Children and adolescents are bullied for many different reasons: for having the wrong color glasses, or sticking out ears, or for being different due to hearing loss or autism. The majority of others, including those not actively involved, think the victim is to blame: “He asked for it”. So if we tell children who are bullied that they need social skills training, we are confirming this image. The message to the targeted child is: You are not good enough. If you behaved better, or fitted in better, you would not be bullied.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with social skills training, and many of us could benefit from it, but it shouldn’t be raised in the context of bullying. If we want to tackle bullying, we should not focus on the targeted child, but on all the others involved: the bully, his or her helpers, and the complicit group of onlookers who legitimize the bullying through their silent approval.
Addressing the group culture, creating respect for diversity, and emphasizing its added value are essential factors in breaking the vicious cycle of bullying. Instead of trying to comply with the majority norm, each child has the right to be who they want to be, and to be respected for it.
Sept 22 - 2021, Carolien was invited by Autisme TV to talk about bullying in school in a live broadcast. Also at the table was Jeffrey Wijkhuisen, who has autism and experienced a lot of bullying during his high school years. Both Jeffrey and Carolien stressed the harmful effects of being neglected, or as Jeffrey put it “as if you do not exist”. Yet this kind of bullying is often not recognized by teachers and mentors. Carolien repeatedly emphasized that bullying is about a (wrong and harmful) group process that should change, but we should never focus on the pupil who is bullied, as this can happen to anyone. The interviewer, Anouk Breeman, responded “I wish I had known this when I was in school”.
You can access the broadcast (in Dutch) through this link.
Leiden University / UCL - Carolien Rieffe
University of Udine, Italy - Marina Camodeca