CHILI — Where bullying is involved, one need not be the perpetrator or victim to play a role in the outcome.
How the onlooker or adult responds — or fails to respond — can go a long way toward determining whether a bullying situation will cease or continue.
That message was emphasized repeatedly by Dennis Boike during his Oct. 22 presentation, “Taking the Bully by the Horns — Bully-Proofing Our Kids.” Taking place at St. Pius Tenth Church, the talk was attended by more than 100 adults and youths from the hosting parish and several others in western Monroe County.
“It’s not the oppressor that does the most damage. It’s the bystanders,” stated Boike, a longtime marriage and family therapist who practices in Canandaigua and Rochester. “All that it takes for evil to triumph is to be silent.”
Boike noted that bullies have a knack for picking out and isolating victims who are weaker and unlikely to fight back. When people silently observe this process taking place, he said, the bully’s sense of power increases, as does the frequency of his or her aggressive behavior that can be either physical or verbal in nature.
Boike acknowledged that bystanders may shy away from taking a stand even when they’re appalled by the bullying, lest they go against the popular crowd or incur the wrath of the bully. However, he called for young people to be courageous nonetheless by supporting the victims.
“We need to go to their aid, not say, ‘Thank God it’s not me,’” Boike remarked, adding that such actions strike at the heart of Catholic social teaching on preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. Taking this step can carry significant and positive results, he said: Additional onlookers are bound to speak up, and the bullying is much more likely to stop because the bully senses his or her power base eroding.
Boike added that it’s vital for any victim to have an ongoing network of peer and adult supporters, helping decrease isolation and vulnerability.
“I wish all of you had a go-to friend if you are being bullied. It’s tremendously important,” Boike said. He also encouraged young people in attendance to extend kindness to victims, saying, “You don’t know when you befriend somebody how much you can help them.”
Adults need to be involved as well, Boike added, saying that victims and bystanders should alert school officials and other grown-ups if bullying is taking place. He implored parents to be vigilant, pointing out that their children might be ashamed of being bullied and thus not admit to it. Parents, he suggested, should keep an open dialogue with their children; look for changes in their mood or behavior, such as increased anxiety or depression; and monitor their computer usage.
On the subject of computers, Boike said that incidences of cyberbullying — transmitting hurtful words electronically to a potentially vast audience — are rapidly on the rise. He also noted the growing trend of sexting — using cell phones to send sexually explicit photographs — saying that many young people feel pressured into doing so while not realizing that transmission of such pictures of minors is against the law.
With so much at stake, Boike recommended that parents not be afraid to potentially invade their children’s privacy by checking up on their computer activity. He also said that adults should not dismiss bullying — via computer or by any other means — as simply kids just being kids. The actual end result, he said, often involves deep and long-lasting pain for the victim marked by depression, suicidal thoughts and even, in some cases, taking one’s life.
“(Bullying is) predatory aggression that is destroying the soul of those who are being bullied. They want to quit life,” Boike emphasized, imploring his audience at St. Pius Tenth to help stop bullying situations from taking root by getting involved early on.
“I want you to stand up, parents and kids,” Boike said. “Until we stand up, the bullies are going to get away with it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about bullying and bullying prevention, visit stopbullying.gov.