Nuggets of Wisdom in “The Bully Vaccine”

Humanist and author Jen Hancock‘s wonderful primer with the catchy title  The Bully Vaccine: How to inoculate yourself against bullies and other petty people is out this month.

Aimed at pre-teens and teens and their parents, it covers topics such as what makes bullies tick, why kids should embrace their “inner dork,” how to manage their fear when bullies target them, and the important role of bystanders.

By preparing for [bullies, jerks, and other obnoxious people] in advance, you can effectively inoculate yourself against the worst of their behavior. Yes, they will still be obnoxious, but you won’t be as annoyed and upset by their behavior and that is at least something. The added benefit is that the less you are annoyed or upset by them, the less entertaining and satisfying a target you will be for them. Bullies and other jerks really do want an audience. The more you are able to not respond to their obnoxious behavior, the more quickly they will go look for someone else to annoy.

But don’t let the kid-friendly book cover fool you – Jen addresses issues that are relevant to adults as well. For example, she talks about her experience being the victim of a long-term stalker, the toll it took on her emotionally, and how she finally reclaimed her life.

Perhaps one of the most important sections of her book deals with what to do if someone is already being bullied. In simple-to-understand terms, Jen describes operant conditioning and how it serves as the foundation for getting bullies to focus their attention elsewhere. She provides practical information on how to extinguish the unwanted  behavior, warning against using variable or random reinforcements as this tends to strengthen the negative behavior because bullies are desperate to get a reaction out of their victims. Jen is also completely honest about the effort it will take (“I realize that continuing to maintain your calm in the face of bullying that has become super obnoxious is extremely hard to do. However, you either keep calm and refuse to respond, or you give in and not only continue the cycle of bullying, you make the bullying worse”) and the strong possibility that once a target decides not to respond anymore, the bullying will become more intense before it stops. She explains that while the bullying behavior may take “longer than you want and longer than you should have to endure it,” with consistently-applied operant conditioning, eventually it goes away.

The Bully Vaccine is an easily digestible book that should be added to your anti-bullying bookshelf.