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Appreciate the Attempt but It's Over-Simplified and Incomplete
on December 11, 2008
Summary of my thoughts: This is a very important topic and I'm happy the book was written. However the book is incomplete and over-simplified. This book outlines a plan for the weakest person to take the biggest leadership role and to stand up to their bully as well as reform the school--a huge undertaking that seems unrealistic to me. The book's strong point is trying to boost the self-confidence of the victim. This book is a start, so I do think those interested in the topic should buy it and read it, but we need more information and other kinds of information if bullying really going to be stopped.
Read on to hear the details of why I feel this way about this book.
Author Jay McGraw (son of Dr. Phil McGraw, the talk show host) wants to stop bullying and he doesn't want the victims of bullying to suffer. He states he wrote this book for children. The advice is for the parents to read the book first, then give it to their children aged 9-13 (fourth through eighth grade) to read to themselves. The information in the book is to set the stage for parents and children to communicate and take action on these issues. If the child is the victim of bullying the idea is the parents will partner with their child to stop the child from being bullied. Ultimately the goal is for the victim to take action to get all bullying stopped in their school, with help from the bystander-students.
I had high hopes for this book as I too would like bullying to stop. We need more books on the topic for all ages: more adult books for parents, more books for school teachers and administrators, more books for middle school and high school students, and more picture books for elementary grade aged kids.
In November 2008 Jay McGraw was on the Dr. Phil show talking about modern bullying to promote this book. The show didn't outline strategies that are in this book though, so if you caught the show, you didn't catch all the content of this book. The focus of the show was more on how bullying happens today using modern technology: staging beatings that are video recorded and broadcasted on the Internet on YouTube, cyber-bullying through chat rooms or MySpace or creating fake MySpace accounts pretending to be a classmate with false information to slander the person.
A major flaw in the book is that after outlining these types of modern technology bullying techniques (in the book and also on that one TV show); the book DOES NOT ADDRESS how parents can solve those issues. The book gives no solutions to two of those bullying methods and the third bullying method of being slandered on MySpace has only the advice of "ignore it, don't read it, don't respond to it" which is weak advice. There is no information about slandering on social networking sites and whether posting fake MySpace accounts legally constitutes identity theft is not mentioned. (From my personal experience with identity theft I think those actions might constitute as being the crime of identity theft but I have not researched the laws to confirm it.)
One flaw is that the book ignores the known psychological issue of how kids react to being bullied, and the different types of aggression: proactive aggression and reactive aggression. The tactics McGraw recommends that victims to use will be very hard for kids with a reactive aggression brain. (Studies have been published on this brain issue if you want to learn more about it.)
The psychology of groupthink is not addressed, and I feel that is a major contributor to the bystander mindset. The hardest group of people to get to buy in to this anti-bullying plan is the bystanders. I don't think the book provides enough inspiration or actionable ideas to get the bystanders to join in the rally to stop bullying. The truth is the bystander kids are just so relieved that they are not the ones being picked on and in a self-protection mode they will seldom step in to help another person lest the bully turn on them.
Most bullying starts or is conceived in school or the child's relationship with the bully is begun in school, and this book puts little blame on the adults running the school. The child readers of this book, aged 9-13 are inspired to try to work to change the adults running the schools they attend. Just think about that for a minute and contemplate the complexity of this idea of the child-victim who is already in a negative mindset due to being verbally or physically abused to suddenly become a leader and champion bully reformer in their family, in other families, and in their school.
I think that McGraw's model of bully-reform is a bit over-arching and idealistic. In no other area of abuse in America do we recommend this type of action from the bottom-up, where the weak victim is advised or expected to reform the dominant, abuser and the authority figures who are overseeing them (in this case, the bully's parents , the teachers and school administrators). In America, adult victims of domestic violence are guided to get away from their abuser and live apart from them. But the adult-victims are never told they should champion an effort to reform the abuser or the abuser's family all the while staying in the relationship (akin to the student continuing to stay in school or to keep taking the school bus with their bully every day). In fact this idea that an adult can change their partner or spouse from being an abuser, or reform them from their problems such as alcohol or drug abuse is often stated (even by Dr. Phil McGraw) to be futile and is not recommended. Psychologists and therapists say change must come from within the person (from within the abuser, the bully) so with that logic, how can this model work at all? Is it realistic to expect that a child-victim of bullying has enough power (even after reading this book) to get full cooperation from their own parents to take action, then to stop the abuse by the bully and to hopefully reform the bully to stop them from every bullying anyone again, plus get buy-in from the bully's parents? And to get the school staff to turn around and try to stop all the bullying in the school? Sorry, but I don't think so.
I was disappointed with the author regarding holding school teachers, school bus drivers and school administrators more accountable for keeping kids safe by being aware of bullying and by doing so little to address it. I feel that all teachers and school administrators, as adults in charge of the care and education of minors, including many teachers who want all children to have `good self-esteem' have failed to provide a safe environment for school children. The adult school employees should be the ones championing this anti-bullying effort. They should be the ones setting the standard for safety and right conduct in their schools. Change might happen quicker if it comes from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up and if led by mature adults rather than by kids aged 9-13.
Also, the school bus is never mentioned in the book, and it is usually the prime place where victims are bullied as it has the least adult supervision and highest number of kids to adult ratio, think about it, forty something kids with just one adult who is busy driving, what a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps McGraw could write a book just for teachers and school administrators to get them to `get real' and to take responsibility and action.
There is also not enough actionable information for parents to use to urge or demand that schools take more action to stop bullying. An entire other book should be written for what parents can do to demand that the schools be made safer for all students.
Lastly trying to write a book to kids ages 9-13 is tricky. I feel the language and reading comprehension may be a bit too difficult for a 9 year old (a fourth grader). Perhaps the kids on the younger side should have their parent read the book aloud to them (stopping along the way to discuss things) or those kids should listen to the audio book version.
Each group must take responsibility, the victim, the parent, the school teachers and school administrator and the bystanders might, if all united and working in tangent, be enough to squash out the actions of the bullies. Maybe.