Friday, November 4, 2011

Year 2: Week 9 - The Other Kind of Bullying

There’s a lot of different kinds of bullying in schools. Most think of overt peer bullying, like when a group of people make fun of another student for being overweight. There’s also the behind the back kind of bullying like when a group makes disparaging remarks about a person through facebook.

Unfortunately there’s also teacher bullying. Sometimes adults in the position of power make fun of kids or pick on students in an inappropriate way, which can have a devastating effect on students.

A third kind of bullying I’ve dealt with this week is self-bullying. This is when self-talk reaches a level of negativity and meanness that we would find unacceptable if it was peer to peer. For example, earlier this week I had a student come into class and talk about how much he “sucked” at playing his instrument. I would never let someone else tell him that he was a bad musician so I didn’t let this students say these things about himself.

You may be thinking that they might be simply be trying to get attention like a person walking into a room complaining about how they feel overweight. While this can be annoying in both cases these people are looking for positive reinforcement and for others to help them feel better about themselves. With students, making them feel good about themselves is part of my job.

Self-talk can be one of the most positive and motivating factors in a person’s life. Hearing a voice in your head that tells you that you can do things, that you are loved and strong can help people withstand anything that life throws at them. However when self-talk gets negative it can destroy lives. Yes, hearing other people telling you that you are stupid is hard, but imagine if hearing that from yourself all the time, every day. This kind of negativity can lead people into unhappiness, depression and the unimaginable.

So how do we address this?

Well, my general strategy is to tell them why they are wrong about the things they are saying using very specific examples. I told that student I mentioned earlier that I had started over fifty students on his instrument and that he was improving at a great pace. I also told him that as the teacher I have an awareness of how he has been improving that he doesn’t and that he needed to trust me. Also, I told him that if he was in fact doing badly, I would tell him explicitly (and that is not a lie).

Now I’m not a child psychologist but I believe that self-talk develops from what people hear. If you are told you are strong enough times you start believing that and telling yourself that you are strong. If we want to build students up to their full potential, they really need to believe in themselves.  The only way for this to develop in people is for them to be told that someone else believes in them in a genuine and honest way.

We are all very conscious of peer bullying, but we need to raise our awareness of self-bullying through negative self-talk.  If someone constantly putting themselves down there’s no limit to how far down that person can sink, however if that same voice is positive and strong, no amount of peer bullying can take them down.

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