Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

January 28, 2011

Bullies Turning the Screws on Victims and Phillips Head Screwdrivers

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 8:56 pm
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During a recent visit with my Mom and Dad, I asked for tool suggestions, and the screwdriver was an obvious pick.  Talking about the advantages of the Phillips head versus traditional slotted screwdrivers, I couldn’t help thinking about the nature of bullies and their strong connection to their victims.

The Phillips head screwdriver was invented to improve on another type of screwdriver – the socket screwdriver.  Instead of a hexagonal socket in the screw, easily turned by hex keys, the Phillips head screw is made to be turned by a criss cross designed screwdriver head.  Having used both slotted and Phillips head screwdrivers for routine household tasks, the advantage of the criss cross design is clear.  Unlike with the slotted type where the screwdriver invariably slips out of its designated slot as you tighten a screw, a Phillips head always stays tightly connected to its clearly marked screw.

This is not unlike how bullies stay firmly connected to victims. Something in the way victims respond seems to create a perfect fit for bullies’ tormenting prods.  I wrote a bit about this in the post  Duct Tape and Bullies – Leaving Their Mark.,   and about the victim’s reactivity which signals that bullies’ hostile ministrations have hit the mark.  Children who are more reactive are often, by definition more sensitive.  This means that victims are chosen because of their nature, but are also the most easily and seriously hurt by bullying because of their nature.  Imagine the slotted screwdriver type of child, easy going, able to allow injuries and insults to slip through them.  How different that is from the Phillips head type child, born with a nature sensitive enough to capture and hold all the world has to offer, including pain and nastiness.

Raising or teaching a sensitive, “Phillips head” type of child is challenging, and helping them through bullying even more so.  There is the temptation to advise the child to change their nature, suggesting they not show they are upset, or not be so bothered by things.  This is about as effective as telling highly active children to be still and read quietly, or tone-deaf children to sing on key!  Not only does such advice suggest to the child that one’s biological temperament can be easily changed through simple acts of will, but it also makes the victim feel somehow responsible for the aggression and for making it stop.

It may seem a minor difference from the typical strategy, but one can both validate victims’ experiences and support their growth with tools not from carpentry, but from the theater.  First, it is crucial that victims hear that their feelings are reasonable and normal with statements like, “I can see that really upsets you” or “That would make anyone feel really bad”.  After such validation, suggestions for strategies can be offered.  Rather than telling victims not to react, advising them to assume a role, or act in a particular way for a brief period may be more successful.  This slight modification to the “just don’t react” advice, allows victims to feel that no one expects them to be unaffected by the bully’s insults.  What is required is for the victim to separate internal experience from public behavior.  Helping children understand that it is possible for what we feel on the inside to be different from what we show on the outside (as is typical for actors) is a valuable life lesson.

In our tool discussion my mom raised the excellent question, which came first, the Phillips head screw or the Phillips head screwdriver.    In this case, Henry F. Phillipspatented the Phillips screw first, and used it in a successful trial on the 1936 Cadillac.  Whether the existence of sensitive children who have in their nature a perfect stronghold for bullies actually contributes to the development of bullies is certainly not my suggestion and in no way lessens the need to address the problem. When adults witness children firmly connect to the vulnerability of others using their most aggressive and power driven meanness they must do all they can to help both the “driver” and the “screw”.

We can and should help victims develop “acting” skills to serve as psychological insulation.  We must also, however, help bullies see that turning the screws on another human being is no sign of greatness. Parents and educators who have been fortunate to witness how weakness or need in one child can bring out generosity, helpfulness, or responsibility in another know the power of tools wielded for the right reasons.  Perhaps if we create environments where this response to others is taught, encouraged, supported, expected and celebrated all children, including those with the tendency to bully, will attach themselves and their power to turning the world into a place where all feel safe, welcomed and valued.

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