them. It can also be useful to have a group of kids with disabilities and a group of kids without disabilities work together on a project where they can get to know each other better and work together. We are less likely to bully our friends.
Bullying is serious business and we all need to look for it and stop it before it gets out of hand. There need to be serious consequences for bullying and we need to be sure everyone knows it. We cannot ignore the problem and hope it will go away. It won’t.