What Is—and Isn’t—Bullying? (Unrestrained Episode 6)
Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker, school counselor, and Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute. She has over fifteen years of experience working with children, adolescents, and families. Signe presents training workshops across the U.S. and Canada for parents and professionals on topics related to child and adolescent mental and behavioral health. In her articles, books, and training workshops, Signe provides down-to-earth, practical advice for navigating the daily challenges of living and working with children, tweens, and teens. As a clinician, she shares her professional knowledge and advice for approaching complex issues, such as coping with bullying, managing anger, and changing self-defeating patterns of behavior. Signe is the author of 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents & Schools, Friendship and Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying, and How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens.
Here are a few of the highlights from my conversation with Signe.
On taking bullying seriously (2:52)
“Finally, we are paying attention to bullying; finally, we’re taking it seriously. But at the same time we have people that just roll their eyes and they groan and they just don’t want to hear about it anymore. So one of the things that I try to do, really at the beginning of every presentation that I do, (and in fact, as you mentioned it’s in the very first chapter of my 8 Keys to End Bullying book) is to make distinctions between rude, mean, and bullying behaviors so that adults and parents know what they’re dealing with and they know when to intervene. Because what we don’t want is for bullying to go back into the shadows again or become a little boy who cried wolf issue.”
On the “bully-victim” (6:27)
“Bully-victim is a term that’s used to describe kids that show aggression toward their peers but also tend to be frequent targets of aggression by others. And research tells us that up to one-third of bullying is carried out by bully-victims, so this is a really important group for us to pay attention to. I think, in terms of the psychological profile as you said, I think it’s important for us to realize that the bully-victim tends to be a child who struggles to regulate their emotional responses. They’re volatile; they’re easily overwhelmed by emotions. They also tend to be more anxious, more depressed, and lonelier than the average child. And it’s easy to take this sort of bully-victim profile and think this is a troubled kid, this is a bad kid. But what’s really important for healthy adults to do is to look beyond the behavior and see beyond the psychological profile, understand the thoughts and feelings driving that behavior, and try to start there with the child to help them change, rather than just addressing this surface behavior that really doesn’t reveal enough about what’s going on with the child underneath the surface.”
On her book, Friendship and Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying (17:30)
“The inspiration for the book came because studies show that bullying peaks in middle school. And I just couldn’t help think if we’re seeing the behavior in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, what can we do to offer some protection, some inoculation to our younger kids so that they know bullying when they see it? They know how to choose positive friendships. They’re learning skills for how to treat each other, how to stand up for themselves, how to stand up for other people in these earlier years so that it is not peaking in middle school. Sort of an idealistic pie in the sky, how can we save this generation of kids and start at a very young age? So that was sort of my inspiration to write this book targeted at social and emotional competencies for young kids. What I’ve been really excited to find out is that people are using the book with boys as well. They’re using it through the upper elementary and even middle school years. And I think the things that people tell me are most effective are the activities that really focus on giving kids a voice and giving them concrete skills for knowing what to do in bullying situations.”