This post is part of a ChicagoNow group project. We were paired with other bloggers and told to interview each other. I received Kourtney Peagram, founder of Bulldog Solution Inc. and author of Bully Boot Camp as my assignment. I want to take a moment to thank our Community Managers, Jimmy Greenfield and Shavon Banket for giving me the opportunity to meet an amazing woman.
Kourtney Peagram has dedicated her life to stopping bullying. Armed with a PhD. in Business Psychology and an eight week program she developed on her way to her doctorate, she is working hard at realizing her life's goal. To start, she simply and effectively addresses many of the misconceptions of what is and is not bullying.
In her succinct definition, bullying is "Using your power to intentionally hurt someone physically or verbally over a period of time". But, it is just as important to understand what bullying is not.
For example, she cites a news report in which a journalist stated that people rising the social ladder are being bullied. By this definition, because that person is in the ascendancy, they are not being bullied. They are the ones who have the social power. While this may seem a fine hair to split, it's implications are far reaching.
The intent of that journalist may have been to address the issue of bullying and help relate the problem to a wider audience. But instead it diminished the issue by diluting the meaning. Worse, it minimizes the very real pain of those who are truly being bullied by inferring that since everyone is bullied, it is no big deal. Bullying is a big deal and can have very serious life long repercussions both for those on the receiving end as well as those who act out in this way.
This is the crux of the Bulldog Solution- addressing both sides of this form of relational aggression.
The name Bulldog Solution was inspired by Kourtney's sister. When she was faced with the gargantuan task of starting her company, her sister told her to be relentless, go for it, grab on and don't let go. In other words, be a bulldog.
Then, one day while reading a couple ChicagoNow blogs she greatly admires, Shannan Younger of "Tween Us" and Carrie Goldman, author of the "Portrait of an Adoption" blog she noticed the little button, "Pitch Your Idea". It was the perfect way for her to both create awareness and give parents the resources and tools they need.
She seems a bit surprised at her reception and at how many people she has touched.
The fact that she has is evident in the responses, comments and contacts she receives. This has also given her the motivation to keep doing what she is doing. As she said, "I don't have the answers to everything. I do what I do because I'm passionate about it. I have the education to back myself up. With the right training, we can give kids the tools."
So, how do you stop bullying? It seems that what our grandparents told us was right. It is about morals, about being a good person, about caring how the other guy feels. It is also about teaching kids good conflict resolution skills and bolstering self-esteem; in other words, addressing both sides of the equation.
When kids are bullied, teaching them resilience is as important as showing them how to effectively seek help. But, for that to work, parents, teachers and others need to both identify the difference between drama and bullying as well as understand how to effectively address it when it happens.
Often, we hear experts talk about solutions and wonder how they would deal with the problem if it were their own child on the receiving end of the taunts, social ostracization and even threats. Kourtney has put her money where her mouth is.
Her response to the hypothetical, (her daughter is still a toddler) is, "I'd sit her down, ask her to tell me what is going on. Start to finish, what happened, who did what, what did you say back. I'd ask her if this is drama or bullying." Most importantly, I'd ask her, "how did this happen, who needs to be involved and if you could picture the best possible scenario, what would happen?"
Kourtney says the power of questions is very important. Before a parent contacts the school ask your child, what do you want me to do? There is a very real risk of parents, meaning well and just trying to protect their child, ending up making the situation worse. If there is no effective conflict resolution program in the school, and the situation is deemed to be bullying, zero tolerance policies come into play. Often, kids get suspended but nothing gets resolved.
This is not meant to intimate there should be no consequences for bullying, just that they need to be in line with the situation and ideally, teach a lesson. In order to decipher exactly what that is, all parties involved must sit down and talk, though not together at least initially. Ask the perpetrators why. Ask the bullied why. Perhaps suspension is appropriate, but without these conversations, without understanding what is driving the behavior, it will happen again. And again.
Sitting kids down for conversations about boundaries, respect for themselves and others, teaching that name calling is unacceptable are all lessons that should be ongoing, before and after a reported or suspected incident. Giving teachers, schools and parents the tools to recognize the difference between kids getting mad at each other over boyfriend/girlfriend issues and bullying is also critical. As is helping ring leaders learn how to use their power in positive ways.
At the same time, we need to give the one on the outside the skills, the self-esteem, to defend themselves in positive ways so the imbalance of power doesn't occur. Often, simply listening to a child who is being bullied, and validating their feelings is what they want most. Ideally, getting the bully to do this is the goal. If that isn't possible, giving the recipient of the bullying the tools and the strength to navigate the rocky shoals that is childhood can be enough.
One of the most easily realizable goals is ending the bystander mentality that bullying requires. Kids fear if they defend the object of the bully's wrath, they too will be bullied. Teaching them that if everyone is a defender, no one is a victim is a pretty easy lesson to learn. Along with that simple lesson, things like empathy, compassion and respect can take root and flower as well.
There is a perception that bullying is a bigger problem in this generation, a thought Kourtney acknowledges. She says, before the world of 24/7/365 communications and social media, when a kid got off the school bus, they could escape their tormentors. Now, it is on their computers and their phones. Even at home there is no safe zone for these kids. So, while bullying is nothing new it is now constant and unrelenting. Qualitatively it may be the same, but quantity matters.
This is the world in which we, and our kids, live. They are the first generation of the social media age. With Kourtney's program, perhaps we can also live in an age where the social mores of previous generations can teach kids how to be connected 24/7/365 in a positive way.
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