A recent article appeared in the Huffington Post about a teenage girl who was being bullied because of the size of her ears. For many years she was called “Dumbo” by classmates. And after years of this abuse, her mother reached out to Little Baby Face Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to children for corrective surgery at no cost for those born with facial deformities. The foundation granted the teenage girl’s wish to have corrective surgery to pin her ears back. By this time, the girl’s self-confidence was very low, and everyone involved believed that fixing her ears—as well as her nose and chin—would be the answer.
I understand what her mother, the foundation and the doctors were trying to accomplish, but I have to wonder—was it necessary? Even before her surgery, she was by no stretch of the imagination an ugly child (as no child is), and in this particular case, she had much time to grow into her features. It seems like an extreme measure and an absurd solution for bullying. What lesson did the bullies learn? That they were right to be cruel to her until she “fixed” herself? What lesson did this teach her? That she was truly flawed? Wasn’t there a better way to handle this situation? The Japanese language offers a famous expression that would seem to crystallize the philosophy societies hold that perpetuate bullying:
The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.
This is essentially what happened to the girl who decided she had no choice other than to surgically “recreate” herself if she was going to survive the bullying. The lesson she learned is that she should do whatever it takes not to stick out—not to be different.
Bullying has always been an issue, and it’s even worse today as kids have new ways to torment one another. Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, now allow people to engage in “cyberbullying”. And, as the sad story above shows, kids are taking extreme measures to escape all kinds of bullying. Some kids go further than plastic surgery to try to “fix” themselves: they hurt themselves or others, even going so far as kill the bully, or kill themselves.
Suicide rates among kids and teens are on the rise across the globe. In fact, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among young people in the US, resulting in about 4400 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullying is not the reason for all of these suicides, of course, but there has been an overwhelming number of recent stories that directly point to suicide as a result of being bullied. To name a few: a 7yr old boy in Detroit hung himself at home which his mother believes was in part due to him being bullied at school; Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers University filmed him via webcam having a relationship with another man and tweeted about it; Phoebe Prince, age 15, was dubbed the “new girl” after moving from Ireland to a school in Massachusetts and was mercilessly tormented by classmates in school and via social networks.
People are naturally and deeply empathic, but often we don’t act on this ability. Despite what we believe about our bloodthirsty nature, the vast majority of people—especially children—care about one another. Sometimes, though, kids fall into the habit of bullying for many reasons. Bullying at home, peer pressure, attention seeking, and low self-esteem are just a few. So what can we do to stop bullying? Taking care of these deep reasons for bullying, through EI training, just might help. Through developing skills in self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others, and relationship management, kids can become more confident in themselves and more empathetic towards others.
A study featured in the Journal of American Science showed the positive effects of EI training in second year high school female students. The study, which was conducted at a school in Tehran, Iran, involved 2 groups (30 students in each group) who attended a 90 minute training session on EI skills. The objective of the study was to evaluate the effect of EI training on reducing the aggression of second year female students. The overall result was that the training significantly reduced aggression among the students receiving the training.
Back to bullying: by reducing aggression in students, kids may feel less desire to act out aggressively through bullying others. And EI training can help both bullies and their victims get in touch with who they are in a positive way, helping them to build confidence and the inner strength to stand up to this kind of aggression. Thus Emotional Intelligence training shows promise not only for the kids who become bullies, but also to those being bullied.
By developing EI competencies related to self-awareness, self-management and empathy, kids can learn how to manage their emotions and act less impulsively. Through social management and relationship management, they can learn to take the proper steps to become aware of their behaviors, better understand why somebody would act as they do, appreciate why they may feel the way they do, and have compassion for the person(s). This gives children the time to think about their next actions; making it especially important to help them realize that drastic solutions, such as plastic surgery and suicide, are not the best solutions.
EI training will not only benefit the children, but also the school systems and parents. Schools bear the expense of bullying already in terms of expensive security measures, underperformance, and lawsuits. The investment in prevention, rather than punishment, could help to reduce many of these costs. EI training can also create a safer environment which allows kids to focus more on learning and less on how they will be treated by their peers. Parents benefit when their child has high self-esteem, can create healthy relationships, and can work towards creating a successful life full of happiness, value, and confidence.
Children are our future—that is not just a cliché. Good grades aren’t all that is important for children to learn. Empathy, self-awareness, and relationship-building skills are critical to a meaningful life—physically, mentally and emotionally. We must keep our children safe by teaching them and helping them grow into the best people they can be and these skills can and need to be learned at home as well as at school.