Ray DiGiuseppe, chairman of the psychology department at St. John’s University, speaks at a conference the school hosted on bullying last week. He focused on the need to address anger management when dealing with bullies.
With bullying being a pervasive problem throughout city schools, and nationally, educators and policy experts said at St. John’s University last week that it is time to take a hard look at how the emotional and physical abuse is dealt with and prevented.
The university in Jamaica hosted a public conference on bullying last Friday, during which panelists addressed such topics as anger management and cyber-bullying.
“We wanted to hold this event because you cannot intervene until you realize the scope of the problem,” said Rafael Javier, the director of the post-graduate professional development program at St. John’s University. “We’re looking to get to know the psychology of the bully and those who are being bullied.”
Bullying is a widespread problem throughout Queens and the city, according to studies from groups like the Sikh Coalition and the New York Civil Liberties Union. A recent report by those two groups stated few teachers had been trained on how to handle bullies.
Ray DiGiuseppe, chair of the university’s psychology department and the keynote speaker at the all-day event, said society needs to take a more long-term approach to dealing with anger. He said anger — often a driving force behind bullying — should be seen more as something more akin to depression.
So, instead of attempting to “cure” it with brief, often-court mandated sessions, it should be treated in a more long-form approach, such as depression is dealt with in counseling sessions.
“One of the things we do is offer very quick interventions for anger,” DiGiuseppe said. “We require much more attention to it.”
He noted that bullies at school are often not actually angry at their peers or teachers but at something that is going on at home.
While anger has been researched less than other emotions, such as anxiety, DiGiuseppe said psychologists at least know it is crucial to teach people other behaviors that they can draw on when they start to feel out of control.
“If you look at angry people, they’re remarkably unassertive,” he said. “They can’t talk their way out of a situation.”
Dorothy Espelage, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said anger management programs were especially crucial in schools.
“I work with public schools that are very poor, and I tell them if you have money to do one thing, do an anger management program, not a bullying program,” she said. “Anger management decreases bullying.”
Patricia Cathers, director of program and volunteer services for Child Abuse Prevention Services in Roslyn, LI, said the Internet has transformed bullying and brought the abuse into children’s lives via e-mail, texts and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The greatest risk to teens online isn’t sexual predators, it’s bullying or harassment by their peers,” Cathers said. “About one-third of American children have experienced bullying online.”
While speakers said it is daunting for schools to take on the issue of cyber bullying, education professor Julie Carter said small classes play a crucial role in deterring students from abusing others.
“In spaces where you don’t find bullying, those are the spaces that are intimate,” she said.
Rona Novick, a professor at Yeshiva University, said schools are the perfect battle ground to stamp out bullying.
“Schools are a critical location for change,” she said. “If we don’t get leaders to prioritize social-emotional health, we’re going to have problems.”