Over the past week, the community in which my wife and I attend church has been the focus of national attention for all of the wrong reasons.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer…
The Bay Village schools will take disciplinary action against Bay High students who are accused of dumping urine and feces on a special-needs student, telling him it was part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Fox 8 News posted a video of the incident on Wednesday. The station reported that the teens used the victim’s phone to record the incident and then posted the video to social media. (See video below.)
The Bay Village school district decried the incident, which took place off-campus and outside the school day. Superintendent Clint Keener said in a statement that school officials will take appropriate disciplinary action once police complete their investigation.
Given what I do for a living, I’m not sure why people are surprised when stories like this one come out. The kids who come through our practice experience this type of embarrassment and humiliation all the time.
Why do kids bully other kids? There are lots of reasons. In some instances, the kids doing the bullying have very well-developed social skills and engage in bullying behavior as a strategy for establishing their social dominance. They often demonstrate little empathy or respect for the rights of others and engage in other types of antisocial behavior as they get older. Much of the time, the kids who are perpetrators of bullying have their own issues to deal with. I’m not excusing any of their behavior, but here’s what the data suggests…
Kids who bully are more likely to…
- Experience depression, mental illness, emotional, behavioral or developmental disabilities
- Demonstrate low academic achievement
- Abuse substances
- Have been exposed to child abuse and/or domestic violence
- Live in homes with poor parent-child communication
- Have mothers with suboptimal mental health
- Experience high levels of family conflict
- Lack parental monitoring
- Have poor relationships with peers
- Have parents who report that their child “bothers them a lot”
Kids who are victims of bullying are more likely to…
- Be physically weaker than their peers
- Struggle with low self-worth and negative self-perceptions
- Demonstrate low social competence, poor social skills and poor problem-solving abilities
- Experience symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Experience mothers who are overprotective
- Demonstrate insecure maternal-child attachments
- Have experienced child abuse
Allow me to share some observations from my 28+ years working in the mental health field, predominantly with kids and families…
The kids who are most likely to be the repeated targets of bullying are kids who struggle with emotional self-regulation (the ability to keep private one’s initial emotional response to an event or situation). Kids are cruel to one another on a daily basis…it’s the kids who react differently to the daily cruelty who are often singled out for torment by peers.
While the behavior exhibited by bullies (in particular, the perpetrators of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” in Bay Village) is reprehensible, we need to temper our rush to judge the kids involved because they may be struggling with as many issues as their victims. Many bullies are victims themselves. In one study of bullying in kids with autism spectrum disorders, 20% of parents surveyed reported that their child with autism had bullied others.
The more subtle the disability, the more likely kids are to be victims of bullying. The study referenced in the paragraph above suggests that kids with milder presentations of autism (specifically, Asperger’s Disorder) were nearly twice as likely to be bullied than kids with other spectrum diagnoses. The message that bullying kids with obvious special needs is unacceptable seems to be getting traction. Unfortunately, kids with less obvious disabilities are very often the targets of bullies.
Kids aren’t inherently good. The behavior demonstrated by the perpetrators of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” reflects our human nature. Christianity teaches that none of us are righteous! What type of behavior should we expect to see, especially in a culture in which more and more of us reject God, and fail to recognize any absolute standards of right and wrong? Many of the risk factors associated with bullying are symptomatic of the breakdown of the family unit as the fundamental building block of society. This is just the beginning…
Sadly, incidents like this one seem to be addressed only when they result in the potential for immediate economic harm or the loss of social standing. This event is shocking because it took place in a community with an outstanding school system where families are perceived as healthy. What about the kids whose victimization fails to go viral on YouTube or doesn’t result in celebrities offering reward money to those who identify the perpetrators?
Key Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!