The Bullied, the Bully, and the Bystander
by Barbara Coloroso



Collins Living, 2009. ISBN 0-060-01429-6.
Reviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 04/21/2013

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

Barbara Coloroso's book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, is simply the best book I've ever read about the epidemic of bullying and what we can do about it. Coloroso takes a unique and eye-opening approach—that bullying is a sort of drama, a tragedy with three main roles that kids adopt as they reenact the old story. As adults, she argues, it is our job to rewrite the roles and interrupt the destructive narrative.

Information is presented in bite-size lists, such as: 4 marks of bullying, 7 types of bullies, 7 key abilities people need, 6 critical life messages to give kids every day, 4 danger signs of overexposure to media, 4 antidotes to bullying, etc. She spells out the differences between taunting and teasing, tattling and telling, offering numerous ideas we can share with our kids so that bullies become leaders, targets become empowered, and bystanders become witnesses. In this revised edition, she offers a chapter on cyber-bullying and information which schools can implement immediately on numerous anti-bullying programs offered by the US government and non-profit organizations.

Understanding how each "character" contributes to the "narrative" of bullying helps us see the consequences of each role kids play. This is the only book I've seen which addresses not only the bully and the target (she is careful not to call kids victims), but also the bystander. There are far-reaching consequences for each. The bully fails to learn empathy, learns to get what he wants through domination, terror, and violence and may ultimately graduate to criminal behavior and life behind bars. The bystander faces a complicated dilemma.whether to stand up for the target and become another victim, whether to "tattle" and be ostracized by her peers, or to ignore a guilty conscience and walk away, or even join in. Bystanders who do not take action to stop bullying face consequences that other books about bullying do not address. Their passivity can carry on into adult life in a way which weakens our society as a whole. Ultimately, the bystander may get caught in the crossfire.

The bullied kid experiences loss of self-esteem and even of hope. He or she may deal with the pain by becoming a bully, by turning the anger inward, or by exploding in a violent attack on the bully and the bystanders.teachers and students.who failed to protect or worse still, justified the attacks because the target was "a wimp" or "socially awkward."

What happens in a culture where violence is seen as the answer to a problem, a way to gain power or save face? What happens in a society where "looking the other way" is the norm? Coloroso draws a powerful parallel between the bullied student's daily nightmare and the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Is there a difference between terrorism in schools and terrorism in our world today? Do we want to raise children who have the moral strength to bear witness and refuse to collude or join in? Do we want bullies to learn empathy and relational skills? Are we training our kids to enter the world as compassionate, responsible adults with the self-control and skills to deal with problems and disputes effectively, fairly, and without violence? If we want a better world, a better society, Coloroso implies, we need to see bullying for what it really is—practice for the situations kids will one day face in the real world.

Coloroso's analysis of bullying is a revelation, but what makes this book most valuable are the numerous resources and ideas she offers for dealing effectively with the problem. She argues against responses such as "peer mediation" and "zero tolerance." The former fails to recognize that bullying is not about a disagreement between the bully and her target, but about contempt, power, terror, and domination. Zero tolerance policies require we punish the bully, which not only fails to teach him the skills he needs to get along with others but may even result in retaliation against the target. What she recommends instead is a program of restitution, resolution, and reconciliation. The bully must repair the harm she has done, and then all parties must resolve to keep the incident from happening again. Finally, reconciliation is necessary to allow "...a process of healing the person you have harmed. It involves a commitment by the offender to honor her plan to make restitution and live up to her resolutions." This three-pronged approach puts the emphasis on community rather than punishment, allows for the retraining of the bully and the return of worth and dignity to the bullied.

It creates a school that places great value on community and cooperation, problem-solving and relationship skills, a school culture in which bystanders are more likely to report offenses because that is just "how we do things here."

Ultimately terror is terror, racism is racism, sexism is sexism, whether it occurs between children in a locker room or between nations. How we deal with it in our children's lives will have consequences not only for them but for our future as a society.


Barbara Coloroso is an internationally recognized speaker and author in the areas of parenting, teaching, school discipline, non-violent conflict resolution and reconciliatory justice. She is an educational consultant for school districts, the medical and business community, the criminal justice system, and educational associations around the world. Barbara has served as a classroom teacher, a laboratory school instructor, and a university instructor. She is the author of five international bestsellers. She has appeared on Oprah, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and NPR, and has been featured in the New York Times, Time, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, and other national and international publications. Visit her website.

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