Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ending Bullying

I am taking a class on socialization across childhood right now. A few weeks ago we had a series of lectures on aggression and bullying.

Bullying consists of a pattern of aggressive behavior repeated over time, and relies on an imbalance of power or strength between bully and victim. It involves unwanted, negative actions toward a victim, encompassing the spectrum of physical aggression (such as hitting, kicking, throwing spitwads, tripping, etc.) and relational aggression (such as gossiping, giving the silent treatment, excluding a playmate, sabotaging a playmate's other friendships, cyberbullying, etc.). It is all about establishing dominance within a peer group, whether among first-graders or in the workplace.

Bullying is not always easy to recognize, since it takes on so many forms. However, where bullies have success, it is because the peer group allows it. Bullying is often rewarded with increased levels of admiration or romantic interest. Victims are typically shy, passive children, or are defensive/over-reactive and therefore disliked by the peer group.

Bullying and aggression put both bullies and their victims at risk for long-term social problems. These include:
  • peer rejection
  • delinquency, criminality
  • school failure
  • adolescent pregnancy
  • loneliness
  • depression
Obviously, many of these problems affect not only an individual, but also his/her family. Additionally, they have long-reaching consequences, affecting educational, career, social, and emotional realms.

Research has introduced an interesting model for bullying that I think all parents, teachers, and other adults who interact with children and youth should become familiar with. It is called the Bullying Circle, and you can find a great PDF illustration available through BullyingPrevention.org, here.

A brief summary of the Bullying Circle idea is that there are typically few bullies and victims, but the rest of the peer group takes on roles ranging from henchmen and active supporters (who help the bully), to passive supporters, disengaged onlookers, and potential defenders (who do not actively help the bully, but also do nothing to stop the bullying), to resisters and defenders (who actively rebut the bullying and defend the victim).

Interestingly, it often only takes one peer in a "defender" role to stop or redirect a bully, but they must be a peer with some social standing (well-liked). One problem with this model is that children do not always know where to classify themselves, especially if they are the bully. Sometimes a child who is clearly the bully, from an outsider's (or peer's) perspective, considers him/herself to be a defender (!). So, unless a parent/teacher is familiar with the peer group dynamics, it may not be beneficial to rely on a child's take on the situation.

In most cases, it does not benefit a victim for a parent/teacher to attempt to directly take on the "defender" role. This frequently elicits more bullying, as the victim is seen as weak. A better approach would be to encourage children to look at social situations from others' perspectives, and thereby increase their moral reasoning and sympathy/empathy toward peers.

If your child is the victim, help them seek out friends, even if the friends are victims too. Perhaps helping them establish friendships away from the problem peer group, such as through an extracurricular class or parent-moderated play group, would give them needed confidence in social situations. Note that the parenting role should consist of monitoring, but not direct interactive intervention (except to take a child out of danger).

Another highly beneficial way to work with children, no matter their role in the peer group, is to seek to help them form a "benign attribution bias." Attribution bias refers to what you read into an ambiguous situation, where another person's action that had a negative outcome for you might have been accidental or purposeful, but you're not sure. Someone with a benign attribution bias would look for the best in the situation, assuming it was an accident (but such a person would be able to accurately label an aggressive action). Alternatively, someone with a hostile attribution bias would assume it was on purpose, and would react as such.

A benign attribution bias is highly linked to prosocial behavior (voluntary behavior intended to benefit another). Parents can help their children develop a benign attribution bias by:
  • modeling it themselves (cut back on road rage; see the good in the child's behavior, rather than assuming they are trying to be naughty)
  • working & talking with the child to help them process social information ("maybe it was an accident!")
  • encouraging the child when he/she works through social information on their own
  • encouraging/praising the child for altruistic behaviors (do not give material rewards)
Additionally, I think it is important to note that physical aggression has been linked to violent media. If your child is physically aggressive, it might help to assess and limit their media intake.

Bullying is not funny, it is not something that children will "grow out of." It has serious consequences, both for bullies and their victims, so it is essential for parents and teachers to help all members of a peer group step out of the cycle. Helping every child to have a benign attribution bias is a much better way to intervene than directly meddling in the peer group dynamics. And, of course, children look to their parents as examples, so seek to model a benign attribution bias and healthy social interaction.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What do Mormons really believe regarding Blacks and the Priesthood? Women and the Priesthood?

I was informed this morning by a classmate about a recent Washington Post article, in which a BYU Professor is quoted and paraphrased as saying some very sketchy things about Blacks and the Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I do not have all the answers, but I agree wholeheartedly with the Church's response, found here. It states that:
...We believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form....We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.
The same sentiments are espoused in The Family: A Proclamation to the World
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. 
The scriptures teach us that Heavenly Father invites each of His children to come to Him:
For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. (2 Nephi 26:33)
Like in Old Testament times when only the Levites could hold the Priesthood, there was a time in the Church when Black men could not hold the Priesthood. However, since June 8, 1978, this has not been the case. I am, and many others are, grateful and glad that this restriction is no longer in place.

Who has the Priesthood (or has/has not been allowed to hold it in the past) is not based on racism. It is not based on sexism. All worthy male members of the Church may hold the Priesthood.

As far as women and the Priesthood are concerned, President Gordon B. Hinckley said this:
Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program. Women have a very prominent place in this Church. Men hold the priesthood offices of the Church. But women have a tremendous place in this Church. They have their own organization. It was started in 1842 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, called the Relief Society, because its initial purpose was to administer help to those in need. It has grown to be, I think, the largest women’s organization in the world... They have their own offices, their own presidency, their own board. That reaches down to the smallest unit of the Church everywhere in the world...
The men hold the priesthood, yes. But my wife is my companion. In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.
As a faithful, involved, married, female member of the Church, I have no issue with this topic.

This is not to say that faithful members of the Church never have doubts, or times when faith may be tested or shaken. The key here is to resolve doubt. Face it head on; study, pray, ponder, exercise faith and trust if an answer does not come readily. Do not throw away or sacrifice what you DO know because of what you DON'T! If you are struggling, do not be afraid to seek out a testimony, and keep seeking and building and growing! The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not encourage "blind following."

For more information about this topic, may I suggest these links: