A PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH

Why is bullying a frustrating epidemic despite more than two decades of intensive anti-bullying efforts?

According to Izzy Kalman, it’s because society has been taking the wrong approach.

There are two general approaches to bullying.

 

One is a law enforcement approach.

This is the approach that has become universally adopted and has been embedded –unsurprisingly–in anti-bullying laws. This is the approach that hasn't been working and can never work.

 

The law enforcement approach treats bullying as a crime and defines social dynamics as an interplay of guilty perpetrators (bullies), innocent victims, and bystanders that either passively or actively enable the bullying. The law enforcement solution involves encouraging the entire school community to refuse to tolerate bullying and to stand up for victims against bullies. Children are taught that if they are victims, they are powerless to solve the problem and must report bullying to the authorities, who have the power to make it stop. This is the approach pioneered by Prof. Dan Olweus, and has been the foundation of most other programs and of all anti-bullying laws throughout the world.

Law enforcement is necessary for dealing with crime–acts like theft, rape, murder and arson. Most of what's being called "bullying" today is not criminal behavior. We do not need new laws and policies to deal with crimes, as these are already forbidden and there are established systems for handling with them. The bullying field emerged to deal with the ordinary kind of social difficulties that all of us encounter on occasion–insults, rumors, social exclusion, nasty messages in cyberspace, and the non-injurious hitting and pushing that often goes on among children. 

Treating such acts like crimes that need to be investigated, judged and punished almost always intensifies hostilities between the parties involved. As the popular saying goes, “Snitches get stitches.”

The second is a psychological approach.

A scientific, psychological approach recognizes that bullying is an inevitable facet of social dynamics, occurring in both the animal and human kingdoms. People need to learn to deal with it.

The psychological solution involves equipping children to use their brains so they can understand the dynamics of bullying and put a stop to it on their own. It is not about protecting people from bullies but about teaching them how not to be victims. When people know how not to be victims, no one can bully them.

An age-old approach

 

The psychological approach is championed by Izzy Kalman, and it is not new. Philosophers have understood and taught the solution to bullying for thousands of years. However, we may not be aware of that because the philosophers did not use the term “bullying.”

Early in his career in schools, Kalman discovered how common the problem of bullying is. He looked at the phenomenon with therapeutic eyes, meaning that he was concerned with helping those who come for help. All people asking for help with interpersonal hostilities experience themselves as victims–they feel others are abusive to them. Kalman understood that the role of the therapist is not to play police officer, protecting clients from their perceived tormentors and fighting their battles for them. Doing that makes clients helpless and dependent. The therapeutic role is about leading clients to obtain insight into their problems and thereby solve them on their own. It is about teaching people how not to be victims. He discovered he could do so with great success by using role-playing to convey basic psychological principles and practical skills.

Izzy's Mission

​When the horrific Columbine shooting of 1999 ignited the national crusade against bullying, Izzy had already accumulated two decades of experience helping individuals and schools deal with bullying. The orthodox, Olweus-based, field of bullying, which had previously been an obscure branch of psychology, stepped up to the plate with the promise that it held the solution the world needed. Kalman immediately recognized that it was bound to cause more harm than good. Hoping to save society from the counterproductive orthodox approach, he left his position as a school psychologist with the New York City Department of Education to devote himself full-time to disseminating a more effective alternative.

Kalman has since produced books and audio/video materials teaching his approach to bullying, anger control, and relationship problems. His full-day seminars have been attended by fifty thousand mental health professionals and educators. He has presented at professional conferences, and intensively trained individual practitioners in his method. Most prominent of these is Brooks Gibbs, a motivational speaker whose videos presenting Kalman's ideas and techniques have been viewed by hundreds of millions of people. 

 

Kalman has also written more than any professional in the world on the problems with the orthodox Olweus approach to bullying. Most of his writings can be found on his Psychology Today column, Resilience to Bullying.

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FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Freedom of Speech is under assault from the anti-bullying movement, which sees this freedom as making verbal bullying permissible. Scientists refer to brain scans showing that pain centers are activated when people hear words that upset them as proof that offensive speech needs to be curtailed. Thus, they feel it is legitimate to curtail freedom of speech in order to prevent people from being hurt by bullying. On the other hand, there are psychologists who believe that Freedom of Speech, despite enabling bullying to exist, needs to be tolerated for a society to progress.

​Kalman has taken a more proactive stance towards Freedom of Speech. He explains–and also demonstrates through role-playing–that not only is this freedom something that needs to be cherished, it actually is the solution to verbal bullying, as well as many relationship problems. It’s when people have the attitude of “You have no right to talk to me that way!” that they end up being relentlessly bullied. When they take on the attitude of “You can say whatever you want and it’s perfectly okay,” they do not become victims of bullying. Kalman has been revealing that Freedom of Speech is the Constitutional version of the traditional “sticks-and-stones'' slogan, which is the traditional remedy to verbal bullying.