Author, Raising Bully-Proof Kids
Founded The Protectors in 2005, a group that provides faith-based solutions to bullying
Has appeared in/on: NY Times, LA Times, Focus on the Family, Good Morning, Nightline, etc.
Married to Sandy, 3 teenagers
Paul Coughlin: Bully-proof Your Kids
The 700 Club
JUSTICE BEGINS ON THE PLAYGROUND
Bullying is now the leading concern among parents and students – surpassing illicit sexual activity, drug use and gang activity according to a Harris Poll 2011. Over 13 million kids will be bullied in our country this year. Paul says this often misunderstood and growing form of abuse is not the result of conflict or related issues. “It’s the use of superior power to intentionally harm another over a period of time, and the result is heartbreaking,” he says. Bullying continues to play a complex role in the suicide of numerous children, and one study of 43,000 students revealed that bullying may be worse in private Christian schools among high school-aged boys.
Paul says the new PG-13 documentary “Bully” is a disturbingly factual about what is called the “theater of bullying.” There is so much in it that should cause indignation, including how blind some in authority are to this growing problem. It sheds tremendous light on the problem while not trying to provide solutions. The creators believed they didn’t have time to both show the problems and the solutions. Their goal was to break our hearts and move us to action. Paul says it is essential that church youth group leaders bring their students and have candid discussions. Paul reminds us that the church has been the tip of the spear in defending human dignity in and outside of the church. “He calls us to defend,” says Paul.
On May 19, Paul and Saddleback Church will be partnering together with “Justice Begins on the Playground.” They will be training leaders throughout the community about the real world of bullying and offering real, effective solutions. The training is free. They will also be showing “The Bully.”
TRUTH ABOUT BULLIES
Paul says many parents today are raising kids who are soft, compliant and pleasant instead of assertive, courageous and virtuous. “Kids are being told not to exert their will, don’t stand up and fight and don’t do conflict,” says Paul. “Fearful parents are raising fear-filled children.” As a soccer coach, Paul sees how many parents and children interact. He calls parents who hover over their children “helicopter parents.” Most have no idea how micromanaging hurts their kids. “By taking everything into their own hands and trying to make life smooth and painless, parents are preventing children from developing the abilities they need to deal with conflict,” says Paul. He believes that overparenting children creates children who are unable to connect with others. “These lonely children tend strongly toward depression,” says Paul. “Timid, isolated kids see offense where no offense is given. The child becomes a potential target for bullies.”
Paul says we need to learn why certain kids are singled out by bullies. In order to help our children become confident, courageous and successful, we must confront bullying. The effects of bullying on school campuses do not only include the effects upon the victims who live in constant fear but also on the bullies. “Bullies who aren’t confronted by peers and leaders don’t receive the confrontation and correction they need to do well in life,” says Paul. “They often go on to bully as adults.”
Most bullying is not physical, but in other ways it still shoves, pushes and punches. It’s often social, like spreading rumors and lies. “A bully’s teasing is not good natured,” says Paul. “It intends to sting, discredit and exclude.” Bullies, Paul points out, are often both the abuser and the abused. “They frequently receive parenting that uses unhealthy force to get them to behave in a certain way,” says Paul. “School bullies are often bullied at home where their will, wants and desires are overridden and trampled. In turn, they override and trample others.” There is also a perception that bullies have more testosterone in their bodies than others. Paul says one study shows the opposite. “Hormones aren’t required for the doling out of abuse. A deflated sense of others and an inflated view of self are far more common,” he says. If your child is a bully, Paul says to look for warning signs, like blaming fights on others or having a strong sense to dominate, and to help your child develop empathy by helping him to learn to feel what others feel. Help him express himself through language rather than physical intimidation.
Victims are often misunderstood. Some characteristics that bind these victims to humiliation and despair include crying or cowering, refusing to defend themselves, radiating low self-confidence, not socially shrewd, etc. Paul says he had to study this list hard when one of his children fell into the hands of a bullying crowd. He says to encourage your child to tell you when he or she is being bullied. Teach your children to ask for things directly and to respond directly to others. Teach them social skills. Encourage children not to give into bullies, to stand their ground with toys and territory. Demonstrate the rewards of personal achievement. Take bullying seriously.
Not only are there victims and bullies, but Paul says there are bystanders who are involved in this process, too. Statistically, the children of faith are absent, or more accurately, they are missing in action. “They are failing to defend the weak and confront justice,” says Paul. He says that 85 percent of all school-based bullying takes place in front of other kids. Research shows that bystanders do not intervene. Most bullying would not occur if it weren’t for the display of power the bullies want others to witness.
BE PART OF THE AGONY, OR PART OF THE ANSWER
Bystanders to bullying aren’t helping the problem. Just standing by and failing to act courageously seems to give bullies approval of their actions. Bystanders don’t realize that by coming to the aid of bullied classmates is a tangible act of self-protection and cultivates strength and courage. However, bystanders are not just comprised of peers, they can also be instructors, administrators – anyone who deals with youth who struggle to figure out what to do when one child tramples on the rights of another. Bystanders greatly outnumber both predators and prey. Bystanders possess the most potential power to transform the “Theater of Bullying” into a theater of character, freedom, and justice. Peacemaking is not avoiding conflict though. One study revealed that if only one Bystander, who doesn’t even need to be popular, uses his or her assertive but non-violent words in defense of a Target, that the incident of bullying can end 58% of the time within 6 to 8 seconds. By intervening on behalf of Targets, Bystanders will not only create safer and happier schools, etc. but also create greater character within themselves and others. Most Bystanders know that bullying is wrong and often express great sadness and sympathy for the Target but most fail to act as if bullying is wrong due to lack of courage. Strength and courage are biblical character traits that must be cultivated in our children. Courage is doing the right thing despite of fear. Growing courage will diminish bullying and cultivate character.
Take a proactive approach to bullying, which is critical. Go after it before it gets a chance at a foothold in the group you serve. When a strong teacher comes to the aid of the least-respected person in the class, something dramatic happens to the emotional climate of the room. Good people stand up to injustice. Self-defense and proper self-regard do not equate retaliation.
The Protectors, founded in 2005, is a faith-based anti-bullying group that provides leaders, teachers, ministers, etc. with a curriculum necessary to minister to bullies, victims, the parents of both bullies and victims, and bystanders. The group originated from personal experience and an understanding of a fundamental weakness in existing anti-bullying programs. Paul was a target of bullying while in elementary school, and he knows how damaging it can be to a person’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. This damage can harm a person well into adulthood, and some never recover. Unlike traditional anti-bullying efforts that focus primarily upon reforming children who bully and which are historically ineffective, The Protectors focus mainly on the potential strength, heroic desire, and rescuing capacity of Bystanders, transforming them into what Paul calls “Alongside Standers.” The Protectors provides assertiveness training for Targets, help authority dispel the myths about bullying, and inspire children who bully to employ their power in life-affirming directions instead. Paul says there are many positive stories from the Protectors’ training. After going through the program, a girl named Melody was able to stand up to bullies and become a successful example of an “Alongside Stander.”
Last month, Paul says The Protectors worked with two families whose children committed bullycide.
FIVE CORE PRINCIPLES
Here are five core principles, found throughout the Bible, that help children protect themselves and others from bullying:
1) The power of clarity. Having a clear perspective of reality and knowing the truth about self, relationships, boundaries, etc.
2) The affirmation of basic rights. A fundamental understanding that people are separate beings and respecting that separateness.
3) Clarity through body language. People can repel or invite abuse by how they hold themselves. Here is the stance that teaches people to tower, not cower: a) stand up straight b) chest out instead of in c) steady eye contact with level chin d) walk with purpose and energy e) look confident while seated f) girls: don’t carry your books by hugging them to your chest, which makes your shoulders curl forward.
4) The power of command. Many instances of bullying have been safely halted with words of conviction spoken with boldness, even when the person felt scared while saying them.
5) The power of two. One person who stands up for a victim has a good chance of defusing the situation with nothing more than a few spoken words. Success against bullies increases dramatically when two or more people behave in this way. The power of two is not just beneficial to others when it comes to moral courage; it is good to those people personally.
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