JAMES GARBARINO: We're here in a classroom because of course, this is why kids come to school, at least from our point of view. And I think it's an important place to be to talk about bullying and victimization, because how well a kid does here can have a bearing on how well they're treated out there in the hallways, in the gym, in the bathrooms, and so on. Now to begin to understand this accumulation of risk, we have to have a metaphor, an image for it. And one that I think works is one that occurred to me years ago when I first started being interviewed by journalists.
They would always ask, what's the cause of youth violence? And I was trying to make the point that if there is no single cause, this ecological perspective who would insist on that. Rather we need to think of a child, a teenager, a boy or a girl building a tower blocks-- block after block after block. Finally you put one more block on the tower and it falls over. You don't really want to say that block is the cause, because you know that if the tower was smaller it wouldn't fall over at all. You know if that block came earlier, some other block would appear to cause the tower to fall over. And even more importantly, if you put the block by itself on the table it doesn't fall over at all.
Rather, it is the accumulation of these blocks or these risk factors. And that turns out to be a pretty good metaphor for the way things work. Let me give you an example. It's an example that has to do with the intellectual development of kids.
Now, that's important because the intellectual development of kids really facilitates doing well here in the classroom, which is likely to make kids have a sense of self-confidence and self-worth. It scores points with their parents and other adults. So it's important.
But also research on resilience, the ability to deal with adversity, the ability to bounce back from hardship, that same research on mental health shows it having at least average intellectual competence is one of the foundations for resilience. That makes sense to me. Having at least average intellectual competence is like having both hands free. Being substantially below average is like having one hand tied behind your back, which obviously is less adaptive.
So while this is studied, and you have the results of this study in your materials, that sketches out how the intellectual development of kids looks with different numbers of accumulated risk. Now, the study done by Arnold Sameroff, a very eminent researcher, looked at eight risk factors-- poverty, absence of a parent, drug abuse in a parent, mental illness in a parent, low educational attainment of a parent, large number of children to care for, a rigid and punitive child rearing style, and exposure to racism. Now with none of these risk factors, the average kid is doing just great. By the time they're 13, as you can see in the materials, the average score for kids is about 115.
Now, average for the whole country is 100. And that's what you need to get to to really feel like you've got what it takes. But the average kid with none of these risk factors is just flourishing. What about as we start to address factors.
Well, you add one risk factor-- any one-- turns out poverty, absence of a parent. At any one, the average kid still doing fine. Maybe 112, 113 on a well-administered individual IQ test. Two risk factors, add any two-- poverty and a missing parent-- substance abuse in a parent and exposure to racism-- any two-- and you still find the average kid is still doing fine. Maybe 113.
The point is that human beings are not wimps. We can deal with adversity. If we were wimps, we would have died out a long time ago. If all it took was one or two risk factors to knock us over, you know back in ancient prehistory the first time a stable tiger growled at us, we would have said oh it's too much, I can't stand it. But no, we can deal with stuff. The average kid's doing fine. It's flourishing with two risk factors.
I'm sure many of you, like me, grew up with some of those risk factors-- two of them and we're doing fine. But this ability to deal with challenge is not unlimited. So now if we add a third risk factor. If we've got, say, poverty and absent parent-- add into that drug abuse, or add to that rigid and punitive child or in-style-- add any one of the other risk factors, now we're at three. Now, the average kid is still handling it. The average scores are about a 100 for 13-year-olds.
So the average kid dealing with what is often defined as a social problem is still doing fine. But this ability to do fine is not unlimited. You get to four risk factors and you see a dramatic fall off now down to 90. Now, we're talking about a kid who may start to have one hand tied behind his back and be less able to manage whatever else life throws at him. And you add 5 and 6 and 7 and 8, and the scores go down and down and down.
But the big change is really between two and four. That's where the action is. And you can see that, I think, in the chart that you have. It's a bit like juggling.
If I were to bring in four tennis balls, as I sometimes do with my students, and say, well, look, who can manage one tennis ball? There's a risk factor. Well, almost anybody can handle one. Just pay attention and you'll handle one.
What about two risk factors? Well, even the person of average coordination can handle two-- one, two. Just pay attention, one, two. You can manage two. What about three?
Well, now you need to know how to juggle. But the good news is that the average person can learn to juggle three tennis balls. There are videos on how to do it. We could sit here with balls and in the morning most of us would be juggling three. I can juggle three.
However, when it comes to juggling four tennis balls, it turns out it's a different task entirely. The average person can't learn to juggle four. You've got to have special coordination. I tried to learn to juggle four and I can't. You give me three and I'll manage. But you throw in the fourth tennis ball and the whole system collapses.
And that's a very important point in understanding risk accumulation. You get to a point where the skilled person can manage, but then you get to a point where even the average person, even the unusual person has trouble. And we can see that in that chart from Sameroff. You know, don't pat yourself on the back if your life is risk-free and you're doing well intellectually. The average person is.
Even at three risk factors, good for you, you're hanging in there. The average person is. But as we move to four and five, you know then we really get to the heroic measures that kids are taking to manage and the heroic measures we as adults may have to take to help them. This accumulation of risk model doesn't just apply to intellectual development, to IQ scores. It applies to violence. It applies to mental health. It applies to a whole range of issues.
And this is one reason why we always have to map the environment of a teenager or the child. Not simply ask, you know, do they come from a broken family? Because that's quite manageable.
But we want to know what is the rest of their context. Is it a broken family coupled by poverty? Are the parents impaired? Is there the issue of racism loaded on top of that? Are there too many kids to take care of? We have to have a complete social map to see the meaning of any particular risk factor.
And of course, that derives from this ecological perspective. Does X cause Y? It depends. What's the effect of divorce on kids? It depends.
If it's the only risk factor, then kids may be sad about it, kids may be angry about it, but their fundamental competence probably won't be challenged or undermined. Certainly, it won't be for the average kid. But what's the impact of divorce in a context in which you already have poverty, and racism, and substance abuse? Well, now that becomes the fourth risk factor. And the effects are much more likely to be serious.
How does this apply to bullying and harassment and emotional violence? Well, it means that we can't just zero in on any one aspect of the child. For example, some studies have found that kids who have a very cold temperament, who aren't easily threatened, who don't get easily intimidated, are more likely to be drawn into the role of bully. It's a kind of physiological risk factor.
However, research done in Germany shows that that risk factor doesn't automatically translate into higher levels of bullying. It depends on what else is going on. It depends on what else is going on in the school, in the home, and in a sense it depends not just on totaling up the number of risk factors, but looking at the other side of the equation, the developmental assets in the lives of kids. And that's where we'll turn next.
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While there are fewer than 100 child fatalities each year at school, literally millions of kids suffer from physical and emotional violence in the form of bullying, harassment, stalking, intimidation, humiliation, and fear. Beyond the rare events of gun shots at school are the common events of psychological stabbings- the millions of kids who suffer emotional daggers to their hearts at school. Sticks and stones and bullets may break their bones, and words can break their hearts.
This presentation offers a guide for parents, professionals, and other concerned adults seeking to help their adolescents, their schools, and their communities overcome this problem. The presentation focuses on how the social system of the school plays a decisive role in the process of bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence in the lives of teenagers. It is based upon James Garbarino and Ellen deLara's
And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (NY: The Free Press, 2002).
This video is part 4 of 7 in the Protecting adolescents from bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence series.