They Believe What? – The Non-Verbal Cues Argument

Clark McKown, who Fox TV identifies as a lead bullying researcher, is saying that the kids that get picked on by bullies have a problem reading and understanding non-verbal communication. This researcher places the issue of bullying square on the shoulders of the one who is being bullied. I’m giving you this information, but not sure I truly believe it. While there may be truth to the study, to say that the victim has brought on the bullying by their inability to read non-verbal cues is equal in my eyes in saying a woman who is raped should have been able to predict this based on the way they behaved with the rapist.

While my opinion might create an argument, I’m all for that, because I really feel this kind of research is detrimental in getting to the real future solution, which to me is based on making the consequences for bullying more dramatic and helping victims and the bullies through better counselling.

Mr. McKown goes on to say that bullying victims should get help by parents by the parent:

  • Asking the child to identify their mistake
  • Help the child identify the non-verbal missed cue
  • Create an imaginary, but similar scenario to help teach the child to see the non-verbal cue

Well, I am speechless here. To ask a parent to try to figure this out with the child this way doesn’t seem realistic to me. Also, there are children that I know who have mild forms of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome that just don’t have the cognitive ability to pick up on these things. And yes, most of them deal with bullying issues. But shouldn’t we spend our time working with the bullies to help them understand what they are doing wrong? Anyway, here’s the video and you can judge for yourself. Would love feedback on this one. What are your thoughts to his study and belief?

9 thoughts on “They Believe What? – The Non-Verbal Cues Argument

  1. You do raise a good point about autism. These poor kids have a disease that interferes with their ability to read social signals. Can autistic kids learn and overcome their disability? Some treatments work better than others, and it depends on the severity of the autism. Can autism be mitigated at a biological level? Looks like we are getting close. Can it be cured after many years of brain damage? Unknown.

    An important question is social policy, should autistic kids be in classrooms? They tend to be VERY disruptive.

    Now, back to your original point, this is bad research because blames the victim and doesn’t address the real cause of the problem. Here, I have a different view.

    1. All research is good. What’s bad is people who think they know how the world SHOULD be, and any research that doesn’t fit their world view is bad and should be suppressed. Instead of trying to make the research fit our views, it’s more useful to change our minds when presented with new information.

    2. Humans are social creatures. Anyone not skilled socially will have a tough life. Let’s imagine that a child is giving other children the finger then is getting beat up. You approach is to ignore the child who gives the finger, and to blame the children who commit the violence. Human communication is always a system, it’s dynamic with two way feedback loops. There are multiple variables that can be manipulated to change the outcome. In this case, helping a child with poor social skills improve is more likely to change his or her life experiences than any other approach.

    3. Moralizing seldom solves large problems. Looking for blame and applying right / wrong thinking is too simplistic. Moralistic solutions tend to oppressive, with one view being imposed on others. The US is full of moralizers and that’s why it leads the world in prison population. Are people in the US genetically inferior and more prone to being criminals? How effective is punishment at changing behavior? Ironically, blaming bullying and trying to fix them is actually what’s backward. See the next point.

    4. Bullying is genetic and fairly normal behavior. In a study done with mice, the part of the brain of a mouse that interprets social clues was rendered ineffective. The mouse was then returned to it’s group of mice. The other mice soon started to bully the altered mouse until it had to be rescued by the researchers. No one taught the mice to be bullies, and no amount of education of the mice is going to change their drive to be bullies when another mouse can’t read social cues and fit into the group. All group animals have an instinct to bully those who don’t fit in. This is adaptive and useful group behavior.

    5. Bullying and being a bully are two completely different things. To solve problems we must separate the extremes from the norm. Some bullying is normal in group dynamics. Groups need to function and maintain order. Imagine a classroom where the teacher is powerless to maintain order. A leader with no power? Bad idea. Imagine a group that can’t enforce group norms and cooperation? Bad idea, total chaos.

    However, there are extremes that can be dysfunctional. Someone who bullies to the detriment of the group (society), needs help getting it under control and learning different conflict resolution skills (just like the child at the other end of the spectrum that’s always being bullied needs training.) The always bullied and the always bullying need help and training.

    Just as some reasearch looks at those who bully too much, this is research that looks at those who are always bullied. (Other research looks at how groups form, cooperate, and resolve conflict, and how bullying has a positive intention and bullying can be seen in 1000s of species.)

    All research that helps us understand how the world works is legitimate and valuable.

    This particular research is important because it can help identify children at risk. It can get those children the help they need to better read social signals and lead healthier more fulfilling lives.

    Thanks for publishing a different perspective.


  2. Thanks, Michael, for your thoughtful and thought provoking side. Your response is exactly why I wanted to publish this story. There is more to all of this than just this five minute video.

  3. Umm, i can’t watch the video. would you be able to post the link please? thanks. I’m doing my Personal Interest project for my HSC on the effects of bullying. Your blog has given me loads of insight into experiences and causes etc, and also given me heaps of links too. It’s soo much help. Thankyou so much.

    • I went looking for the video again and it seems FOX News has removed it. I can’t find any reference of it. Maybe they didn’t believe the argument in the end and removed the video. I was not a fan of the opinion myself.

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