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Bullying: Dr John Irvine

Sunday, May 5, 2002
Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: ninemsn, in association with 60 Minutes, presents a live interview with John Irvine, child psychologist, talking to us tonight about child bullying.

Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: John, thank you for joining us tonight to talk to us about this topic that painfully touches so many lives.

Dr John Irvine: Thank you and I'm very grateful for the time you've taken to make contact.

Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: Can I begin by asking you, for those few guests who aren't aware of your background, what your experience is when it comes to working with children and perhaps this area in particular?

Dr John Irvine: I was a teacher for many years, I lectured in behaviour management for many years and I've written about bullying and peer pressure in a couple of my books, including Thriving at School and Who'd be a Parent.

Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: Thank you John, we will move now to the questions from our chat guests who have been eagerly awaiting your arrival.

Guest_kira in ninemsnLive1 asks: How best can we protect our kids from bullies when the schools deny it happening? My son needed to be care-flighted after a school assault and our lives are a living hell now.

Dr John Irvine: No child should feel unsafe either at school or at home. While many schools have good bullying policies now, there are two other critical ingredients: we need to arm the victims with strategies so that they can cope with bullying as it occurs everywhere — and more importantly, we have to involve the whole school in designing and enforcing the policies because the biggest part of the problem is 70 percent of children are onlookers; they let it happen. If our schools can mobilise that 70 percent then hopefully what happened to your son would never occur again. I feel for you and hope that you can make your negative experience become a positive experience for others.

Guest_pikelet in ninemsnLive2 asks: What type of child would be a prime target?

Dr John Irvine: The child that is a prime target is generally the loner because bully packs tend to pick on the stragglers or the losers. These are the children who look ready set victims: their head is down, their body language invites attack and they have no support to counter attack. These are the opposite of the popular kids (sport, stature, sex, good looks etc) that were mentioned on the program. I hope that helps.

Guest_Troubled_Child in ninemsnLive1 asks: If you see someone being bullied, what is the best thing you can do knowing that if you go in there they turn on you and start on you?

Dr John Irvine: That's the big problem that stops a lot of children doing what they feel is right. The best prevention is a class or school strategy that empowers children to know what to do and feel comfortable doing it. But if you're faced with the problem, you have a few choices … whatever suits your self confidence, walk away, but tell somebody,
confront the bully or get other people nearby to help create sufficient force to disempower the bully. But for the sake of your own conscience, you must not leave it go unattended or you'll have to live with the guilt that goes with it.

Guest_worldseeker in ninemsnLive1 asks: Can a teacher come 'physically' between two people fighting? Do you know what school policies are for this?

Dr John Irvine: School policies differ between states and schools. Generally teachers have been advised not to put themselves in harm's way where physical violence is taking place, but rather to call on police and outside forces to intervene. Too often the well-meaning efforts of well-meaning teachers have been misinterpreted by one or another of the combatants. If it's just young kids then teachers seem to be able to separate them easily and call on parents of both children to take appropriate action.

Guest_Taz in ninemsnLive3 asks: I'm a secondary school teacher who deals with bullying every day and they often seek retribution when they are punished, which means as often [as we are] helping, we are making things worse. What can we do? It's soul destroying!

Dr John Irvine: Having been a teacher I feel for you. I don't think we're supporting our teachers anywhere near enough. The only decent anti-bullying strategies I've seen in operation have been those that don't rely on teacher power, but where the student body is empowered and is responsible for the rules governing behaviour in their school. If we effectively mobilise the student body, then you won't have to feel so alone and so exposed in dealing with bullying in the playground or classroom. Thanks for all you do for kids.

Guest_vic in ninemsnLive1 asks: How do you make a child appear confident when it is not in their nature at 14?

Dr John Irvine: 14 is a difficult age for a boy or girl. The best thing we can do is to find their niche, their area where they can excel, whether that be computers, sport or drama or music or whatever. If we can help them find their group then they don't need to feel like an ugly duckling and they can feel confident that they're not a dork; they've just been trying to swim in the wrong pool. Our trust and endorsement of our children is critical to their self esteem.

Guest_vic in ninemsnLive1 asks: Is teachers bullying students ever talked about or discussed?

Dr John Irvine: There is now a lot of discussion about this issue as many bullied students talk about their worst experience being with teachers. I'm sure we can all think of a teacher who bullied us and it's good to know that authorities are now actively looking at teacher strategies in this regard. Having said that, I suppose that's part of our development to learn to live and cope with the good, the bad and the ugly.

Guest_nat in ninemsnLive4 asks: Do you think that it is a good idea to teach your child self defence?

Dr John Irvine: I'm all for teaching self defence and often recommend to families in the clinic that the children learn karate or Zen Bukhan, not so they can use it violently
but because it gives them self confidence that shows up in their body language, which in itself, is a deterrent for bullies who rely on the cowered look of the victim.

Guest_madogjojo in ninemsnLive5 asks: Is there a course to teach kids coping techniques?

Dr John Irvine: There are many courses now available. I'm very strong on teaching resilience strategies to children at a young age so that they can cope with the inevitable pitfalls of life. Schools have many packages available to them and you could ask your school what program they are using to enhance the social skills of children in their school. This is becoming the big issue of this decade and I'm glad you've pinpointed it.

Guest_ausie_chick in ninemsnLive5 asks: What makes a child a bully?

Dr John Irvine: There a few things that makes a child bully: One is that they've been bullied themselves and another has been lack of time and interest from the bully's parents in the early years. Another is an aggressive and dominant personality or too much tolerance of aggression at home or at school. The fact is that 80 percent of aggressive acts are successful and what's more frightening is that 60 percent of untreated bullies go on to have a criminal record.

Guest_blak in ninemsnLive4 asks: Has there been any criminal actions taken against bullies and how severe was the punishment?

Dr John Irvine: I'm not sure what criminal action has been taken against bullies, but I do know that virtually every school in Australia now regards physical attack of another child as assault, which warrants not only suspension but police involvement. I know of some action that has been taken in this regard. Unfortunately, this doesn't cover the huge majority of bullying experiences which are not physical but rather mental and emotional and for those, we have to arm the victim with strategies to cope.

Guest_Jacks in ninemsnLive1 asks: I am 11 and being bullied at school. How do you suggest I stand up to them?

Dr John Irvine: I'm very proud that you've had the confidence to get in touch with me, don't stop there! Now we have choices: you can tell the teacher, but a better technique is what I call my Teasing, Tossing Tactics. These are all in my Thriving at School book which your mum could get from the library, but they boil down to shut the pain gate in your brain and sing all insults through to the counting part of your brain, so you count the insults but you don't feel them. If you can do that for two weeks, I'll promise you that the bullying will decrease dramatically. Get onto it!

Guest_Steve5 in ninemsnLive1 asks: What happens when the bully's parent does not believe their child has a problem?

Dr John Irvine: I face this many times, it's part of the reason that the kid is a bully. Their parents choose denial as it's easier to cope. Don't take it on personally but use a third party to do the work for you, such as a teacher or coach or whoever. If you take it on personally it's likely to cause deep divisions between families that can be dangerous.

Guest_tracey in ninemsnLive4 asks: Do you think children being bullied should change schools?

Dr John Irvine: It's not the best course of action as it just shifts the problem. They don't really learn how to deal with it, they just run away. Sometimes it's necessary but it's best if school and home teach them tactics such as those I've outlined in my Thriving at School book so that they can disempower the bully and feel confident and have friends in the school they're at.

Guest_spella in ninemsnLive7 asks: Dr John, do you believe that the bullying in schoolyards has increased because of the weakening of the discipline that teachers are allowed to mete out?

Dr John Irvine: I believe that is part of the problem and most teachers will tell you the same, but in some ways it's a reflection of the fact that our school communities are not united so it's no surprise that our children are at loggerheads. If the school can develop good strategies with teachers' and students' involvement then together that strength can disempower any bully. United we stand, divided — we're in big trouble.

Guest_kps in ninemsnLive2 asks: Legislation needs to be passed to make bullying a "junior crime". What needs to happen to make this a reality?

Dr John Irvine: Bullying is and always has been part of life. I don't think it matters how much legislation we develop if the community is not prepared to work out its own problems and show the children how we can resolve our problems and resolve conflicts without having to resort to legislation. I think the only legislation that's needed is good policies developed by children and teachers and parents who really know what's needed to make their schools a safe and happy place to be. One of the best schools I've ever seen in action was in WA where their motto was "No Putdowns" and that means teachers of children, parents of teachers, teachers of parents etc … and that was working.

Guest_Keiki in ninemsnLive2 asks: There has been plenty of talk about physical bullying. What about verbal? How can we prevent this?

Dr John Irvine: You're quite right, the segment tried to focus on physical bullying, but the scars of mental and emotional bullying run much darker and deeper. I help children learn the Triple T tactics. I practice on them all the nasty words that are thrown at them and they have to learn to close down the feeling gate to their heart where it hurts and all the painful insults through to the counting part of their brain so they learn to count rather than feel the insults. It's working well and gives children enormous self confidence. If you need to know more, read pages 116-119 in my Thriving at School book.

Guest_Robbie in ninemsnLive7 asks: What effects does bullying have on children in the future?

Dr John Irvine: I don't want to get you scared, but the first major study of effects of bullying was done in 1990 in Norway after they found that bullying had been a common factor in the suicide of many youths in their country. Since then, we've started to know more about its effects and I'm sure each of us can, to this day, remember and feel the pain of a bullying from many years ago. In other words, it's a long lasting remnant of something akin to post trauma stress and we need to deal with it in that way if it is still interfering with our healthy functioning as adults. It's certainly something that every child needs to be able to feel that they can manage and they can talk to us about if they can't.

Guest_Erika in ninemsnLive3 asks: Do you think that every parent has the right to protect their child from abuse/ bullying/teasing?

Dr John Irvine: Be careful about this one. As a parent, it's natural to want to protect our children but the best protection we can give them is to help them come up with tactics that they have thought of and that they will try so that they feel empowered to handle it themselves. Obviously if they're stuck for ideas, we can help out as can the teacher. But the more we can empower them, the more they will be able to take as they get older and we're not there to help.

Guest_kncklhd in ninemsnLive5 asks: I grew up in an earlier, tougher, unfeeling era. Is not school just that — a place to condition you for later life?

Dr John Irvine: I think you're right, in some ways our attempt to cotton wool our children has left them ill-equipped to cope with some of the realities that they'll face outside the school gate. It's a strange quirk of statistics that very few street kids — who've been hurt many times over in more ways than we will ever understand — rarely attempt to take their own lives; they've learnt to cope, maybe not in the best way, but in a real way. If we can arm every child with self confidence and strategies, then that's probably the best legacy we can give our kids.

Guest_Aly in ninemsnLive2 asks: How does one overcome years of school bullying, including sexual abuse 20 years ago? Although I now am relatively successful, the scars of 20 years ago are hard to deal with. I now "interview" my children and am very cautious that they may go through the same.

Dr John Irvine: I feel for you and it's best, now that you've told me anonymously, that you tell someone you trust of your pain, that is probably best shared with a professional counsellor or your doctor because it can leave friends at a loss as to what to do. There are groups in every community to help re-empower victims of long ago. Your local health services or your doctor should know who to contact. Be careful about being what we call "hyper vigilant" with our children; when something has happened to us we want to be super protective and that can dangerously impair our own children's sense of self confidence, so that's why we need to get ourselves sorted out so we can be a well balanced parent for our children.

Guest_Jane in ninemsnLive7 asks: Dr John, you once read an article (on radio) about how to measure success in our young (other than financial [success]) and it was wonderful. How would I get a copy of this?

Dr John Irvine: Our website is M (WON'T OPEN) and our e-mail address is

Guest_lizzie in ninemsnLive7 asks: Where do I get Thriving at School? Who publishes it or which stores carry it?

Dr John Irvine: It's published by Simon and Schuster and it should be available at major book outlets including Dymocks. If they don't have it, ask them to get it in for you.

Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: What type of things will our chatters find on your website?

Dr John Irvine: They will find the reference to the clinicians in our clinic, details of myself and the last month's radio programs in my Coping with Kids radio segment, which is circulated nationally. It's quite a fun website to visit too. Hope you enjoy it.

Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: John, I am afraid we are out of time for now, is there anything you would like to say that we have not already covered before we finish up tonight.

Dr John Irvine: I am just delighted that the issue of bullying has attracted the attention of 60 Minutes. It's great that we could expose the extent of the problem and the impact of the problem but it's unfortunate that time didn't allow us to explore solutions to the problem. For that you'll have to explore some of the ideas at your local school or perhaps contained in my Thriving at School book. Thanks very much for allowing me to be a part of the program.

Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: John, once again thank you for joining us in our live 60 Minutes chat room and goodnight.

Guide_OC_amicus in ninemsnLive says: This concludes our live chat with John Irvine, May 5, 2002.
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