Bullying expert Richard CardilloTuesday, April 29, 2014
‘You should have your children’s passwords’
Born in White Plains, New York, in 1958
Education: Bachellor’s degree in Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
Work: Worked as a teacher but then moved on to do human rights work within the education sector. Currently heads the National School Climate Centre (NSCC)
Newspapers: Mostly the New York Times, Education Digest, Education Weekly, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker.
Could you start by defining bullying? And especially, when does teasing cross the line?
Bullying is a word that, nowadays, has almost lost all its meaning. The media has talked about it so much that now everything is bullying and nothing is bullying. Classically, bullying is prolonged maltreatment or abusive behaviour. We need to distinguish it from conflict: if I am in 2nd grade and you’re in 2nd grade and you want my ball...that’s conflict and that’s normal. Teasing is the same thing: it is not prolonged and it is not meant to do damage. In simple terms, teasing is “I’m just messing with you,” while bullying is more “I am fooling around and I want to hurt you.” There’s a difference there...
Bullying has become more visible during the past few years, with several cases leading even to suicide. Do you think it’s more difficult to be a kid nowadays than it was 20 years ago?
I do believe it has become more difficult, but for other reasons... Regarding bullying, I don’t think of it as an epidemic but I don’t believe either that it’s a phase that everybody goes through. Generally, adults say “I was beaten in school” or “my parents hit me and I came out OK.” The first thing I usually say is: “Are you sure?” (laughs). There’s only one country that has more psychologists than Argentina: it’s the US...
Now, there’s still no correlation between bullying and suicide in itself. There’s a correlation between bullying, mental health and suicide. Usually, if somebody is on the verge of committing suicide, there’s something other than the bullying going on.
How has bullying changed over the years?
We are so used to seeing the bully being a boy, a strong boy, holding a weaker child up to get the lunch box. That’s not bullying now... the face of bullying has changed. It could be a weaker child against a stronger child. Bullying now is mostly electronic. Cyberbullying has really changed the face of bullying to become anonymous. You are being told you are ugly, you are fat, nobody wants to be your friend...and you don’t know who’s saying that. Your bully is changing all the time. So it’s become even harder to deal with.
What are the specifics of cyberbullying? What should a kid who is being bullied online do?
When we talk to students, we tell them that as soon as they feel they are being harassed online, they should block the sender. They should copy what they have, so that they can bring it to somebody, but they should never engage the person. They should change their account if necessary...
We try to teach kids to use technology wisely. Sexting is so big now...What kids don’t understand is that whatever they take a picture of now and send into cyberspace, is there forever. What I try to teach students right away is the power that they have in a smartphone. And as an adult, I am strict in certain things: up until the age of 12 or 13, children should block every camera capacity that the phone has, they should block certain apps, they should not have a Facebook account. Parents should know their children’s passwords up until they are 13. Does that mean they are meddling? No.
But what about when they are 15 or 16?
Parents should still have their children’s passwords, just for security’s sake. Computers in the house should be in an open space, not in somebody’s bedroom.
What’s the limit? When do you stop checking your child’s email account?
If you’ve done your parenting well, they’ll know their limits too. It’s a very holistic approach. If you let your kids go out and drink at the age of 13 but then you say “no, you can’t use the internet,” then that’s a mixed message. Adolescents are testing the limits and parenting them is about giving them a little bit of responsibility. It’s no different with the cyber-world. You should control what your kids are doing online.
When should parents intervene in a bullying situation?
We find that 80 percent of incidents of bullying go unreported to an adult, teachers or parents. When we ask students why they don’t tell it’s 1) because they are afraid that they’re going to be punished, 2) because they think they did something wrong and 3) because they don’t think the adults are going to do anything to change the situation. If a child goes to a parent and says “I am being bullied”, one of the biggest things to avoid is what I call the “Mamma drama” (“I am going to call the National Guard, and then I am going to call the Army and we are going to get to the bottom of this”). The first thing a child being bullied wants is to be listened. You can ask questions: Are you safe now? What did that feel like? What are you going through now? And, finally, at the end: What do you want me to do about this? But that has to come last. First, you have to deal with the feelings.
But the kid could not know what to do about it...
Absolutely, and then that’s a discovery together. How great for a child to hear from a parent “I don’t know the best thing to do either. Let’s find out together.” That normalizes the situation...
What’s your advice to parents then?
Number 1 is they have to listen to the child. Number 2, most states in the US have mandated reporting. If you go to the school and say “my child is being bullied” they have to investigate. Most times it doesn’t really work to go to the parents of the bully. One thing that is absolutely not helpful is to bring the bully and the victim back together. It’s unhealthy...It’s going to be a situation of “he said, she said.” However, we always insist that if there’s any danger of physical violence, parents should contact school authorities immediately.
Do you find that bullying is in any way related to poverty?
Studies have shown that there are real differences in brain activity in people who live in poverty: less attention span, less intellectual capacity, less range of emotions, less impulse control... If there’s something that’s really bothering them, they are going to act out. So yes, lower socio-economics, poverty are real issues that could lead to bullying or disruptive behaviour. At the end of the day, all of the school climate work is really social justice work. Now, when we get to real issues like guns, real mental health issues, that’s a different story. We need laws for that. No kid should feel unsafe going into school. Many of the schools I work at in Brooklyn have metal detectors. What kind of an environment is that for a kid to learn in? It’s more like a prison...
You work at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, where a school shooting incident took place in 2012. What is it like working at a school that went through such a traumatic experience? (Editor’s note: On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members and then killed himself).
That was very clearly not just a bullying issue. There were real mental health issues with Adam Lanza (the shooter). However, since that happened, at least 90 percent of the work that I do when I walk into the school is “how can we be sure we are not teaching the next Adam Lanza?” I use that to ask teachers: how are we dealing with kids who have problems? What are we doing to include them? But, of course, that gets into funding, into policy, into politics. Those are very touchy subjects.