Finding exactly how to stop bullying has always been a question asked in schools. Today, the age-old problem is only getting more attention.
Mark Shepard thinks he has the answers to help kids become “bully-proof,” and he’ll be teaching them during an hourlong program at the Bethlehem Public Library on Thursday, Jan. 24. His approach to bullying is nontraditional, focusing on reducing harm and helping victims and tormenters to establish a relationship.
“I think today we’re criminalizing kids who are actually playing out fundamental dominance roles. My goal is to focus on the target, and help them understand how to stop being a target and turn the person coming at you into a friend,” he said.
Shepard has a personal viewpoint on the subject after being bullied throughout his childhood. He developed a show with music and fun themes to bring his recommendations to audiences of all ages, and it starts out with a story from Shepard’s youth, when he stood up to one of his tormenters. He uses the story to show the audience what he did right and what he did wrong in handling the situation. He then gives them different options that can help in their own lives.
“I often use the audience to role play and demonstrate what is happening psychologically when someone is targeting someone else, and how the target actually has a lot of control to stop what is happening in the situation,” he said.
Shepard feels the key to stopping bullying is to empower kids to carry themselves more confidently and to train them to not give bullies the reaction they are looking for. A certain body language can help aggressors to no longer view people as targets.
“Every bully thinks of themselves as a victim,” he said. “There is a pecking order. Usually, bullies are hurting in some way and are just looking for a way to make themselves feel better.”
Shepard said if victims can change their attitude and reach out to the aggressor, establishing a friendship is a healthier situation for all involved. He said bullies are not usually bad kids, but today’s culture is trying to solve the problem by punishing the aggressor and protecting the kid perceived to be weaker. This builds on the aggressor’s negative emotions, while allowing the victim to continue to feel like a target because they are told their behavior does not need to change.
“You have to change how you move your body, so you don’t immediately go into fight or flight,” Shepard said. “States and schools are just making more rules, and all walking away does is make the target even less likely to find friends and the aggressor will find a time when adults aren’t looking.”
He also argues kids need to be taught to not take insults so seriously. The same rules apply for social media and online harassment, both topics of increased concern lately.
“We’ve all been mean, so why are we taking this so seriously?” Shepard said. “We are being trained in our culture to take what people say personally, and being taught that you should have hurt feelings if someone says something bad. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Shepard uses repetitive songs that he wrote himself to help kids remember the lessons that are taught during the program. One of his most popular is “Turn it into Something You Can Use,” which tells kids to take negativity and shrink it down to size.
“We are trained to feel bad if someone isn’t nice to us, but who is training kids to let it roll off their back and wear out their opponent in a way that harms no one? That’s where I’m coming from,” he said.
The program begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Bethlehem Public Library. It is free to the public. To learn more about Shepard’s program, visit www.bullyingpreventionnow.com.