Bullying can be prevented with a 360-degree approach to understanding the behavior that starts early, and continues for a lifetime, leaving pure devastation in its wake.
By Sara G. Stephens, Managing Editor
October is National Bullying Prevention month. That’s a good thing, because bullying is a real problem that demands awareness and action. It’s also somewhat unfortunate, because bullying is a real problem that demands action and awareness every day, not just one month out of the year.
Responding to the cause, Houston’s AD Players and Holocaust Museum Houston are partnering to raise awareness and help prevent/stop bullying in schools, both during this national awareness month, and via ongoing efforts throughout the year.
The Bully Show!
From October 15 through November 9, A.D. Players will perform in “The Bully Show!” by Brian Guehring. This engaging and interactive play, reminiscent of “happenings” produced in the 60s, actually involves the audience in the performance, helping them internalize and empathize more closely with bullying from all perspectives—that of the bully, the victim, and the spectator.
The play opens with the audience’s arrival at the live taping of the pilot episode of a new game show. Carole and Frederico, the game show assistants, warm up the crowd and get them excited to see the show. Johnny the game show host, however, has made some last-minute changes to the show (to the surprise of the assistants), and the game show is now called “You Wanna Be a Bully.” The audience members, who are chosen to become contestants, play games where they have to identify who could be a bully or which scenes show bullying. As the game show progresses, Frederico tries to stand up for the contestants, but the host makes fun of him in order to entertain the crowd. Carole is reluctant to interfere between Johnny and Frederico as tension rises. Eventually the host pushes Frederico too far and the whole game show grinds to a halt. Carole stands up to Johnny and enlists the audience to help Johnny realize that he is a bully and that bullying is a serious problem. “The Bully Show!” aims to challenge upper elementary and middle school students to reconsider some of their assumptions about bullies and victims, to realize some of the consequences of bullying, and to stimulate further discussions on this issue. It can be used as a great tool to uniquely augment the bullying programs already being led by school counselors and teachers.
All A. D. Players Children’s Theater performances (excluding Christmas) will be held at A. D. Players Mainstage Theater at 2710 West Alabama in Houston.
In an effort to keep their production and its message alive well beyond October, the A.D. Players also are talking to the YMCA about cutting vignettes from the show and making them available to the organization’s after-school programs. Beyond October
Matthew Ross, of Ventures Marketing Group, is handling marketing and promotions for the A.D. Players and its bullying awareness partnership with the Holocaust Museum Houston. Passionate about the need to heighten visibility of bullying and its prevention, Ross says he is working on getting Houston Mayor Annisse Parker to issue an Anti-Bullying Proclamation.
“It’s a rare person who is not bullied in grade school or junior high or even high school,” Ross says. “We need to build an awareness of the kinds of bullying behaviors that exist and what do when we spot them. Parents, teachers, friends—everyone has a responsibility to stop a bullying behavior.”
Ross likens this responsibility to the “Good Samaritan” law, saying, “If someone gets hit by a car in a hit and run, most people wouldn’t think twice about stopping to help the victim. A hit-and-run bullying is no different.”
Bullying takes many forms and is not particular about age or venue. The same person who bullies in school, will grow up to bully in the workplace. And the country that looks the other way can easily become a nation of enablers, with epidemic proportions of bullying that can manifest as mob violence at its worst.
Ross talks about a Princeton study of bullying behavior in a class divided into two groups of prisoners and guards. The groups were told they could behave in any manner toward one another (excepting physical violence) they would not be watched, and there would be no consequences for their behavior.
“The resulting behavior was awful—physical intimidation and threats—that escalated into a mob mentality,” Ross recalls. “With mob violence, it’s been said you can only count on a limited amount of actual intelligence. You take the average intelligence of the group and divide it by the number of people in the mob. People watch for what’s allowed and take their actions from there.”
To explain this connection, Ross draws parallels to the historical Night of the Crystal Splinters (Kristallnacht), a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary and civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The attacks left the streets covered with broken glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues. At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.
This event represents the long-term consequences when bullying reaches national proportions. And it also explains the very natural connection between the Holocaust Museum Houston and Bullying Prevention Awareness.
The museum’s “All Behaviors Count” (ABC) program examines the five forms of social cruelty – taunting, bullying, rumoring, ganging up and exclusion from the group. Using the “ABC” curriculum, children and adults learn skills to identify and respond to social cruelty as empowered upstanders. The curriculum was created by Cynthia Capers, Associate Director of Education and Changing Exhibitions at the Holocaust Museum Houston, and Mary Lee Webeck, Ph.D., Director of Education.
Author and psychologist Dr. Carl Pickhardt coined the term “social cruelty,” which he defines as “antisocial behavior that serves a social purpose.” His work with adolescents has shown that bullying and other behaviors often exist in “good kids,” and that it is important to know why these behaviors are engaged. His work is relevant to parents, teachers and community leaders who work to address issues of social cruelty – teasing, exclusion, bullying, rumoring and ganging up. Pickhardt’s book, “Why Good Kids Act Cruel,” was influential in the creation of Holocaust Museum Houston’s “ABC” program, which addresses these issues.
Kids and parents need to understand at least two things about bullying, according to Ross.
Kids: Bullying is real and prevalent, and certain things in society, like the internet, have made it easier. “If we don’t all recognize and be aware and work to stop bullying, it will continue to devastate lives,” Ross explains. “Sometimes the damage is very minor, and other times, it ends in suicide. You must do what you can, as kids, to put a stop to it.”
Parents: Remember the late ‘80’s commercial about drug abuse, where a father is demanding to know why his son is smoking marijuana? The kids chilling response was, “I learned it by watching you.” The same is true of any behavior, even bullying. “Kids learn about bullying from role models,” Ross says, pointing out that some parents bully kids on behalf of their own kids, sometimes online and sometimes in person. “There’s so much in life that parents cannot control, but we can definitely control our own behavior modeling and what behavior we endorse in others for the sake of our children.
“Be aware. Take a role. And step up.”