Addressing Bullying

October 2012 Amanda Todd, a 15 year old Canadian teenager, died by suicide caused by months of experiencing bullying, hate and exploitation. She had released a YouTube video documenting her torment and struggle. 

At the Walk-in Counselling Clinic we see many youth who are experiencing Bullying which presents some dilemmas for us.  When we meet with those young people we do not wish to sponsor the sort of conversation in which they may experience suggestions implicit or explicit that they must make changes in their lives.  Youth should be able to navigate their lives free of Bullying.  We have had to give great consideration to the kinds of conversations we will be a part of in these circumstances.  We have also had to give strong consideration to our processes and how they may be colluding with the Problem.  

Conversations we’ll have:

Often we hear stories of youth distress and many consider leaving their education behind for the safety of isolation.  Very often the youth will share with us the ‘effects’ of the Bullying on their lives.  They speak of feeling inadequate, unpopular, and as if they should not have been born.  They tell us stories of the futility in sharing their experiences as ‘nothing gets done’.  This account when left to be the only conversation at the Walk-in risks inviting hopelessness and further despair.  As a brief narrative therapist working in time constraint I have an obligation to engage in the kind of conversation that not only honours youth’s pain but provides a forum for young people to attach significance to previously neglected events (White, 2011) and share other storylines that fit more closely with their preferences.   One such conversational territory involves response-based conversations (Wade, 2007, Yuen, 2009). These are the kinds of conversations that move away from the sole sharing of the effects of the Bullying towards a sharing of the responses to the offense and the values and intentions that inform those responses.  As White 2011, p132, notes “…people are not passive recipients of trauma; they respond to trauma in the best way they know how.” Given this we can ask about youth’s responses to Bullying and discern what those responses speak to about what is important to the person offended.  Those ideas can be linked to other ways that people have responded in life, and the skills they employed.  These ideas can then be brought into proposals for how to continue or carry on in a way that is in harmony with what is valued by the young person.  Ways forward, not previously considered come available.  I want to also note that this conversation takes place in concert with conversation that identifies and names acts of hate, injustice, oppression, etc.  In no way are these conversations shying away from the story of what people have experienced that they find distressing or the context of that distress. 

Considering this, had we the opportunity to talk with Amanda we could inquire about what kind of response the creation and publication of her YouTube video was.  Was it a means to break the silence that exploitation and abuse had tried to hold her to?  Was it a means to emerge from the isolation that Bullying prescribed for her?  Was it a testament to her bravery and determination to resist the life exploitation condemned her to?  I imagine it could be all of these.  We could have asked her what her responses say about what is precious to her that she continued to hold dear and refuse to let Bullying separate her from.  She might have spoke to us about how she valued friends and family as well as respect, safety, and her personhood.  She may have talked about how she believed kids should treat each other kindly and how adults are supposed to look after youth and not deceive and take advantage of them.  We could have then also identified others who stood with her in small and larger ways against the injustice she was facing.  She could have know she is not alone in her struggle.

It is within these response –based conversations that youth who have experienced Bullying find a renewed sense of being able to direct their lives and a re-acquaintance with supports and allies who will respond to their circumstances along with them.  

Witness and Response:

As witnesses to these stories of Bullying at the walk-in we have responsibility to respond.  Part of our procedure is to provide follow-up with the youth and families who are experiencing Bullying.  We ensure that a prevention plan is developing and shaped with the broader community involved. Turning again to Reynolds 2010 we embrace the kind of witnessing she describes in her practice.  “Witnessing speaks to an experience of being held up collectively with others who share our ethical responsibilities.  For community workers, a witnessing stance invites a connection alongside clients, but says I am in this struggle with you as well.  The worker is not an audience to this person’s individual struggle, but relationally connected to it. (p.14)”.  We are not audience for these stories but rather we listen and respond.  These responses are not only through our conversations but also through action and advocacy if and where called for.    

I hope these ideas prove useful for you in the context of your conversations at the Walk-in Counseling Clinic.

In Curiosity,

Scot

References:

Reynolds, V. & White, J.(2012). Hate Kills: A social justice response to “suicide”. Retrieved from http://discoursesofprevention.com/post-symposium-activities/.

Reynolds, V. (2010). Doing Justice as a path to sustainability in community work. Retrieved online July 10, 2012 from www.vikkireynolds.ca 

White, M. (2011). Narrative practice: Continuing the conversation. W. W. Norton

Yuen, A. (2009) Less pain more gain: Explorations of responses versus effects when working with the consequences of trauma. E-journal of narrative practice. Issue 1, p. 6-16. Dulwich Centre Foundation


© Scot J. Cooper Inc. 2016