By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Malcolm Smith held the rapt attention of nearly 200 people when he recounted the day his best friend died.
A ninth-grade student in one of her classes had been bullied over his sexual orientation. Other students had burned crosses and erected signs with crudely worded messages on his lawn the night before the event.
“He came to school in the morning with a gun and pointed it at her,” Smith said. “She said, ‘Oh, my God, a gun! Give it to me!’ He shot her three times.”
That is the reason Smith has dedicated his life to changing the scenario of bullying in schools. Bullying has been clearly linked as a significant factor in each of 48 school shootings in U.S. schools, including Columbine in Colorado, Red Lake, Minn., and Jonesboro, Ark., Smith said.
The audience Smith spoke to at Northwestern Oklahoma State University-Enid Thursday had come to hear Smith’s presentation, “Educating the Angry Child.” He is an associate professor and specialist in family education and policy at University of New Hampshire Extension.
Carole Wade, executive director of Garfield County Child Advocacy Council, said people came from all over Oklahoma and as far away as Jefferson City, Mo., for the conference. They included educators, students, clergy and an assortment of other professions.
“This has probably been the best-attended mental health summit we’ve had,” Wade said.
As Smith gave a definition of bullying, he quoted a booklet distributed to the audience.
“Bullying is a single incident or a pattern of significant severity involving a written, verbal, electronic or physical act intended to:
• Physically harm a pupil or damage the pupil’s property; or
• Cause substantial emotional distress to a pupil; or
• Interfere with a pupil’s educational opportunities; or
• Be severe, persistent or pervasive so as to create an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or
• Disrupt the orderly operation of the school.”
In the United States, it is estimated more than 7 million bullying incidents are reported in public schools each year, 86 percent of children 12 to 15 have been bullied, and more than half of children 8 to 15 believe bullying is a bigger problem in their school than drugs, racism and HIV-AIDs, Smith said.
“We have made a lot of wrong assumptions over the years,” Smith said.
One wrong assumption was that bullies have low self-esteem and are trying to climb the social ladder, so the answer was to boost the bully’s self-esteem.
“Here’s what we found out,” Smith said. “It wasn’t self-esteem.”
The next assumption was that bullies didn’t know how to solve conflict, and needed to be taught how to mediate.
“We beat our kids with self-esteem and gave them so much to give them self-esteem,” Smith said. “Now, we have a generation of kids with a sense of entitlement.”
Smith said repeated bullying incidents can be linked to mental illness — for both victims and bullies. Child victims are more likely to suffer depression and have a higher risk of suicide. Bullies often become antisocial or violent adults and are more likely to commit crimes.
“Bullying is one of only three activities I know of that can cause a mental illness,” Smith said.
Smith pointed to the three types of bullies: the narcissist bully, who believes he is better than his victims; the pathological bully, who gets followers to carry out the bullying; and the retaliation bully, who has himself been bullied for years and then strikes back.
Retaliation bullies are highly associated with violence, Smith said.
“They’ve been told if you’re bullied, you need to fight back,” Smith said. “This is a child who has what I call implosive anger.”
Summit sessions included, “Is This the Meanest Generation?” “The Anger Triangle and Recognizing and Dealing With Three Types of Anger,” “Understanding Bullying and Peer Victimization,” and “School Culture and Climate, Teaching the Courage to Care.”
The summit was sponsored by Garfield County Child Advocacy Council, Integris Behavioral Health-Meadowlake Hospital, NWOSU, Garfield County Health Department, Child Abuse Training and Coordination Council, United Way of Enid and Northwest Oklahoma, Northern Oklahoma College and Oklahoma Department of Human Services.