Interview with Peter Sacco, Ph.D, Author, Teacher, Executive Producer and Host
By Ryan Traynor, Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Peter Sacco is the author of many popular international books and more than 700 magazine articles. He has received the Award of Excellence in Teaching and lectures at universities in both the U.S. and Canada. He currently hosts a weekly radio show, “Matters of the Mind” which features celebrities with whom he discusses mental health, relationship and addiction issues. He is also an award-winning executive producer and host of documentaries on relationships, psychological issues and children’s issues. To learn more about Peter or his work, please visit http://www.petersacco.com and www.bullyingisforthebirds.com.
Peter has co-written the book If I was a Bird…What Kind of Flock would I Fly with?, a book about preventing bullying and encouraging cultural acceptance.
Our discussions with Dr. Sacco may help kids everywhere identify, confront, and deal with bullying. We hope you find some valuable information in his answers. (AK=Amazing Kids, PS=Peter Sacco)
AK: Our September issue theme is about bullying. Can you give our readers a definition of bullying and how it differs from normal conflict between peers?
PS: Bullying is an act of aggression committed by one against another. It contains several qualities that set it apart from conflict. Bullying contains the following qualities:
- The bullying incidents or abuse is repeated over time. It is not a onetime event, rather a series of incidents whereby someone is bullied.
- The event involves a victim being distressed by the abuse. Whenever someone displays visual or verbal signs that they are feeling hurt and the bully continues to engage in this behavior because they derive a sense of satisfaction from it, then it is bullying.
- There is always an imbalance of power in that one of the kids is more powerful than the other. Often times it is physical strength which creates the imbalance, however it can also be intellectual, or the ability to use verbal skills more powerfully than the victim which plays to an audience.
- There is intent to harm by the bully. They knowingly and maliciously decide to attack another child who is helpless and unable to defend against the attack. For all intents, it is premeditated on the bully’s part!
In peer conflict, the individual does not always insist on getting their own way. They have legitimate reasons for disagreeing. After or during a conflict, they are willing to try to solve problems or usually apologize. They are willing and able to offer “win-win” solutions. They are willing to bargain and negotiate during disagreements. They are able to change topics and walk away before something escalates into aggression and violence.
AK: Is there a difference in how boys and girls bully each other? Why is the difference there?
PS: Generally speaking, boys will try to dominate the victim they are bullying with physical abuse–punching, kicking, restraining, biting, etc. Conversely, girls tend to use verbal and emotional abuse such as put downs, name calling and even slanderous remarks that attack one’s character. They are also more likely to use on-line social media to launch their attacks. This difference is largely based on media perception–movies, video games, literature, where males are the more physical aggressors. Interestingly, as the roles women characters are playing in movies and video games become more physically aggressive, it is more and more common to see younger girls emulating these actions in terms of using physical aggression. Also, if there is domestic abuse occurring in homes, the bully whether they be male or female may be learning it from a primary role model, namely their parent(s), or sibling.
AK: What are the characteristics of children who are bullied?
PS: Bullies are basically predators and hunters in that they “seek” out perceived weak victims. Traits bullies are most likely going to look for in potential victims:
- Children who lack social skills needed to initiate and maintain friendships. Children who are alone are isolated in schools are more likely to be picked on.
- Children who are isolated, anxious, insecure or those who cry very easily. Once a bully sees this, it is like a shark smelling blood in water.
- Children who exhibit fragile self-esteem. Children who are down on themselves, hate themselves, or are feeling depressed, are more likely to be picked on.
- Children who have experienced a previous trauma. Word gets around that once a child has become an easy target, others jump on the band wagon. There have been several incidents of Facebook and Internet posting of victims.
- Children with emotional, behavioral and/or attention difficulties. Children with learning disabilities or physical disabilities are more likely to be assaulted.
- Children who are physically weak or small in size. Often times, these kids are most preyed on in gym class and at recess. Did you know that the game dodge ball has been banned in several US states because they view it as promoting violence and picking on the weak—it wrecks a child’s self-esteem!
- Children who use money, toys and bribes to protect themselves. Once a child needs to use “security money” to send a message, the message will become expensive. Not only does the bully expect more, but others start coming around looking for their share!
- Children new to a school who have not adjusted well after an adequate period of time. The worst time to move a child to a new school is in the middle of the year! Groups and cliques have already been formed.
AK: What should children and teens do if someone tries to bully them?
PS: Basically there are only 4 responses. One is to look the bully in the eye and tell them to “Stop.” Sometimes that is what the bully needs to hear, as no one may have told them to stop before. Second, walk away. There is no sense in trying to engage the bully if all they want to do is start something. Walking away does not make you a “chicken”, rather it makes you the mature one! Third, if you feel threatened, tell an adult right away. Fourth, which I do not advocate unless it is a dire situation, and only if you feel you have the self-defense skills and/or training, is to fight back. No one should be bullied, hurt or degraded and take a beating as that proves nothing other than you can take a beating. I am old school in that sometimes if you are physically threatened and stand to be harmed or have a loved one who is about to get hurt, you have to stand your ground. I have had some mothers and teachers say fighting back is wrong, which I agree and I do not advocate it, but there is a difference between fighting and self-defense and I know of no mother I have ever spoken with who wouldn’t defend against a 6’3″ hulking man if he was harming her child. Sometimes, the moment and situation dictates self-defense.
AK: What should children and teens do if they see another kid being bullied?
PS: Much like the last response, there are basically two options. The first is to step in and help the victim. Heck, there is strength in numbers and other kids might step in and help. This lets the bully know that their behavior will not be tolerated. Second, go and call an adult. Getting an adult involved stops the situation from escalating and also adults are now aware of who the bully is.
AK: What is cyber bullying? How can kids prevent and respond to it?
PS: Cyberbullying is any kind of bullying that uses electronic technology. This would include: cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as online social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), text messages, online dating sites, chat sites and other kinds of websites. First off, leave the site if you feel bullied. Second, never respond or create conflict. Once you post something online or in a text, it is “out there” for everyone to see, and in some cases, no taking it back. Also, there are called “social reporting,” options on many social media sites in that users have the ability to report offensive or abusive material to the webmaster, etc. Report incidences to stop bullying online!
AK: If someone thinks they might be a bully, how can they tell if they are and how can they stop being a bully?
PS: There are some more tell-tale features in kids who are bullies. There are qualities to look for in children which might identify them as being bullies:
- Their marks suddenly drop and continue to nose dive.
- The child complains of being treated poorly by teachers and other children.
- The child might begin committing acts of violence toward a family pet or other animals.
- The child engages and seeks out conflicts that lead to violence with siblings, parents and friends.
- The child associates with and chooses friends who appear to endorse violence.
AK: What should teachers, parents, and community partners do about bullying?
PS: Parents, teachers, adults or anyone for that matter need to get involved! Parents and teachers can and need to:
- Listen carefully and talk to your kids about life at school, especially if there is a marked change in mood or attitude.
- Talk to their children about their options in dealing with the bully. They can try to ignore the bully, be forthright and up front with the bully. They might also encourage their child to go to their teachers for help.
- Parents might role play some of the options to improve the child’s self-confidence. Parents might try to teach their children to walk more confidently. Also, they might enroll their child in self-defense courses.
- Parents should ask their children what kinds of other help they might need. They might need to speak to a counselor.
- Parents need to remind their children of the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”. Research shows that bullying falls out of favor as children progress through junior high school.
AK: How does the school environment affect the cases of bullying and what are the best methods for students to start a movement to change the environment?
PS: Victims need a supportive, nurturing, small group or individual setting to encourage them to share their feelings, state needs and practice new skills. Decreasing the victim’s isolation is the primary focus. You have to help the child broaden their abilities for friendship skills. Help kids get acquainted and accepted with one another! Children need to learn and develop an understanding of self-esteem. You have to teach skills which result in helping victims feel empowered. Finally, teach students to identify a trusted adult… someone they can confide in and go to whenever they are bullied. Let kids know that there is no shame in being a victim of bullying!
AK: As a teacher, author, and practitioner, you have been very successful. Who has been a mentor in your life who has helped you succeed in life?
PS: Without a doubt, my parents who have always encouraged me, and helped give me the means for opportunities of education, social activities and sports. I have had very many great teachers and professors along the way who have taught me how to chase down my dreams, goals, and believe that if you want something bad enough, it is yours for the taking!
We hope you learned something about bullying by reading this discussion with Peter Sacco. To learn more about Peter or to purchase his book, please visit http://www.petersacco.com and www.bullyingisforthebirds.com.