Deprogramming Bullies


Maia Szalavitz, a reporter with TIME magazine recently wrote an article for the magazine titled “How to Deprogram Bullies: Teaching Kindness 101”. This excellent article discusses a program called ROOTS OF EMPATHY (ROE), which helps teach children at an early age how to be empathetic to others.

In the article, it is explained how this program can help with bullying issues:

After a child has hurt someone, “we always think we should start with ‘How do you think so-and-so felt?'” Gordon says. “But you will be more successful if you start with ‘You must have felt very upset.'” The trick, she says, is to “help children describe how they felt, so that the next time this happens, they’ve got language. Now they can say, ‘I’m feeling like I did when I bit Johnny.'”

When children are able to understand their own feelings, they are closer to being able to understand that Johnny was also hurt and upset by being bitten. Empathy is based on our ability to mirror others’ emotions, and ROE helps children recognize and describe what they’re seeing.

You can read the full article here at TIME online. I believe that any approach that can help teach and reinforce the importance of sharing empathy with others can ultimately help in the battle to stop bullying.

As an aside, I overheard a conversation the other day where two people were talking about empathy in a different way. They were talking about a movie where someone killed 15 people and 1 dog. Their conversation was about how people watching the movie were making a big deal about the killing of the dog, but no one was upset about the people. I thought this was an interesting point about empathy. I know if an animal is injured or killed in a movie I react. If a character who is human and I haven’t invested any emotional time with is killed, I don’t really react. Do we feel bad because the dog is viewed as friendly and nice and we don’t view ourselves on first impression that way?

I don’t really have an answer here, just an observation about the value and empathy we share with humans vs. animals, which we innately feel we must care for. Please enjoy the TIME article and feel free to comment about the empathy point.

6 thoughts on “Deprogramming Bullies

  1. I see that you and I both enjoyed this article and the concepts of “Roots of Empathy”. I happen to be a believer in the notion that all types of behavior can be taught, both positive and negative. When I think though of the bullies who pushed Phoebe Prince to suicide it’s hard for me to believe that these nine kids had not experienced empathy in their lives. I know where they live, I knew one of these children as a young child. So I just don’t know how much empathy in necessary to outweigh other aggressive behavior. Any thoughts?

  2. I must agree with you that I believe we all use empathy in some relationships. So, we choose in many cases when to be empathetic. In the bigger picture of life, I find it interesting that many of us see pictures of starving children in Africa and quickly open our wallets for that out of empathy. Yet we ignore those in our own States backyards who are also starving and don’t have enough to eat. Many times we pass them in the street and don’t even consider giving them money.

    That’s a bigger picture concept. In the world of school, kids have their group of friends, clicks, and social circles, and most use empathy with these groups. But they can usually choose not to be empathetic to those outside the group. While this makes sense in some way, since there’s only so much each of us has to go around, I like the concept of the program to teach to give a little empathy to all around us.

    Unfortunately, in the case of Phoebe Prince and other similar, I think that these kids chose not to find any empathy with her and came up with reasons to be aggressive based on their own belief of facts. So I do agree with you that empathy is only one part of a much larger concept we must help youth understand.

  3. Pingback: Deprogramming Bullies | Γονείς σε Δράση

  4. Pingback: 50 Blog Posts On School Bullying That Every Teacher Should Read

  5. i think you need to teach your children to stand up for themselves, not to fight, but to defend their ground, and be able to talk to an adult about anybody that is bothering them and fix it asap

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