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Wednesday, August 18 2021

Girls - They are Different

In the last newsletter we discussed the Queen Bee incidents as a form of bullying and manipulation.  Initially it could be thought that the difference is cultural, girls and boys have been taught to behave that way.   We give boys aggressive toys and girls things like dolls and toy kitchens to prepare them for their future roles.  Or maybe we just see what we expect to see, boys being boys and girls being girls. Despite this inclination to dismiss differences except on the grounds of an undeniable misogynistic norms of society I contend there is an evolutionary history that has resulted in differing responses to stress.

 

If we accept that early childhood abuse and the consequential Post Traumatic Stress Disorders drives dysfunctional behaviour then we need to look at some information.  When you study the school level data around abuse and dysfunctional behaviour, despite the incidents for abuse being higher for girls than boys, the number of boys being suspended or placed in a specialist setting far outweighs that of girls.  This is because the boys act out, are aggressive while the girls internalize, are compliant.   The reality is there is a difference that is impossible to ignore.

 

The best explanation I have heard about this difference is an evolutionary view that in early times, once humans generally became the dominant species one of the greatest threats for survival was attack from another tribe.  When this occurred, the victors would kill the males and take the women and children as trophies.  Sadly, this practice has echoes in modern conflicts where atrocities such as the killings in Bosnia were predominantly of males and the recent incidents of the abduction of school girls in Africa reflect this difference.

 

When you examine the suspension data in schools, the boys do outnumber the girls across the age ranges but at the onset of puberty, the time we move from childhood, the number of boys suspended for aggressive behaviour dramatically increases.  This implies that for the best chance of survival the children of both genders have adapted certain behaviours; women would become compliant and the men fight or flight.  Not always were male children taken in some instances they were also killed.  This behaviour is not confined to our species; it is common practice in a lot of herding animals such as the great apes and lions.

 

One of the tragedies of this ‘difference’ is that despite suffering more abuse the girls are neglected.  Because the boy’s behaviour demands attention the bulk of the resources provided for dysfunctional students are focused on dealing with boys.  As a teacher, a compliant girl frozen in her mind, is so much easier to deal with than a boy who is abusing you.  However, both boys and girls are in serious need of attention and support but only boys tend to get it.

 

This explains why the girls use more covert, passive methods to get their needs met albeit in dysfunctional ways.

 

Although we referred to some of the tactics when discussing the Queen Bee phenomena these are not only used for that social arrangement, the girls can use them in isolation.  The following is some of the ways they are used:

Put Downs

  • These can be a judgmental remark or a passive gesture where the opinion of one girl is ignored. Most effective when carried out in front of the whole group.
  • Making jokes that are funny to everyone else but not the victim.  When challenged instigator often appears indignant, “Can’t they just take a joke?”

Exclusion

  • Any type of physical, social or psychological rejection is hurtful to the victim.  It has been demonstrated that the same parts of the brain are activated as when they are physically hurt.
  • The cold shoulder, this is subtle and therefore effective. Easy for the instigator to deny any involvement.  Another way to achieve this is to attract the victim’s friends away by welcoming them into what appears to be a more attractive group.

Scandalize

  • Destroy the girl’s network of friends isolating her.  The easiest for adolescent girls is to destroy her sexual reputation.  The use of technology has made this so much easier to do and the lack of direct contact somehow makes the aggressors more blazon in their attacks.

 

Attachment is undoubtedly one of our most powerful drives and during these adolescent years these are in a state of flux.  It is a time when we move away from our parental homes and a major instinct is to begin to search for a partner.  This begins with the formation the group that we think reflects our needs.  As mentioned at the beginning girls and boys are different, that is not to say boys have it easy to establish these attachments but I would contend that their ‘roles’ are more defined, girls have to work within their cohort to find where they fit.

 

For girls with a history of abuse and neglect this means they come to the cohort already at a great disadvantage.  Their sense of shame (see Newsletter 14 - Toxic Shame – 3 July 2017) makes them believe they are not as good as the other girls and will always be vulnerable.  However, all girls will benefit from being taught the dynamics of group interaction and using the Queen Bee as a model we can make all the girls aware of the dynamics of relationships.

 

Some of the ‘topics’ can be:

  • ‘Good popularity’, what is it and how is it different from ‘bad popularity’?
  • Fear is not the same as friendship
  • The need to respect each other’s right to a safe, secure and happy learning environment
  • What are the characteristics of the girl everyone wants to be. Discuss what is right, and wrong with this
  • What are the characteristics of the girl everyone does not want to be. Discuss what is right, and wrong with this

 

Throughout these Newsletters I promote the belief that happy, safe and secure students are better learners and will succeed at school.  At my last school we ran a program exclusively for the girls which included surveys, meetings with parents and placing those girls identified as playing the roles in the Queen Bee Model and teaching each group about the dynamics and consequences of their behaviour.  This was extremely successful except for those who were identified as ‘Queens’.  They showed little or no remorse and were quite satisfied to be identified as the ‘top’ even if it was top of a toxic grouping.  I suspect other drives are at play with these girls.

 

Another thing we did at my school and suggest all schools should adopt this policy.  Every proactive program we initiated to address antisocial behaviour had to have at least equal numbers of girls and boys.  This meant we had to learn to identify those girls who hid their suffering as opposed to the boys who readily demonstrated theirs with acting out behaviour.  Girls do get abused more than boys and in our patriarchal society girls get less chance to access help.  Great teachers know this and all teachers should know this!

Posted by: AT 07:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 02 2021

Indirect Bullying

The first two Newsletters in this series addressed a major problem in most schools – bullying (There’s More to Bullying than Meets the Eye – 21 March 2017 and Bullying and Power – 27 March 2017).  I was recently going back through my work and I was reminded about the phenomena of Indirect Bullying presented by Anna Wallace who was at the UTS Psychology Unit.

 

There are many definitions of bullying and the NSW Department’s definition sums it up in the following way.  Bullying behaviour has three key features:

  • It involves the intentional misuse of power in a relationship
  • It is ongoing and repeated
  • It involves behaviours that can cause harm

It is relatively easy to identify direct bullying, when you see it, it is over and is directed at the victim.  Of course, direct bullying does happen in the playground and before or after school and it is not easy to eradicate.  The advantage in dealing with direct bullying is the perpetrator really has no defence when their behaviour is exposed.

 

Indirect bullying can be expressed openly but more likely to be a sneaky attack on another’s self-esteem or social relationships.  In most cases, all aggression is designed to get the other person to change their behaviour, there are exceptions with students diagnosed with narcissism or socio/psychopathy; dominating others is their primary drive.  However, bullying is a cover for those who are being challenged by the presence of another and they behave in a way that they hope will force the ‘victim’ to change.  Those who feel superior to others will directly attack them with threats of physical or psychological aggression.  There is no real subtlety in their behaviour.

 

Indirect bullying more often than not enlists the support of others.  They do this by:

  • Talking About the Victim – gossiping, spreading rumours and breaking confidences, they do this in a way they know the victim will find out.
  • Exclusion – They commandeer the group to ignore the victim, hang out in a ‘special’ part of the playground, etc.  Exclusion is an extremely powerful technique and taken to extremes will devastate the victim.

The silent treatment is another classic attack.  How can I be in trouble because I didn’t speak to him/her?

  • The ‘Death Stare’ – Every teacher worth their salt has had a student complain that another child in the room was ‘looking at me’!  This non-verbal behaviour seems ridiculous but the effects of being stared at are damaging.  The easy advice is to tell them to ignore it but that won’t solve the problem.  Along with this non-verbal behaviour is the use of sarcasm, ‘why would I look at you’ and when the teacher’s back is turned they use an intimidating gesture!
  • Social Media – the telephone has been around for years and the prank call has been a weapon for bullies however, the explosion of social media and the almost universal ownership of mobile phones provides the ‘perfect’ medium for indirect bullying.  All the techniques mentioned above are catered for through all of the media platforms.

If there is an ‘advantage’ to be found in the use of social media is that victims can and should collect the messages, they can use a ‘screen shot’ of the offending message and present it as evidence.

 

Dealing with indirect bullying is difficult for the teacher.  In a class of over twenty there is plenty of opportunity for the most determined bully to make a move on their victim without the teacher knowing.  It is also difficult for the teacher to understand just how damaging it is for the victim.  As an adult, receiving a ‘death stare’ from a child should not be threatening.  However, one thing we often overlook when dealing with aggression towards a child is the difference in physical presence between the perpetrator and victim.  I use the following example when presenting workshops on child abuse.  As a full-size adult (say about 1.8 metres tall) you go and stand under a basketball hoop and then imagine someone about 3.0 metres, fill out in proportion with muscles, etc. was attacking, you would be scared.  For children the contrast is even more frightening. The point is we should never under estimate how vulnerable little kids are, not just physically but psychologically.  Never dismiss things like the ‘death stare’.

 

Teachers understand that physical and verbal assaults or forcing people to do things they don’t want to do is bullying!  There is less agreement about the seriousness of name calling, gossip or non-verbal behaviour.  They agree this is not good but, in some cases, they feel dealing with this level of bullying is not their ‘business’ it is part of ‘toughening-up’ and think the kids should learn to sort out these behaviours.

 

There is an assumption that all kids come with the same level of resilience and healthy sense of self.  Followers of these Newsletters understand that so many of our children come to the classroom already suffering a range of mental health issues we unite under the designation of suffering toxic shame (see Toxic Shame – 31 August 2020).  These kids have the common belief that they are bad and not deserving of belonging.  Being excluded by others adds to this destructive belief pattern and takes them away from any form of rehabilitation.

 

This is not to suggest that children with a history of abuse are not capable of bullying.  On the contrary they can be unrelenting in their attacks on others.  You have to remember ‘in most cases bullying is a cover’ for how the obvious success of a particular student will show-up the bully’s insecurities.  This is not an excuse for bullies but a clue for dealing with them.

 

So, what to do.  First the teacher should teach their class about bullying, what it is, what people do it and the damage it can do.  The students need to understand that bullying is real and what might be happening to them now is not a ‘unique’ behaviour.

 

The next thing I would do is teach the kids about boundaries, I would contend that teaching effective boundaries to your students would provide them with one of the most powerful defence mechanisms they could have (see Teaching Practical Boundaries – 31 July 2017).  It would pay to remind us of what these are:

 

1. Recognition that your Boundaries are being Challenged

Be conscious of your feelings towards the class and the lesson. If you can sense your feelings are changing, becoming frustrated or worried your boundary is being challenged; this change of feelings is a ‘stress attack’.

 

2. Actively Stay Calm

We are well aware that if we become too stressed we lose our objectivity but be grateful for the initial onset because it alerts you that there is a problem.

It is important that you learn to quickly control that stress.  There are many techniques to learn how to evoke a quick relaxation response. The use of neuro- linguistic programming is excellent for this however any short relaxation technique followed by the establishment of an associated cue (the anchor) will do.

 

3. Ask the Questions

  • ‘What is really happening’?  This is often not the obvious event.
  • ‘Who is responsible’?
    • If ‘me’ then I must take responsibility, take action to address the cause of the stress.
    • If not ‘me’ then I ask a further two questions:
      • ‘What is causing the attack’?
      • 'What do I have to do to change this situation in the long run’?

4. Take Action

Assert your right without threatening the other person.  You can use the statements:

  • ‘When you ……’
  • ‘I feel…………….’
  • ‘Because………’

Other follow-up newsletters on boundaries are:

  • Boundary Considerations – 22 October 2018
  • Respecting Other’s Boundaries – 26 November 2018

 

Bullying occurs across our community, in schools, work places and homes.  Teaching kids to stand-up to bullies in an appropriate way not only builds their sense of self it also strengthens the bonds across our community.

Posted by: AT 11:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, May 31 2021

Restorative Justice - Proceed with Care

Restorative justice is an approach for dealing with the damage sustained by individuals and/or society as a result of offending behaviour.  It became popular in the late 1990’s and subsequently developed into an accepted technique to patch up the relationship between the victims and offenders of crimes.  By 2006 a range of authorities used this approach as part of their procedures in dealing with ‘crime’ including police, judges, politicians and victim support groups.  The practice of restorative justice eventually found its way into schools and in some cases, it became so important it underpinned their discipline policies.  I understand the attraction of this approach, in theory everyone thrives but there are times when this is really inappropriate and damaging especially to the victim.

 

Restorative justice is a procedure where all stakeholders affected by an injustice together confront the situation and have the opportunity to clarify what happened, how it affected them and how to repair the relationships.  This process has been commercialised by a number of organisations and they present their structured approach to this process.  What they have in common is that a meeting is organised by a facilitator between the victim and the offender with the aim of having the perpetrator listen to the victim’s statement so they accept the impact of their behaviour and empathise with the victim.

 

The facilitator would guide the meeting following a process based on similar questions as those below:  

 

  • Who has been hurt?
  • What are their needs?
  • Whose obligations are these?
  • What are the causes?
  • Who has a stake in the situation?
  • What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to address causes and put things right?

In 2013 the Cochrane Developmental, Psychosocial and Learning Problems Group based in London, in a review of this process stressed the need for the offender to meet the victim face-to-face.  They suggested that it is effective because:

  • The offender has to learn about the harm they have caused to their victim, making it hard for them to justify their behavior.
  • It offers a chance to discuss moral development to offenders who may have had little of it in their life.
  • Offenders are more likely to view their punishment as legitimate.

 

An extension of this approach occurs when the perpetrators explain what motivated their behaviour, what they wanted to achieve.  This allows the perpetrator to give their side of the story.  The programs tend to avoid shaming and stigmatizing the offender however, for the children we focus on, this public exposure to their inappropriate behaviour reinforces their sense of worthlessness.  Their personal experience of toxic shame; that they haven’t done something bad to others but they are bad for others.

 

This leads to the first of my concerns, understanding the power of the victim!  Experienced teachers who have worked with severely dysfunctional children will have witnessed the power of being a victim.  These kids will consciously or even unconsciously ‘annoy’ a fellow student who has little control over their behaviours.  They can be barefaced in their attempt to get the ‘perpetrator’ to lash-out at them, it’s as easy as insulting their mother!  When the perpetrator attacks the ‘victim’ he or she runs to the authority for protection.  Less subtle ways use behaviours described as passive-aggressive where the victim continually ‘annoys’ the perpetrator by just being ‘around’ until they get sick of them and they ‘attack’ them. 

The diagram below illustrates this connection.

 

This becomes a cycle: when the victim informs the facilitator, this is an act of aggression against the aggressor because they expect the aggressor will be punished.  If the facilitator is not mindful of the manipulation taking place, they will punish the aggressor who has now taken on the role of victim.  This use of victim power is not likely to be revealed in any restorative justice approach.  It requires the expertise of the facilitator, it is unlikely any student with a history of abuse or neglect would have the insight to point this out.

A second concern is an inequity of the relative personal power of the aggressor and victim.  Some students develop disorders that attract the diagnosis of narcissism, sociopathy or even psychopathy.  These students care little about the feelings of their victims and in fact they enjoy seeing them suffer.  This presents a huge problem for meetings facilitated using a restorative justice approach. You can rest assured that both the victim and perpetrator know where each stands; the victim understands they are no match for the perpetrator and the latter will even enjoy playing with the facilitator.  I have seen these people in action, to the uninformed facilitator the perpetrator will admit to all their wrong-doings, they are only too willing to apologize to the victim.  Both the perpetrator and the victim know that if the victim doesn’t declare satisfaction with the process and ‘forgive’ the perpetrator once the process is over they will be dealt with!  In these cases, the facilitator will report an ‘excellent outcome’ where punishment was avoided!

 

The danger of using restorative justice practices for disputes between individuals is fraught with danger.  Of course, there are cases where the approach will benefit all involved but this is not as likely when you are dealing with students whose dysfunctional behaviour caused the dispute.  These very damaged kids do not have the personal qualities developed to undertake what is a relatively sophisticated process.  This is why our approach of providing structure, expectations within a caring and supportive environment is important.  Eventually these kids will start to develop the qualities of trust and a healthy sense of their own worth.  If this can be achieved then these students could benefit from restorative justice but we would hope that by then there would be no need of this approach!

Posted by: AT 12:38 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 27 2017

Newsletter 2

Bullying and Power

This is a follow-up to the first Newsletter and explains the connection between power and bullying.  The vulnerability to be bullied is dependent on how a child or adult perceives their sense of power in relation to others.  In regards to personal power in relationships this can be defined as ‘the ability or perceived right to control people or their environment’.  It is the distinction of ‘rank’ within a set of domains that defines a person’s supremacy.

So in a broad sense it may well be appropriate for the community to invest power onto individuals or onto formal organizations such as the police, judiciary and parliament to adjudicate on disputes that affect community members.  These organizations are intended to make precise decisions when specialist knowledge is required or use their power to protect citizens from exploitation or abuse.

The issue where bullying is concerned is where the distribution of power between individuals and groups allows those in a subordinate position to be hurt, threatened or forced to do something for no other reason than to gratify the bully.  Those who believe they have power-over others are inclined to direct them to do their bidding.

In any dispute the person or group in the superior or one-up position usually takes on an aggressive stance to attack the other’s rights.  Those in the lesser, one-down position are likely to take a passive position and tolerate their loss of ‘rights’.

People as a rule know where they stand in any group; it is the well-known pecking order. During my years teaching kids with behaviour issues I could randomly select about five students and get them to line-up from the most powerful to the least powerful.  Invariably they would line up with only the occasional dispute over who was the least powerful.  I never took this step lightly, I am aware that it is challenging and would be abusive if it was not related to a lesson about power and I will get back to this point later. I know I could also confidently do this with the teachers in the school.

The girls’ ‘Queen Bee’ phenomena described by Sussana Stern is another demonstration of the distribution of power and this is easily seen in most playgrounds with the queen, her lieutenants – second in command, wannabees, etc. all taking up their designated position.

Traditionally the factors that defined what position a person took in a dispute was governed by:

  1. Their position in the family and the influence of their relatives.  This is the class structure we deny having in Australia just like we deny there is racism.  Unless you are on the receiving end you are oblivious to its existence.
  2. The school attended will also define your position.  This is one of the strong drives for people to get their children into ‘good schools’.  It’s also a class issue and the practice and the result is children are becoming more tribal and isolated from their immediate communities.
  3. Gender is still a real concern in the issue of perceived power.  The glass ceiling is not an imagined impediment to women and despite the protests by too many of our powerful community leaders being a female or a member of a gender-diverse group will automatically be seen as a one-down, lesser position.

In recent years another factor has emerged that reinforces perceived power and that is celebrity.  In our modern, connected world just how popular you are is an indication of the power you have.  Celebrities are paid excessive amounts to endorse products or organizations.  Now we have celebrities telling us about bullying, about science and having their opinions sought on all types of issues.  The ultimate outcome of this authorization of celebrity is that a person who had the three traditional advantages described above plus the additional benefit of celebrity has become the president of the USA!

Fortunately there is a way out; power-over in the sense of personal worth is a myth.  This is the lesson I taught the students when I lined them up.  You never gain any power over another; it must be given to you.  I taught the students that everyone is unique; no one was better or worse.  We came with different talents and characteristics.  Comparisons can be about capabilities, I might be able to run faster than you but I will never be better then you.  We give power to institutions because we believe they are there to protect us.  We defer to them but only for issues we accept and we control them through the democratic process.

Teaching kids the idea of real equity is hard when society is saturated with examples of better, or less-then conditioning.  The whole advertising industry exploits our natural fears of not being good enough to convince us into buying their products.  Having a certain car, drinking a certain beer, wearing a brand of clothes, etc. all this will make us powerful.  This is a difficult battle to win because advertising dollars funds the media and unfortunately modern media determines our culture.

The appointment of Trump, now the bully with the biggest arsenal proves that unless we come to terms about power it will be left up to teachers and parents to eliminate bullying by removing the element of unequal power distribution and that will occur when we bring all our children up to equity.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Frew Consultants Group AT 02:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 21 2017

We have just completed a week where our national focus has been on bullying.  Our ABC has certainly placed a good deal of emphasis on this problem and has featured two of our great celebrities Ian Thorpe and Tara Moss to deal with this important issue.  They both make strong cases against bullying including direct bullying and the modern dangers of cyber bullying.  However, after years of combating this problem the simplistic approach presented fails to explain the complexity faced by those who have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.

There are some particular points that need to be made regarding this problem. These are to remember bullying is a specific form of aggression.  It is selective, uninvited, repetitive oppression of one person or group by another.  It involves three elements – intent to hurt or harm; power imbalance; and repetition over time.  It takes many forms and guises including physical aggression; verbal abuse; emotional aggression (or blackmail); intimidation; harassment and exclusion.  The NSW Department of Education defines bullying as “repeated verbal, social or psychological behaviour that is harmful and involves the misuse of power by individuals or groups towards one or more persons”. 

The simple solution to the problem is that we just stop the practice of bullying but the simple answer, like all simple answers ignores an insidious component that underpins the act of bullying.  The complex factor schools deal with is mentioned in the definition above and that is the element of power.  The failure to understand the importance of power in the practice of bullying has led to the huge problem we now face.

First look at the dynamics of a power tussle, there are three positions that will be taken in any clash.  These are:

1. The Perpetrator

The perpetrator is the ‘obvious’ overt aggressor in the dispute.  The perpetrator assumes the domination over his/her opponents and feels confident that they will not be damaged by some counter attack.

2. The Victim

The victim becomes the ‘obvious’ casualty in the dispute.  They will not obviously retaliate at their opponent because it is assumed they will only receive more damage.  When people do retaliate we are dealing with a dispute, a different problem.

3. The Rescuer

This is the ‘agent’ who is called on to protect the victim.  In our modern system, for children this becomes the school staff.  Of course schools do and have always acted to protect kids from bullies.  Apart from some well-publicised cases in the past the vast majority of schools don’t need to be told of their responsibilities by celebrities.  But it is the rescuer that holds the key to the complexity.

Now these three power positions interact in a way that makes what appears to be a simple issue complicated.  In the first instance the aggressor has the one-up position.  He/she has power over the victim.  This is easily understood and reported on by the press.

The second phase is more complex.  When the victim is identified they call on the rescuer to make the bullying stop.  This act, in a sense means the victim exerts power over the rescuer to force them to act.  Before we jump to any conclusion this is appropriate and should occur. 

So we move to the third phase where the rescuer, through some position authority exercises power over the initial aggressor and in a sense the rescuer takes a one-up, power-over position.  The aggressor becomes the victim and rightly receives the consequences of their initial action.

Now we address what can be a subtle manipulation of power.  In some cases and schools will know of many such cases a student who appears to be vulnerable will covertly annoy a seemingly more confident child until that child reacts and asserts their rights to be left alone.  When this occurs the action of the ‘professional victim’ will immediately call on their rescuer to punish the confident child.  In the first instance this will be through the school but the professional victim will complain to their parents who go to the school and sort things out.  The parent arrives at the school and demands the apparent aggressor be punished.  The parent becomes the aggressor and the principal becomes the victim.

So now we have to look at the real power in this scenario.  Sometimes the parent certainly does attack the school by taking a one-up position making the school the victim, the target of their aggression.  This form of interaction underpins the problem of increasing teacher abuse.  But, the real power lies in in the hands of the professional victim.  They have asserted power over the initial child, the parent and through the parent the school.

The dynamics of the power triangle illustrates the complexity involved in dealing with bullying.

Bullying needs to be taken seriously. But we also need to be discerning about bullying behaviours.  They are always underpinned by people’s need to have power over their lives.  Until we learn that we can only have real power over ourselves and we should not attempt to get our power needs met at the expense of others will the issue of bullying be solved.  The real solution is to teach the victim to assert their own power when confronted by bullies.

On the other hand when we observe the unhealthy distribution of power across the world is it any wonder kids continue to bully each other.

Posted by: Frew Consultants Group AT 02:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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