Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bullying and the Crumpled Paper Exercise...Bullying Victim Propaganda - Unintended Messages We're Sending To Children About Bullying and Self Esteem

Crumpled Paper Bullying Insults Exercise and Victim Culture 

Have Your Children Seen This Anti-Bully Exercise?
Alarmist Anti-Bully Propaganda Perpetuated Myths & Messages
A teacher was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform.  She had the children take a piece of paper [In some accounts: 'and write a name on it then list harsh words, insults, teasing and mean words.']  Then she told them to crumple it up, stomp on it, and really mess it up but to be careful not to rip it.  Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was.  She then told them to tell it they're sorry.  now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind.  And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it.  That is what happens when a child bully's another child, they may say they're sorry but the scars are there forever.  The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.  
The Wrong Message About Bullying - Crumpled Letter
I continue to see this anti-bullying story in various versions circulate. While I can appreciate the sentiment and intention, the message is one that I believe contributes to the victim mentality of children. While the motives may be to create empathy in a would-be bully, the overarching message is one that we do not heal from wounds or hurts. 

Where Is The Forgiveness?  Where is The Hope? - Damaged Paper Bullying Insults
This exercise does not teach the amazing restorative power of love, forgiveness or freedom from victim thinking.  In helping thousands of men, women and children learn how to successfully overcome bullying, aggressive behavior and self defense situations in the last 27 years, I've seen amazing restoration and often, friendships grow out of former bullying situations.  While there is always the 1-3% of mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals, the majority of bullying takes place between people with a conscience.  Many of them have been or are being bullied themselves.  Many do not characterize or recognize our behavior as bullying.

An Alternative Point of View on Bullying Lessons
I use an alternative demonstration that offers hope and help.   I will take out $100 dollar bill.  I will crumple it, have students trample on it, punch it, wipe their nose on it, sit on it and even shout insults at it.  I will then take the bill and simply unfold it and hold it up in the air and say, "What could you buy with this?"  Pause.  "Who wants it?".  The hands shoot up into the air and eyes sparkle with eager anticipation of getting $100 bucks!

The message we send is one of hope.  That your value is not how you have been treated.  In life we may be damaged, injured, hurt, insulted, soiled, and beat up, but that doesn't determine or undermine our inherent value.  You are not the difficulties and abuses you have been through because your value is already established as a human being.  You are infinitely more valuable than that $100 dollars.

Teach a Different Lesson on Bullying: Peace Education, Forgiveness and Hope
My message to children...
Kids, if you get a teacher who gives you the bully paper exercise,  take it home, iron it, paint beautiful words with bright colors and pictures over it.  Use words like LOVE, FORGIVENESS, COMPASSION, KINDNESS, FRIENDSHIP, PEACE, EMPATHY, and HOPE.  Sign it, "LOVE, Your Name".  Put it into a nice frame.  Then return it to the class with your example of how time, love, kindness, a bit of therapy can not only heal wounds but be a foundation for compassion, wisdom and an example to others.  In fact, it can be more beautiful than it ever was before.  

Ask them if they will display your art in the classroom.  Never forget that other people do not define you and that your value or self worth is not in the opinions of other people.  You are unique and no one in the world is exactly like you or has your unique gifts, talents or personality.  I believe you are on this Earth for a purpose and can use your gifts to make the world a better place.

My Opinion on the Bullying Crumpled Paper Illustration
Again, I don't doubt the intention here, the Bullying Crumpled Paper Exercise just sends a mixed or unintended message. Everything is context. 

The Story of Lucy and Bullying
Ten year old Lucy told me, "Everyone hates me."  When asked why, she told me about two girls who were being cruel to her using social exclusion and conspiring to get her in trouble with teachers.  Upon examination, it was clear that these other girls enjoyed a higher level of social intelligence and were popular.  The misinterpretation from Lucy was that those girls represented "everyone".  It can seem this way to a bullied child without coping skills or perspective, however,  it is not true.  She had given up on teachers helping her saying, "All they do is say 'tell a teacher'. Then when I do it just gets worse cuz the girls get to me when they [teachers] aren't around."  Lucy had the bully paper example at her school and was losing hope.  

Lucy's school employed the Olweus school wide anti-bully program and even had an assembly a year ago.  Kids like Lucy fall through the cracks unless we know how to look out for them, to see the signs and take appropriate action to assist, counsel, and equip them.  She wanted to learn martial arts to exact her revenge.  When individuals see themselves as victims they often justify aggressive and inappropriate behavior.  This is just one reason that the bully paper message is inappropriate.  

I'm proud to say that after some intervention and training that the bullying has not only stopped, but Lucy is now friends with the girls.  Her experiences yielded wisdom and compassion for other kids experiencing bullying.  Lucy now speaks up for other kids targeted for bullying.

Teaching Victim-hood, Dependence or Resiliency with Interdependence
We are not helpless victims left to our own devices. Children have inherent value beyond what others deem or see in them. Children cannot be taught that their self esteem is linked to others opinions of them and then expect them to be emotionally prepared for the world we live in. We must accept reality and nature as it exists, not as we hope or wish it to be. This is the beginning of addressing denial and reclaiming our power and stake in nature. I believe that this is a more important message to convey. 
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt.
Emotional Placebos Perpetuate Denial
While it may make us feel better about ourselves because it demonstrates how much we "care", as a bullying specialist on the front lines, I would ask everyone to please reconsider this type of alarmist propaganda. I'm in no way attempting to excuse bullying behavior but we must be careful not to demonize children nor eliminate hope.  Yes, we must encourage empathy, respect, kindness, self control and courtesy to others, however, we must be careful of the messages were sending and the context in which they might be received.
“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” – Albert Camus
Helpless & Hopeless From Wrong Bullying Messages
When children feel helpless and we send messages that they are permanently damaged from harsh treatment or words, it destroys hope. Hopeless children, prone to depression, have turned to self abuse and even suicide. Contemplate the larger lessons for lifelong emotional health.  

My experience has taught me that you cannot teach "ANTI-BULLY" without being anti-child.  I believe the path is teaching peace education, compassion, empathy and respect for good manners.   The rest is counseling, legal system and self defense.

Hope is a Powerful Ally - Especially Against Bullying
For an alternative point of view, solutions, questions or networking, you can read my other blog articles at Bullying Prevention Initiative International or Arizona BullyProof Project. Our goal is to provide hope, options and a way out. Hope is alive when people care and options exist. If you don't care to read my opinions or research, I would recommend school Psychologist Izzy Kahlman or Dr. Joel Haber's BullyProof.  You can also join or LIKE us on Facebook.  

Without prejudice, 

John Nottingham


  1. Great post, completely agree.

  2. I think you are missing the point of that lesson.
    The lesson is, being bullied stays with you, even after you fix the issue and stop the bullying. Being bullied stays with you forever. Getting that across to children is a good message. It doesn't mean there isn't HOPE. It means your actions have consequences. a point which is not being shown by your $1oo bill lesson. A point that bullies young and old need to understand.

  3. On the contrary DK Paradice. I do grasp the concept that hurtful words can damage but I do not agree that they always must or will damage - especially permanently.

    Your contention the "Being bullied stays with you forever." is precisely the point to which I take issue. 1) This premise can backfire when one who bullies learns it, they can become emboldened and more certain that they have greater power over others. This fuels the fire of bullying and I've seen it first hand.
    2) Where is the room for forgiveness, healing and freedom? Once the target of bullying, individuals need to know that their is hope, healing and help. They need not carry to burden for life. The concern is that hurting kids may see themselves as the crumpled bill, damaged for life, without hope because they were taught so. I wholeheartedly disagree with the premise, the message and this victim culture thinking.

    Most of the harm in this world comes from those who view themselves as victims justifying their hate, harm and revenge of others. I simply believe that a different lesson would yield greater results. Thank you for taking the time to comment, share your view on this important issue.

  4. I didn't receive any (anti)bullying lessons, no crumpled papers, no examples, no support when being bullied, no words of being a victim or otherwise. I am an extremely intelligent scientist but it takes me a long time to feel secure in a friendship and to take initiative with social events and not wait to be asked all the time - and that is ALL because of the bullying I experienced as a child & teen. It does stay with you, no matter what. That doesn't mean it has damaged me, doesn't mean I do not enjoy life, and doesn't mean I think of myself as a victim. I have memories that cannot be erased, no matter how positively I try to view the situation.
    Yes, you are right that the vast majority of bullies have a conscious and do not see their actions as bullying. So I can fogive them but I will never forgive the adults who see this behaviour and are too spineless to do anything about it. Those people who let this happen and did nothing - who SHOULD recognise bullying - I will never forgive.