Archive for category Child Psychology
6 VIOLENCE IT’S NATURAL LET IT BE
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956.
Having spoken about the path and life of a warrior, it’s relevant that I include a chapter on violence and aggression, I do not want this to dissolve into a story of evil and the good fight to protect the innocent, however it is important that we at least have a fleeting glance into the dark side of human nature. Ultimately my book Volitional Attention Training is about the ability for humans to fight and behave in a manner that confronts violence and the science involved in training and teaching others to have that same ability. It’s also important that we understand what we are training for, as violence covers a huge and diverse spectrum of human behaviour, just like our own perspectives are different given the experiences that shape them, violence is different depending on the culture and the mechanisms that drive it.
To some, any violence is wrong, any aggression is wrong, evil has to be banished from our lives forever, they sit firmly on the fence that believes God sees all and that one should not do harm. This is certainly not going to be a chapter on religion and violence; instead I will focus a little more on the evolutionary explanations for violence within the species homeo-sapian.
During previous writing within my book, I introduced Hobbs to the reader and his short statement on the nature of man, this helped to set the scene on why man undertakes violence and the reasons for such actions. Violence in itself is a vast subject and one that has had many books dedicated to the subject, what sticks in my mind is a story that was first introduced by Jainism, a religion traditionally known as Jaina dharma, originally from India. Jainism teaches that the path one should follow is one of non-violence and peace towards all living things, the story is about a king who was once trying to understand how people saw things in the world. He invited five blind men to his palace, he then asked each one to touch an elephant and then to describe what they felt based on their experience. The first touched the trunk and said “elephants are like snakes” the second one who grabbed the tail said “no, to me it feels more like a rope” the third felt the side of the elephant and said “it feels like a wall” the forth put his arms around the leg and said “elephants are more like pillars” the last felt the ear and said “elephants are more like winnowing fans” Hardy (2011). This analogy was also used by Rory Miller in his book Meditations on Violence, to put over the simple fact that violence means different things to different people and that it is a vast subject.
The first thing that should be done is to categorize violence, this will enable us to approach the subject from a specific viewpoint. There is no doubt that many may disagree with this, however we have to start somewhere. Violence has two very basic categories that can then be broken down into further subcategories, a project in the making is the categorisation and explanation of these, so I will not dwell too long here. One area that we will need to cover is why? Why do humans kill? Not only do we kill other humans we also kill in some way most other members of the species ‘Animalia’ all creatures great and small, as well as the plant and ecosystems that supports all life.
Category 1 Social Violence.
Social Violence (SV) encompasses all the violence that as a social people we have come to accept as part of the behaviour of humans. In this category we find all types of sport that involves human aggression, boxing and MMA are the most popular due to their media exposure. We have violence within the community in which we live, especially when it involves a fight or aggression towards another individual, and although not a comfortable subject, aggression and violence by the young from very early ages until they reach adulthood. There are some cultural differences that will become apparent but in the main that covers a lot of violence.
Category 2 A Social Violence.
A Social Violence (ASV) is everything that is not in the social category. The type of violence that usually provokes a violent reaction is found in this level, here we find War, murder, rape, sexual abuse, killings that involve mutilation, gross, graphical use of blades, genocide, infanticide, what is interesting is that many of the words that we use to describe killing end with ‘cide’. This word is again taken from Latin, it is used as a suffix that means “a killer of” or “a person or thing that kills”.
As a species, we are undoubtedly violent, however this propensity to violence is within some cultures considered normal, it is only what could be called “civilized society” that considers violence to be unhealthy and immoral. Countries that consider themselves to be civilized are also the very same countries that have, in some cases, the highest amount of recorded crime. The U.S for example has arguably the highest crime rate in the world and although this may have seen a slight drop in some years it still remains high and has started to escalate. People commit all types of violent acts against animals, plant life, property and even themselves, this writing will only be concerned with violence against other members of the human species and let’s not forget that often violence is carried out by more than one individual, it can take the form of organized violence by a group or gang, all the way to violence committed by the state, ‘War’
Depending upon how severe we class violence and also include aggression, we may find that harmful behaviour also falls within this category. If we are destroying the environment we are also, by default, killing other humans as a result, drought, pharmaceutical discharge, unsafe food, are we not all contributing in some way to this type of violence?
Violence regularly features as a bi-product of a game, within football in the UK violent fights often continue well beyond the finishing of the game and into the streets and pubs of the local area. Not a night goes by where the local or national news is not reporting on violence. It pervades our homes through the box in the corner of the room invading like a swarm of locus; it seeks out young and old with no care for the consequences, by portraying violence within children’s cartoons and entertainment in general, which includes video and computer games. Is it no wonder that our society is still a violent one, having said that according to Gardener (2008) in his book the Science of Fear, we are living in the safest times throughout the whole history of mankind?
Darwin introduced the concept of evolution by natural selection in 1858 and from this time man has developed theory upon theory as to what processes have enabled humans to become the dominant species on the planet. One of the supporting arguments is that living beings tend to produce more offspring than the environment can effectively support with its natural resources. The result of competition means that violence has its place in providing a means to resolve conflicts between those that have resources necessary for survival and reproduction and those that don’t. This trait for violence would, according to Darwin’s theory, select those that have the capacity for violence over and above those that do not, therefore over thousands of years of evolution stone age man became more and more adapt at bringing violence to bear on his competitors in order to survive and have the resources required for reproduction.
In his book Selfish Gene, Dawkins (1976) describes the individual, as a selfish machine programmed to do whatever is best for its genes as a whole. He puts it in very clear language, to a survival machine, another survival machine which is not its own child or another close relative, is part of its environment, like a rock or a river or a lump of food, it is something that gets in the way, or it is something that can be exploited, it differs from a rock or a river in one important respect, it is inclined to hit back, because it too is a survival machine that holds its immortal genes in trust for the future and it to will stop at nothing to preserve them. Natural selection favours genes that control their survival machines in such a way that they make the best use of their environment, this includes making the best use of other survival machines, both of the same and of different species. With this in mind it is no wonder that mankind became so adapt at the tool of violence, as in its simplest form this is exactly what it is, you can also now begin to see how this behaviour begins to show itself in our very young children, this I cover in more depth both later in my book and within this blog.
Before I move on, it’s important that violence in children is put into perspective as it would seem that this wiring for violence is inherent in every child and begins to show itself very early during the terrible twos. According to Pincker (2012) the psychologist Richard Tremblay has measured rates of violence throughout the normal lifespan of humans, rather concerning is his conclusion that the most violent period in an individual’s life is that time when they are two, we may have expected this period to be in adolescence or young adult hood, but no, it was when we were hardly old enough to even talk. The usual behaviour shows itself as hitting, biting, kicking and general moody behaviour, this trend of violent behaviour then begins to slowly decrease throughout the infant’s early years. It is therefore of little comfort that these typical children are not capable of wielding any physical tool of violence or else we could see a high number of two year old, on two year old, killings.
The process of natural selection has to also have the ability to pass traits on to future generations, if this were not the case, we would never have adapted to our environment. What this means is that there has to be a mechanism to pass genes on with, this is achieved through heritability and first shows itself during that all too well known stage of the terrible twos.
The blank slate theory was once popular, it was originally believed that parents or any significant caregiver could harm their children by mistreating them, which of course is absolutely true. It was the philosopher John Locke who first proposed the idea that any child could be molded into whatever person he desired, politician, soldier, scholar, this theory became known as the “Educationalists” view and considered that every child born was a “blank slate” and as such they were intellectually and morally clean with no preconceived ideas or knowledge.
This understanding that a child was neither good or bad was at opposite ends to the popular religious views at the time who considered that a child was born inherently bad and that their sins had to be beaten out of them, subduing them to the rod and will power of their masters. A child’s nature therefore is easily manipulated during its early years and those that are close to them have the ability to affect intelligence, social skills, mental abilities and personality. This has been discovered to be not true, however due to later studies that researched separated and adopted children, it was found that they mirrored their peers in values and social identities, indicating that social interaction helped develop these children according to the doctrines and culture of their caregivers, not of their parents. Pincker (2012) states that studies of adopted children showed that they ended up with personalities and iQ scores that are correlated with those of their biological siblings but un-correlated with those of their adopted siblings, this confirms that adult personality and intelligence are more a result of genes than of social environment. What has this got to do with violence? Well there is a theory that violence has a genetic marker and that it is inherited rather than learned.
The above is a short extract from my book Volitional Attention Training.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Publishers, Oxford University Press.
Gardener, D. (2008). The science of fear. Published July 17th 2008 by Dutton Adult.
Hardy, G. Great minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition. The Great Courses. University of North Carolina at Ashville, Yale University. Downloaded 2014. Publisher The Teaching company (2011).
Pinker, S. (2012) The Better Angles of our Nature. Why Violence has Declined. Published by Penguin Books 2012.
Solzhenitsyn, A, I. (1973). The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956. An Experiment in Literary Investigation. Published by Harper and Row Publishers Inc. (1974).
As a Martial Arts instructor for the last 35 years I have seen a great many children walk through the doors of our studio. Some come through with no idea of what they are coming into, their parents have heard that Martial Arts training will be good for their child and in they come. Quite often we get children turn up and crumple in a heap of nerves, never getting close to walking on the mat, where five minutes before they have been all up for starting to train, the idea being more powerful than the actual act of doing.
So what is it about training in the Martial Arts that parents find so appealing?
Well the reasons are varied and apart from the obvious of wanting them to be able to defend themselves, it could be that their child is very shy and timid and needs to gain confidence and self esteem, they may need to learn how to be more socially active and engaging with other children. It could be that the child is unruly and mis-behaves and in need of discipline and respect. Or maybe they are a little lazy and unfit, too much TV and/or X-Box/Play Station in their lives. Whatever the reason, one of the base effects of martial arts training on a child is an increase in confidence and self-esteem. It has been said that confidence is a child’s first weapon.
Of course we must not forget that one of the common reasons, that unfortunately we see way too often, is that age-old problem of bullying and to understand this subject in a lot more detail please refer to my earlier blog on this site, which delves a little deeper into this complex subject.
In our organisation, we know the benefits and how to achieve these aims, our motto is “BUILDING CHARACTER THROUGH MARTIAL ARTS” as good character contains everything that the majority of parents strive to embed in their child’s life. Having respect for themselves and others and discipline in all areas of their lives, including self discipline. Being thoughtful and caring to others, helping others, having fun, but knowing when to be serious. Ensuring a child is confident and socially active ensures a good transition into adulthood and sets them up for a lifetime.
This brings me to one of the most critical and pivotal points in any child’s training and that’s the relationship and interaction between all three parties involved and yes, have no doubt about it, there are three! The instructor, the student and the parent, without all three working together it’s all too easy for apathy to set in and a child’s training to drop off. Once this sets in the child begins to fall behind others in his group and ultimately loses interest, but really this is just an excuse, as without support from their parents in bringing them regularly to training and keeping them on that path, they are not able to keep up with their peers and so begin to hide behind excuses as to why they do not want to train anymore, so parental support is an absolute crucial element and must not be undertaken lightly when deciding to start your child learning any martial arts discipline.
It could be argued that the two most important qualities taught within the Martial arts is respect and discipline and the two things that are lacking in many of our mainstream Schools in today’s age is exactly that! Every child needs to have an understanding of these qualities, without them they are heading down a path that we have all too often seen. You know the one! the one that bullies, uses profanities, stays out late, never listens to authority, starts smoking & drinking at an early age and don’t think for a minute that your child is too young for some of these. The really fortunate thing is that once set on this path, changing it is not as hard as you think, they just need the right motivation and support.
Notice that up to now the one thing that I have not mentioned is that Martial Art training teaches a child to “fight” and that’s because fighting is the very last thing that we want our young students doing. In our organisation, if we find out that any of our students are misusing their skills, then they enter a strict warning schedule, with the 3 strike rule ending in them being asked to leave. Having said that, our aim is to teach a very efficient and effective method of fighting that can hold its own with and exceed any other Martial Art, if the need arises, this results in a very confident and socially aware child. We teach every child to become aware using the color codes of awareness. This Code of Awareness has its origins in the U.S. Military, it was adapted by the late Jeff Cooper, USMC(ret) and founder of Gunsite and is used in many martial art schools today. Condition White, for instance, is where you are completely self absorbed with your own thoughts, you may be engaged in a phone call, listening to music on your earphones while walking down the street, this is when you will get taken by surprise. The last thing that most people would do is walk across a busy road with no regard for the danger it possesses, yet so many walk the streets today oblivious to the dangers that surround us. Avoiding this state could be the difference between getting home or not.
There are so many different martial arts out there today, that makes choosing one to achieves a parent’s aims a lottery, so a word of advice, research what you are entering into. Make sure that you are happy with what could be one of the most important decisions you make in your child’s life. There are many martial arts organisations out there with Instructors of limited experience with no lineage, that have no defined syllabi for different ages, choosing to teach the same material to every age group, including adults!! That’s like sending your child to school where there is only one class room and everyone gets taught the same thing! It is so important to ensure that each child achieves within their group, has goals to work for, yet is not in over their heads. Most parents and even some martial arts instructors themselves have no idea what damage can occur when maladaptive behaviour is taught to children, it is therefore so important that whatever martial art you choose has the necessary knowledge and experienced established Instructors to not only teach your child to protect themselves, but to do so in a safe and effective manner with attention paid to correct biomechanical movement as well as having a sense of respect, self-esteem and confidence to live their lives fully.
The value of Martial Arts training and your child’s future and confidence is so often never seen, hopefully this will help parents appreciate how important the decision is to start your child on their Martial Arts path of learning and the level of commitment that is required.
What’s happening within the brain?It’s only recently that researches have started to scan the brains of both those being bullied and the bully, with surprising results. When interviewed children who were on the sharp end of a bully’s tactics reported the same feelings and symptoms that were given by people suffering from depression, anxiety and fear. This would suggest that there would be a manifestation of psychological and physical effects on the child. Researchers are now becoming aware of the true implications of bullying and how it affects children and their brains “using SPECT brain imaging, Todd Clements, M.D., Medical Director at the Clements Clinic in Plano, Texas, has discovered that the brain scans of bullied patients resemble the brain scans of patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Patients with PTSD report identical symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, inattention, flashbacks, etc. What this means is that the human brain is interpreting the trauma of bullying in the same ways a soldier’s brain interprets the experiences of battle or how a car accident victim’s brain interprets the accident (see images of normal and bullied / PTSD brain images). Humans have the ability to adapt to their environment which gives them, the best chance to survive. Unfortunately, a bullied child’s brain interprets the bullying as a threat and adapts to deal with the trauma” Divine (2010). It may well be the case that most of those that are bullied during childhood go on to be confident individuals in adulthood, however there are some that are severely damaged by acts of a bully, if anxiety is allowed to transfer itself to adulthood, then changing long-term ingrained behaviour will be even more difficult to alter. This behaviour is in all likelihood part of normal children’s behaviour patterns, its effect is exaggerated due to social and cultural changes throughout our evolutionary development. Knowing this should give parents and those that are in positions of authority in teaching children an advantage, to develop programs that can help both bully and victim.
Brain scans on the bully also revealed interesting results “that bully beats you up because he enjoys it. Healthy kids’ brains respond to other people’s pain with sympathetic twinges in their own pain centers. But bullies who witness pain show activity in their brains’ reward centers. Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed watching pain”Newitz, A. (2008). The activation of reward centres does indicate that some bullies derive pleasure from the activity of bullying. However this is not the case with every person that bullies, or at least from some interviewers’ research, there are children that state that they do not get pleasure from it. Further research needs to be done to confirm this as, even though on one level a child may not think with their conscious mind that they enjoy it, something completely different may be occurring within the brain.
It is also the situation that a large amount of children that get bullied never find the courage to say anything to either parents or teachers, as they themselves feel that admitting this to peers is a sign of weakness. It is therefore up to those that are in positions of authority with children to be mindful of the signs that a child is being bullied. , It’s also important to remember that this is abuse, it may not be as bad as sexual abuse, but it’s no less harmful and so the responsibility falls firmly at the feet of parents, teachers (martial arts instructors), friends anyone that has a child’s best interest at heart. The signs may be very subtle and these may include;
Signs of emotional distress – nervousness, anxiety
Withdrawn, tearful, aggressive, depressed, nervous habits
Lacking in confidence
Bruises or scratching on a young person or attempts to hide physical injury
Torn or damaged clothing, missing personal items
Unusual bed wetting
Fear of going to school – excuses of illness often made to avoid going to school
Coming home without money or belongings that they should have
Having trouble with school work or grades for no apparent reason
Lack of interest in doing things they would usually want to do
Behaviour clues are only as good as the person paying attention to the changes that are happening within the child, for a child to hide stress, fear, or anxiety and possibly physical injury, bruises and scratches for example will take a large amount of effort on their behalf and in the majority of cases they may not even recognise the change themselves.
A plan of action
It’s important that we all remember that fear, anxiety and stress create changes within the child, the brain adapts to the psychological threat, therefore any attempt to help the child, will need to focus on the mindset of the child , superficial patches that deal with outward behaviour will only create short-term results. To obtain long-term recovery the mind will have to be rewired back to a more stable setting. To help address these underlying deep issues, principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) should be part of your tool box, martial artist have been practising this for centuries, it’s know as meditation. Children will also need coping strategies and skills that will help them manage interactions with a bully.
Those that are in positions to help children need to have an idea of how to interact with the child, what they should do and say, there are some things that should not be said or done, especially if you want to avoid making a bad situation even worse for the victim.
1. Ensure that you remain calm at all cost, showing signs of anger or frustration will be seen by the child and focused on, they may believe that they should not have said anything.
2. Keep reinforcing that they have done the right thing by bringing this to your attention, let them know, that you know it must have been a difficult decision.
3. Take time to discuss how they feel, slowly getting around to the important questions, who, where and when?
4. Take it slowly, one step at a time, the longer that the child has been bullied the more emotional torment could have occurred.
5. Agree with the child the first steps, it should be their idea if possible and not yours, working together to tackle l the issues that are raised.
6. Are there simple ways in which avoidance of a person or place could stop the bullying, keep in mind that once a bully has identified a target they may go out of their way to find them and continue the abuse.
Do not leave it thinking that it will sort itself out, take action before things get any worse. Tackling this behaviour needs to be with the support of schools, clubs or any event that your child attends. make sure that you meet with the person at the school who is responsible for their bullying procedures, they should have an anti bullying policy, make sure you see it. getting someone to take responsibility for monitoring interactions while at school. Remember recording meetings and agreed action in writing places a degree of importance on the matter, it’s not going to go away and needs to be dealt with. If you are not happy with the way things are going keep going up the line of accountability, board of governors, positions, you are the only person that can keep the ball rolling and protect your child’s long-term emotional intelligence. This all seems logical information and hopefully it’s not new to parents.
The martial arts
Any good martial arts school will have a policy in place to protect the children that attend, however it’s not just the policy it’s the whole mental and physical training that is important. Good martial arts instructors will teach children non-violent solutions to bully avoidance, this will include strategies to talk and avoid a confrontation, it’s about confidence in yourself that you do not have to resort to physical confrontation to deal with the bully. The goal is to discourage bullies if the potential victim can resist the verbal assault, taking away the control and emotional pay-off, the bully will be less likely to choose them again, as with most perpetrators of violence or crime they are looking for easy individuals to attack. One that has the potential to fight back or is aware and not an easy victim will probably not be chosen. Tactics that are taught should include avoidance, appropriate verbal exchanges, neutral/confident body language and facial expressions, selective ignoring and self-control, physical confrontation is the very last thing on the list. Bullies are looking for the nerve that makes any individual react, if a child can hide their emotions then they are well on the way to counteracting the bully. Once they discover a victim’s weakness they will do it again and again to see the same reaction over and over again.
Physical techniques are the last resort to dealing with a bully, the problem with any conflict especially with children is knowing were the boundaries are, when is it the right time to act, to fight back? is there a time? should you never resort to physical violence even when being beaten on? There are some that would support this, with words such as “if you use violence against a bully you are then no longer any better than the bully” we have all heard this at some point I am sure and to be fair adults have the same problem, when to fight or when not to fight? Should I use a pre-emptive strike? These are important questions and are beyond the scope of this text and will be covered later. The most important point is should any child use violence to protect themselves? The answer to this question will be different for a great many individuals, ask an adult this very simple question, if you were being beaten by another adult and had the means to defend yourself would you? My thoughts on this is that everyone has the right to defend themselves and their family, should it be different because they are a child? Children will eventually come of an age where they can process this line and do the right thing at the right time, the main aim here is to convey knowledge of the bully and the victim, what they are and how to help a victim fight back, hopefully before too much psychological damage has been done. If you are dealing with a child who has already become a victim, then it’s no good just treating the behaviour of the child you have to get to the root cause of the problem, the psychological effect on the mind.
Be mindful all the time!
Recently in the UK a 14 year old girl took her own life due to Cyber bullying, if this tells us anything it should be that parents have to be vigilant all the time. This type of bullying is disturbing and it’s not the first time that young adolescent children have resorted to suicide. This type of bullying is perhaps the most dangerous type of bullying as it can be done anonymously and has a very powerful effect on the mind. Why would someone believe what they read on an internet forum or text message sent to their phone? The reason is how our brains work with regard to the law of similarity. If it looks like a tiger it is a tiger. Like causes like and the brain perceives this, if we see a person being sick just after eating a particular food, we ourselves will not want to eat the same food, this has an evolutionary benefit, as it would have protected the individual from consuming the same food and suffering the same fate. Experiments have shown that if we create a negative thought and feeling this will transfer to our conscious mind and become prominent, over the fact that we know it not to be true. For example take a glass of clear drinking water, apply a label to it that says ‘contaminated with radiation’ and feel the effects that this will have on thinking about drinking the water. This rule of like causes like, can be seen when we observe an individual that has in their past decided to ink their body with ‘tattoos’ for example, or someone who has worked out and is big and muscular, we link these individuals with bad behavior or crime and in doing so our minds automatically create a thought of, stay away from them, don’t talk to them, there is a threat there somewhere, even though in our mind, if we take the time to think about it, there is no real danger. These linked thoughts of similarity are ancient wiring processes within the brain that are automatically transferred to the mind and brought into conscious thought. In the time of our Stone age ancestors this process would have worked perfectly, there is a tiger, looking for food; we had better be on our way before we are the food! Children these days are exposed to constant stimuli input from the cyber world, over time this informational input which was once used to aid humans survival, has adapted itself to create the idea that what is read and spoken about on the internet is indeed “true and real” the mind uses similarity and adapts the belief within the individual that what they read is how it is. Cyber bullying is found in mediums such as email, text messaging, and social networks such as Face Book, MySpace and “ASK”, the last one it would appear being particularly unregulated as the bully can remain anonymous as they can create false names and profiles. Cyber bullying consists of the same threats that can be found in any bullying situation, with threats of violence, verbal abuse and the use of language that may not be normally said when face to face.
The bully who knows no right from wrong
There are a few bullies where no amount of therapy will help, the only explanation is that the bully is a cruel individual, they like to harm and inflict pain on others. What’s more, these bullies have no understanding of what Is right or wrong, they feel no remorse, lack empathy and in most cases these individuals carry their behaviour with them through into adulthood. These type of individuals have predisposition to violence, aggression, manipulation and lying, they can also be very intelligent and in some cases very hard to spot, one in 25 adults have this type of character trait. Quite often people will use the term nature versus nurture, in the case of these individuals it is nature that has created the shortfall in the ability to understand and nurture will only have a very limited effect. understanding this particular type of character trait will require more text than this article allows.
From all the information above it would seem that we live in a world that is controlled by fear and to a degree this is the case, we are fearful today of so many things, we fear the sun, diseases, bad health, violence is everywhere, we do not let our children play freely due to predators, the risk of terrorism is ever-present, the list goes on and on. The fact is that nothing creates a feeling more powerful within our minds than the risk of fear. Is it true? – are we now living in the most dangerous times within our evolutionary history? Facts would argue otherwise, our life expectancy has increased generation on generation and statistically fewer people die today theatre they did 100 years ago. What we do have now is instant communication across the globe, when a horrendous event occurs such as the September 11 terrorist attack in New York, we are instantly dialled into the event and those survival mechanism within our brain are triggered, we become fearful. This subject is not one that we like to dwell on long, but we must remember that the bully can be overcome, there are ways to combat their effects.
Bullying and the effects that this behaviour creates is a very serious issue, if they are not addressed than the psychological scars will continue throughout life. We will never eradicate this behaviour completely, acknowledging this gives us the tools to understand the behaviour, identify those that carry out the bullying and their victims. This in turn allows for real control and management for both parties. They are both victims, the bully from exposure to cultural stimuli and a lack of nurture with the child’s best interest at heart and from a left over survival mechanism within the brain. The individual who is subject to the bully’s behaviour, is also a victim of cultural stimuli, lack of understanding, support, love and nurture. My hope is that this information will at least help a few, if it does, then at least a few will grow up without the foreboding baggage given to them by a bully.
Divine, M. (2010) Bullying Hurts: How bullying takes our brain’s ability to adapt and turns it against us. Posted on 07 September 2010 by admin. accessed on 04/08/2013 @ http://www.michaeldevinecounseling.com/blog/bullying-hurts-how-bullying-takes-our-brains-ability-to-adapt-and-turns-it-against-us
Espelage, D, L. and Holt, M, K. (2001) Bullying and Victimization During Early Adolescence: Peer Influences and Psychosocial Correlates. Howarth press, Inc.
Newitz, A. (2008). brain scans reveal that teen bullies get pleasure from your pain. Accessed on 05-08-2013 @ link. http://io9.com/5079234/brain-scans-reveal-that-teen-bullies-get-pleasure-from-your-pain
Lately the weather has been hot and we are in the middle of a heat wave, those dedicated children that have been still coming into class have been trained in the warrior mindset. What is this mystical mindset? Well in truth its nothing out of the ordinary, when applied to children it’s teaching them to use their heads when confronted with that age-old problem the “bully” and you know that there is always one out there somewhere!
Why is it that there is always someone wanting to steal your money, take your lunch or just pick on you because they feel they can, of course there are always those that have experienced success in fighting and then want to prove how big they are by inflicting pain on the geek, or socially timid child? As a child, experiencing the torment either mentally or physically inflicted on you by a bully, can be a very frightening event, leading to that child becoming withdrawn and socially excluded, everything will suffer, their school work, confidence, relationships with their parents and within themselves, with feelings of low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, all of this could ultimately lead to long-term transference of anxiety into adulthood. There are ways to fight back, but first we must understand this age-old problem if we want to give these children a fighting chance.
Lets face it, haven’t our schools known that bullying exists, yet it has still continued generation after generation? I know that there are bullying strategies in most schools, so why over such a long time have we not been able to eradicate this behaviour? Bullying is a distinctive behaviour pattern, which involves individuals deliberately harming and humiliating others creating an asymmetrical in-balance between individuals or groups. This type of behaviour is intended to harm or inflict psychological advantage, it occurs repeatedly over time, resulting in an imbalance of power. There are views around that believe that bullies are not born, instead they believe that they are moulded through their early developmental stage in life, through bad parenting and aggression traits starting as early as the terrible twos! Is it simply the case that if there were no victims, then bullies couldn’t exist? As we all know, they don’t pick on just anyone, they single out children with a certain lack of confidence, they give off a sense of fear long before they ever come into the bully’s crosshairs, and let us never forget the fact that once a bully always a bully right? Well that’s not the case, if it were, what you are saying is that no individual can learn, change, adapt and that they are pre-programmed from birth with no chance of any volitional choice. Adult bullies have a very destructive character and will bring fear and intimidation to groups, whole societies as well as the isolated wife, manipulated, controlled and abused behind closed doors.
The reasons why children become a bully
The first task here is to explore when and why children begin to develop the bullying trait or behaviour, and is this behaviour culturally and socially specific to regions or countries? If bullying is a universal global problem set across all types of countries and societies, then we have to entertain the fact that this could be a hard-wired human mechanism, left over from our cave man past. To answer this question, we can look at research conducted “this international cross-sectional survey included 123,227 students 11, 13 and 15 years of age from a nationally representative sample of schools in 28 countries in Europe and North America in 1997–98. The main outcome measures were physical and psychological symptoms. Results: The proportion of students being bullied varied enormously across countries. The lowest prevalence was observed among girls in Sweden (6.3%, 95% CI: 5.2–7.4), the highest among boys in Lithuania (41.4%, 95% CI 39.4–43.5). Due. (2005). What this research tells us, is that bullying is not contained to any particular culture, society or country, every country surveyed contained instances of bullying from European countries, to America and Japan, providing solid evidence that bullying is ubiquitous across human cultures. It does not take long to find instances of bullying in every country around the world, so does this all stem from aggression problems in children that start around two years old? and if so why? What is clear is that bullies are born and they are not made. Every single person on the planet may well have the capacity to become a bully or to a lesser degree may already be one. Not a thought that some may wish to entertain, if this is indeed the case, then humans have a capacity for this very distinctive behaviour, it is therefore genetic, inheritable and passed down through the generations and not as some may argue moulded from the parental nurture or rather the lack of it, instead it seems that this behaviour has its origins in stone age man, one thing is for sure we have no way of telling what behaviour was like at that time, did pre historic cave men’s children bully the more vulnerable among them to gain power and in achieving this give them access to more resources, attracting a mate in later life? No amount of research into our fossil history will provide an answer, but, could we find an answer in our closest relatives? If primates and other non human related animals have the same type of behavioral patterns this would help answer the question and provide humans with a far greater understanding of the nature of bullying. The problem here is the evidence used to show intent, how would we know that a primate has made a volitional decision to inflict harm to another primate in order to gain power over them? If Primates have these same behaviour tendencies then this would effectively pre date the dawn of Homo sapiens.
Research has been conducted into primate behaviour, with interesting results “Bullying-like behaviors are found in every major group of primates, and can sometimes be severe. Among baboons, one of the best-known non-human primates in the world, bullying-like behaviors are common” Altmann, 1980). cited by Hogan & Sherrow (2011). Later in the same article they go on to say “Chimpanzees live in communities with many males and females and males live in the groups they’re born into their entire lives. Males also form dominance relationships with each other based on physical power and friendships, which they use in competition over mates”. This provides us with strong evidence that bullying or to rephrase the word behavior designed to achieve dominance, is universal throughout both human and primate species, making this behaviour a trait that is hard-wired into our genetic makeup. This behaviour is designed to ensure that dominance over social groups and individuals is achieved and in doing so the dominant individuals gain popularity, access to resources enabling them to survive longer and reproduce, in Darwin’s term it’s survival of the “fittest”, therefore transferring their genes to future generations, ensures the survival of the fittest. Evolution has a large part to play in the majority of human behaviours, it’s finding that evidence that leads to a greater understanding of why we humans, sometimes do what we do.
Other species also display such behaviour, take a litter of dogs for example, out of a large litter there is always one runt of the family, the small one that is always last to get its chance to suckle mum’s milk, if the runt is fortunate to survive this early stage it can then be observed being group bullied into leaving the food alone until the pack has had its not so fair share and there is usually a dominant one or two that lead this behaviour. This behaviour is no different to humans or primates, there is a hard-wired mechanism that says, get more food and you will benefit above the others, even if they are members of your own family.
Humans today are fundamentally different from our past ancestors, we live in a very different world, one in which global communication happens in a heart beat, we celebrate an event post it on Facebook or twitter and a moment later someone reads that in a different country the other side of the planet, what would have taken a great deal of effort is achieved at the click of a button. We communicate via language that, to our cave man relatives would probably sound like an alien dialect. Now assume that this internal mechanism that creates our behaviour, designed initially to allow for dominance and more survival opportunities is suddenly transported to 2013, the need to fight and use behaviour such as aggression to obtain resources to survive has now no real destination or outlet, it now manifests itself in today’s children as bullying behaviour, what we were initially hard-wired for has nowhere to go. Communication has heightened our ability to transfer aggression, to speak words that cut like sun rays through the sky, humiliating and harming the subjects of our discourse and all this from the mouths of our most treasured possessions our children. Not only do we have the medium of language, we also have a plethora of other channels in which to convey our hatred to our intended target and all with a certain amount of annominity. The use of text messages, social media sites on the web, all allow easy access to intimidate, spread gossip and lies about our victim, while at the same time maintaining distance, it’s no wonder that the behaviour once designed in our evolutionary history has now been distorted beyond all recognition, allowing for this behaviour not only to maintain itself, but also to change and become more intensified than it ever was in our past history, this being the case the age-old problem seems destined to be with us for some time to come.
Culture has also helped mould behaviour that further supports bullying, in today’s environment violence is seen almost every day, it may be the local news broadcasting images of police dealing with local criminals, television series portraying family violence, the local newspaper, internet headings, sport events like boxing, games that encourage children interacting with high-end violence, the list goes on, all of this helps support the view that what is termed social violence is acceptable behaviour “the murder rate in America today is six per 100,000 per year. If six more out of 100,000 people were convinced to kill, the murder rate would double, remember, murder is just the tip of the iceberg because for every homicide there are tens of thousands of injury assaults, hundreds of thousands of thefts, millions of acts of bullying, and an untold amount who live their life in fear. The June 10, 1992, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the world’s most prestigious medical journal, reported that violence depicted on television “caused” (caused is a powerful scientific word) a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate in the United States 15 years later. The AMA is so convinced of the impact of violent media, that they said if television technology had never been developed in the United States (or if we had kept our kids away from it) there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year, 70,000 fewer rapes and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults” Grossman (2004). This is damming evidence that media based violence has had a significant effect on our children, changing the way that they view the consequences of such acts and in doing so developing a behaviour pattern that accepts social violence as a society norm! When will parents realise this simple fact, it’s not enough that all too often children have to be witness to extreme levels of violence within the family unit, they are then subjected to a near constant stream of aggression and violence, which 1,000 years ago would give a natural fitness advantage to those children that progressed through adolescence to adulthood, giving them a far better chance of survival, procuring a mate and distributing their gene for inheritance into their children. In today’s society there is no requirement for this aggressive behaviour which has nowhere to go.
It must also be remembered that bullying tactics are not just the sole preserve of the individual, groups, organisations and whole countries can become susceptible to the power struggle, resorting in all types of underhanded and big brother bullying tactics. These groups will target others with tactics designed to intimidate, coerce or harm them, all designed to ensure that the group achieve what a minority perceive to be, what the majority want! Political groups and leaders of countries use bullying tactics to maintain social order or to suppress uprising, even though the mainstay of the population may disagree with the pattern of behaviour, they are usually powerless in the face of such power.
Above we spoke about the inability for some parents to cope with early aggression in children and that this could start as early as two years old, the behaviour of children at this early age, seems to be hard-wired into the child from birth, as most parents would attest to experiencing this type of behaviour in their two or three-year old children, up to the age of two a child has usually had no real input as to aggressive behaviour patterns, is this the age when these evolutionary traits begin to reveal themselves? Or is it the parents fault for mis-treating the child at home, causing feelings of insecurity, which leads to aggression? Observed behaviours that children witness may well play a role in supporting the inbuilt behaviour patterns, that society now refers to, as bullying.
The terrible two’s
Every parent gets to hear about the terrible twos and how behavior during this time can be a testing one for any parent, it’s the beginning of a new era when the unassuming smiling, crying, loving baby begins to show patterns of behaviour that are testing to a great many parents, some say they never experience this, but those that have are often unprepared for the change from cooperative baby, to nothing is right! This change is not timed exactly with the age of two it can start before two, or later, up to the age of three. During this stage cooperative behaviour changes, as a parent you may notice a new level of NO! doing the opposite of what you have told them “don’t throw your cup on the floor” and guess what it ends up on the floor so many times you eventually take it away, tantrums are common place and can occur out of the blue and for apparently no reason, at least to the parent, you suddenly have on your hands a more assertive bundle of joy.
At around this age the brain is going through a massive amount of development, the mind is beginning to have an influence on what the child perceives to be what they want and not what you want for them, they think for themselves and begin to demand attention, they want things that are important to them and no amount of logic from the parent can persuade them otherwise. Feelings, language and increased mobility, all start to occur around this time, bringing with them the ability to communicate, express emotions and independently move. The stage prior to communication, via the medium of words is termed presymbolic, when the child has the ability to speak its called the symbolic stage. During this time they are having to deal with a fantastic amount of in-coming stimuli, their brains are undergoing neurobiological and psychological changes, resulting in self-awareness and a sense of understanding of self.
What impact on behaviour in later life does this stage of development have and can this early transformation, if handled badly by the parent, result in a natural tendency for bullying? One of the traits displayed is that of an unwillingness to share, they are possessive of food or toys, this in itself could be a very early indicator that what they have they need to retain, in order for them to nourish themselves and have tools to explore. Learning to interact with other children also becomes a key skill throughout this time, as up to now the majority of contact has happened with immediate family, they now begin to mix and interact with other children, this time of early interaction is crucial to learning acceptable social skills “researchers have found emotional development and social skills are essential for school readiness. Examples of such abilities include paying attention to adult figures, transitioning easily from one activity to the next, and cooperating with other kids” Cherry, (2013). These points are key if we are to find any link between this stage of developing behavior and patterns of behavior in later childhood and the point that is of great interest is “paying attention” It ca not be overestimated how the importance of volitional attention impacts on our ability to wire the neurological pathways within the brain, how paying attention is a key aspect in the way the mind learns, for an early child paying attention, has the benefit of clear and unrestricted access to the brain, imagine an empty piece of paper just before you begin to draw, you are free to create whatever image you want! and that is what paying attention to parental behaviour does for the young child, they begin to recognise how to express feelings and interact socially, all through observation of the people they see the most their parents. These observations imprint neurological pathways within the young developing brian and in doing so create patterns of behaviour.
It is not hard at this point to understand that if your child sees two parents at odds with each other, not sharing, or not correcting behaviour when the child does not share, that this will develop within the child an understanding that this is acceptable behaviour, if the innate hard wiring suggest that food needs to be kept, parents sharing food help suppress a heightening of this behavior. Parent interaction between themselves will also be attended to by the child and parents who argue, create tensions, do not show gratitude, or worse still shout, argue or fight will imprint this onto the child, who will then continue with this behaviour in a great many cases when they begin their interactions with other children. If there is an underlying tendency for a child to dominate due to evolutionary adaptive mechanisms, they will learn that aggressive behaviour is the way to achieve this. Therefore modeling appropriate behaviours that are socially acceptable are essential at this stage. A well known method of learning is operant conditioning, this type of learning involves either positive or negative reinforcement. This is where behaviour is rewarded, this type of learning also has to be considered carefully as reinforcing a maladaptive behaviour could be disastrous, that is why it is so important that when a child demonstrates positive behaviour that they are emotionally rewarded, which in turn reinforces the behaviour. Cherry (2013), goes on to say that “parents can also boost empathy and build emotional intelligence by encouraging their children to think about how other people feel. Start by inquiring about your child’s own feelings, asking questions about events in your child’s life. “How did you feel when you lost your toy?” “How did that story make you feel?” Once children become skilled at expressing their own emotional reactions, begin asking questions about how other people may feel. “How do you think Nadia felt when you took away the toy she was playing with?” By posing such questions, children can begin to think about how their own actions might impact the emotions of those around them” emotional intelligence is a key factor in ensuring that any child begins to understand feelings, this also includes the natural feelings of fear and aggression, as it is these feelings that lead a child ultimately down the path of a bully, this is not to say that feelings of fear and aggression are bad, they are not, its managing these feeling and coping with them, while interacting within a social group that is important. As we discovered above evolution plays an important hand in providing adaptive behaviour that in our caveman past was absolutely necessary, there were no child play groups available to these ancestral children, where they could learn in a controlled environment, with this in mind it’s no wonder today’s children sometimes have a hard job finding the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour.
Now that we have began to understand the behavior that we label “bullying” it’s time to explore what we as parents or martial artist can do to help a child deal with this pattern of behaviour. It has become evident that a bully is born and that they are also moulded through two very powerful influences, evolutionary adaptive behaviour and parental guidance, learning how to fight back is where I now turn my attention to, however it’s really important that we learn from the evidence above that bullying is another word for aggressive natural behavior designed to achieve dominance and fitness over others, we will never eradicate it from our schools or our social lives, as adults, what we must plan for, is education, helping both children and adults manage these types of behaviour, in doing so understand our evolutionary history and the reasons that Humans behave the way we do.
Cherry, K. (213). About.Com Psychology. Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood. accessed on 31-07-2013 @ http://psychology.about.com/od/early-child-development/a/Social-And-Emotional-Development-In-Early-Childhood.htm
Due, Pernille, Dr. (2005). bullying and symptoms among school-aged children:international comparative cross section study in 28 counties. European journal of public heath. accessed on 28/07/2013 @ http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/2/128.short
Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.
Hogan, M. and Sherrow. Phd. (2011) The Origins of Bullying. Originally published in Scientific American, December, 2011
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