Followup on understanding cyberbullying

By Anne Collier

The other day I wrote about the need to work on cyberbullying more from the inside-out, and my mention of social media researcher danah boyd’s field work elicited a thoughtful email from a risk-prevention specialist whose work I follow closely, author and risk-prevention specialist Patricia Agatston in the Atlanta area. She wrote that danah’s findings “get me thinking about Rudolph Dreikur’s/Alfred Adler’s work again.” I thought her insights would be helpful to you, so I got Patti’s permission to share them with you:

Dreikur and Adler’s theory, she wrote, “has always helped me understand behavior. The basis is that all behavior is purposeful. Kids [probably not unlike adults] engage in behavior to achieve various goals, including attention, power, revenge, and even excitement. They can do so in positive or negative ways. When they feel like they belong, they are more likely to achieve their goals in positive ways, but when discouraged or doubting self … more negative ways,” bullying being a negative form of power-seeking, of course. A good way to address this, then, is to give kids “opportunities to have power in a positive way” – finding an activity in which they can be a leader. “They can train the elderly in using technology, help organize an event (especially some sort of cause or community service) or be encouraged to look out for younger students who need some extra support. But it is important to guide them along the way so they learn the difference between being a leader and being a ‘boss’,” Patti wrote. Besides power-seeking and the attention-seeking danah boyd wrote about, other “goals” might be revenge or just excitement (the kind that drama queens and kinds might be after).

“So in addition to addressing issues of power,” Patti wrote, “we also need to make sure kids are validated and feel belonging. They need a useful way to achieve their goals of attention (blogging for social change, performing, creating, etc), power, and excitement in positive ways. Youth who are seeking revenge in particular can be challenging to work with, since their goal is to hurt others as they have been hurt, but they are also often very sensitive to the mistreatment of others and can be encouraged to use their sensitivity to help others.”

All kids need guidance “in developing social interests that encourage contribution and social feeling (empathy),” Patti continued. The opposite of socially interested behavior would be selfish behavior. I’m not saying that there is never a time to be selfish, but when our primary problem solving method is to look out for No. 1 vs. to consider others’ needs/perspectives, then our behavior is more likely to cause harm.” Socially interested behavior needs to be taught at home, at school, and online, she wrote.

Another educator in this space, Dr. Dawna Meehan, who helps elementary and middle schools develop risk-prevention programs, pointed out a Canadian program in empathy training that has gotten solid results. It’s described at this way: “At the heart of the program are classroom visits by an infant and parent. Through guided observations of this loving relationship, children learn to identify and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings and those of others (empathy). Independent evaluations consistently show children who receive Roots of Empathy experience dramatic and lasting effects in terms of increased positive social behaviour (sharing, helping and including) and decreased aggression.”

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