Thursday, October 30, 2008
Jay McGraw's Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies
Author: Jay McGraw
Title: Jay McGraw's Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies.
Publication: New York: Aladdin, 2008.
Description: Includes an Introduction by Dr. Phil McGraw. Illustrations by Steve Bjorkman; 172 pages, hardcover.
This book was introduced Tuesday Oct. 28 on the Dr. Phil show on cyberbullying. The book, by Dr. Phil’s son, is written in middle school language to help kids deal with being bullied, be able to communicate to their parents or teachers, and also addresses kids who feel the lack of self-control associated with bullying.
Actually, only one of the eleven chapters deals with cyberbullying. It does go into the bad things that happen. The most common is the placing of malicious gossip about other students on one’s profile or website, but it has also included creating fake websites, impersonating others, stealing passwords and spreading viruses. All of these activities can carry criminal penalties. But the law does not always make it easy for parents to go after kids who bully their kids online; school districts may believe they cannot act if it happens off campus. As I noted on my television reviews blog on Oct. 29, there is some effort in a few states to tighten the law. Eventually, there could be serious restrictions on who can have an account (minors at least), more downstream liability, and, I personally think, the requirement for insurance. This is a very serious problem.
But most of Jay’s book deals with the “real world” problem. He tries to explain the motives of the bully and mentions the examples set by parents at home. Boys are often taught that they have an obligation to prove that they are “stronger” than other boys and more capable than others in (given a presumably dangerous or unstable external world) potentially protecting other family members, and that kind of thinking can, in an immature mind, rationalize the practice. (It can also rationalize totalitarian ideologies, especially fascism. This sort of residue was very much impressed upon me when I was growing up in the 1950s.) In retrospect, I would add that when I was growing up neither I nor the school officials completely understood that this kind of behavior was morally wrong if, for no other reason, it represented unprovoked aggression, in the sense that a modern libertarian understands the concept. McGraw, however, talks about the desire to feel “special” or “important” (by striking at those who are “different” – actually ironic).
McGraw provides some model conduct codes and also some quiz exercises and encourages students to write private journals on their experience with this problem. Handwritten journals (not blogs) are common in many English classes.
It is important that all schools deal with perpetrators of this problem promptly and decisively with discipline. Their failure to act on incidents in many parts of the country indicates cultural bias that does not excuse inaction. Schools do need some leeway in the law to interpret malicious (and especially false) online posts by students (about students or even teachers) as potentially disruptive to security on campus, so that they have the authority to discipline students for online abuse, too.
Update: Dec. 8, 2008
The "Sunday Read" Magazine (essentially a "family section") of the Sunday Dec 8 Washington Times has an article by Barry Brown, "Attracting bullies: 'Aggressive behavior' and oversensitivity linked to victimization," link here. Brown feels that children who become targets of bullies are often hyper-sensitive and even in subtle ways aggressive themselves, making themselves unpopular even with some adults and teachers who see them as whiny or non-competitive. There are behavioral factors in the home that set up this feedback loop, but there is a bit of a moralistic tone to it.
Roland Warren has a column on the same page (15) of the magazine, "Dad must help deal with bullies," link here.