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kicking, biting, or shoving. And it can involve verbal or emotional abuse: teasing, put-downs, name-calling, hazing, hurtful joking, or intimi- dation. Bullies also sometimes wield racial or sexual slurs or make threatening gestures. Although girls are notorious for emotional


bullying such as spreading rumors and exclu- sion, boys do it, too, says Efrain Gonzalez, assistant director of admissions at Clarity Child Guidance Center, a children’s mental health treatment facility in San Antonio, Tex. “They’ll say, ‘Don’t talk to John today. He’s stupid, and he acts like a girl.’” That can hurt kids far more than a punch in the face, Gonzalez adds. Bullying usually takes place out of adults’


sight. That’s why boys frequently don’t show how much bullying upsets them and why they often remain silent. The bully often threatens reprisals for “telling.” The victim also may think adults won’t or can’t help him, or he may feel ashamed for not defending himself. “There’s a stigma attached to identify- ing yourself as a victim,” says Steve Barreto, a child psychologist at Bradley Hospital in East Providence, R.I. Furthermore, when Scout leaders do hear


about bullying, they might feel helpless. “We weren’t psychologists. We were trying to figure out what to do!” recalls one leader, dismayed when a 12-year-old threw rocks at other boys who kept teasing him for acting feminine. Also, Scout leaders sometimes don’t act because they mistakenly believe that bullying toughens up the targets. “Older male leaders like me sometimes


think, wrongly, ‘We put up with bullying, and we survived. It’s part of becoming a man,’” explains Neil Lupton, chairman of the Supplemental Training Task Force of the BSA’s National Volunteer Development Committee. That’s what happened when one Webelos


den leader took five Cub Scouts to check out a large troop. While adults talked in another room, some of the Boy Scouts called the Cub Scouts stupid for not knowing about patrol boxes. Two of the younger boys were near tears. Afterward, the Scoutmaster told the Webelos den leader, “Boys will be boys. They just took the fun too seriously. They [the Cub Scouts] shouldn’t be so thin-skinned.” The Cub Scouts found another troop. That’s a price leaders can pay for not


getting a bully under control. Research shows that the fear and anxiety of bullying causes kids to avoid not just the bully but also the places where he hangs out. And far from “toughening” them up, bullying can devastate the targets’ self-esteem and self-confidence. If it continues, the victim may suffer long-


lasting feelings of isolation and sadness—even depression, says Gonzalez. Bystanders suffer, too, ashamed about not ending the bullying, and it spreads mistrust throughout the group. Every boy fears, who’s next?


ALTHOUGH IT MIGHT SEEM paradoxical, bullies try to overpower others because “[Bullies] are people who feel weak,” says Barbara Sabbeth, a psychologist in New Rochelle, N.Y. Picking on someone else gives them a momentary feeling of strength. Often family problems—parents at each


other’s throats or divorcing—are bothering a bully. Or a parent is bullying him. “They’re aggressive because they’ve been hurt and want to get back, because they’ve been made to feel vulnerable themselves,” explains Sabbeth. Similarly, a boy who calls another a


“crybaby” likely feels ashamed of his own wish to be babied. A Scout who calls another boy “gay” may be embarrassed about his own sensitive side and underconfident in his own masculinity. Sometimes a Scout who lacks social


skills may try bullying to make friends. He’s trying to “achieve social recognition through dominance,” says Barreto. That’s what hap- pened when an older boy transferred into one Michigan troop. At summer camp he kept ridiculing a younger, heavy-set boy, remembers Bob Geier, chartered organization representa- tive for St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Ann Arbor, Mich. Frustration mounting, the patrol leaders asked the adults, half-jokingly, if they could “take the bully out into the woods.” Instead, they moved the target into a


tent with one of the “cool” senior guys and put a big, self-confident Scout in the bully’s tent. Everyone worked to quash the bully’s nickname for the target, “Dumpling,” and the Scoutmaster and senior patrol leader talked to the bully and put him into mandatory camp “labor and service” with other older boys. Later they spoke to the bully’s parents. Not only was


Five Myths About Bullying


MYTH: Bullies suffer from low self-esteem. FACT: Studies suggest bullies gen- erally have inflated perceptions of themselves and often experi- ence less social anxiety than those not involved in bullying.


MYTH: Bullies are social outcasts. FACT: Actually, they’re often popular with their friends (ones that reinforce the behaviors) and may be considered “cool” by their classmates, a situa- tion that requires “changing the peer group norms that reinforce bullying.”


MYTH: Bullying builds character. FACT: Bullying increases a tar- get’s sense of vulnerability. If they’re already socially with- drawn, bullying can increase their fear of social contact and further deplete their already low self-esteem.


MYTH: Victims of bullying become violent in their teens. FACT: Most often, they suffer in silence, unable to stand up to the bully due to the depression or anxiety caused by thinking that the abuse is their fault. This gen- erally makes them withdrawn, not aggressive.


MYTH: Bullying represents a problem only for the bullies and their victims. FACT: Anyone who witnesses a bullying incident—teachers, parents, other kids, adults—can be adversely affected. And as one study points out, witnesses are not necessarily innocent bystanders. They often play a role in the bullying. (ADAPTED FROM AN ARTICLE IN


BEHAVIORAL HEALTH MANAGEMENT BY JAANA JUVONEN, PH.D.)


S EP T EMBER•OCTOB ER 2010 ¿ S COUTING


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