Understanding bullying is an incredibly complex issue. More and more people are realizing there are many components to this behavior which must be examined. As we clearly gain understanding of these components, our potential to solve the devastation of bullying are greatly enhanced.
But what if the behavior we are seeing is really symptomatic of a much larger problem? We could find ourselves treating the symptom and not really getting to the root of the problem. It’s like giving someone Tylenol for the pain without ever examining them to understand the root cause of it.
This is exactly the role poverty may be playing in this discussion. Ruby Payne (1996), a leading expert in poverty, explains, language is not the predominant means of communication in poverty. Being physically dominant is part of survival. If you want or need something you need to take it, not as we often say in the middle class, “use your words”. Being physically dominant is also equated to safety. In the world of poverty, children pushing, shoving and grabbing is acceptable and necessary, but in most of our eyes it can earn you a consequence and even a label.
What do we do as we look at the role poverty may be playing in our issues of bullying? First, people must understand their own bias regarding who they perceive to be bullies and victims. This includes an openness to examine bullying in relationship to poverty. It is during this examination that we may see poverty patterns beginning to emerge.
Second, as adults we need to help all of our children understand what rules apply where and how to behave appropriately in different situations. For many of our children in poverty coming to school is very much like visiting a foreign country where all the accepted norms and customs of their worlds do not apply.
Let’s be clear, we are not telling people to ignore these behaviors. Instead, let’s understand where these behaviors may be coming from and apply effective intervention strategies on the behalf of these children. We must be constantly aware of the role poverty is playing in our lives and the lives of our children. This includes bullying! Let’s deal with the root and not the symptom.