I interviewed one of my former student’s who was considered to be a bully when he was in my classes as a student in 7th and 8th grade. The young man’s name is Dean Larges. When Dean was in my physical education classroom I had to constantly stay on him about his behavior towards other students. He would not only verbally abuse students but on occasion would get into physical altercations with some of his classmates. Recently Dean has come back to the area as a parole officer. I asked him if he was willing to be interviewed about his past behaviors during middle school. We sat down on a few occasions and talked about his past behaviors and actions. I also talked to him about the decision to work in the courts and schools with our troubled youth. The first thing we discussed during the interview was the environment in which he grew up. Dean was raised in a normal middle class family. When he was in the 6th grade, which is the year before he attended the middle school that I work in, his parents divorced. He grew up with a brother who was four years older than him.
Dean admittedly said that when his parents divorced, it was a changing point in his behavior. In his memory up to that point he did not consider himself to be a bully. He remembers being very happy while his parents were still married. He felt a lot of anger over the divorce and did not talk to either of his parents about it. He felt that the rules were different from house to house which confused him at a young age concerning rules. He feels now that his bullying increased as a way to “fill the void of not having both of his parents around”. He said during middle school most of the attention that he received from the bullying was positive from his peers. Looking back he realized that he deemed the laughing from his peers to be positive but more than likely they were just trying to appease him so he wouldn’t bully them. He was fairly large for his age which made it more difficult for students to stand up to his bullying. By nature Dean was and still is very outgoing.
This combined with his aggressive behavior and the anger he felt at this time was not a good combination. He had always been involved in sports and was aggressive but up until this point not overly aggressive with his classmates. He had a real problem not seeing his dad on a daily basis. He feels that he started to take this anger out on his classmates and at times his teammates in the various sports that he was playing. Many of his coaches especially in football encouraged or rewarded the aggressive behavior so in his mind they were condoning it. He felt that this was one of the reasons the behavior started to increase, as he was being rewarded for it. When he got to middle school he had more freedom and more time to act out. When Dean first came to middle school he was not in my physical education class but he was in the gym and the locker room during an hour where I also taught a class. I had to deal with him multiple times either for being too aggressive or for verbally abusing students. He was always very apologetic after the fact but continued with his behavior.
He was suspended from school once or twice due to bullying/fighting in other classes during his 6th grade year. His 7th grade year he was in my class and after the start of the year his behavior was better, at least in my class. He seemed to have more issues in classrooms with female teachers. We talked about this and he said that his mom’s rules were not very strict compared to his dad’s so this was probably the reason for his lack of respect for female teachers. He claims that as he moved into high school his bullying behavior slowed and eventually stopped as he started to see that his parents’ divorce was actually a good thing for them. Both of his parents seemed to be happier now that they were divorced. Dean felt part of it was also just growing up and seeing the effects that his bullying behaviors had on his fellow students. During our interview we discussed if his mother or father were verbally or physically aggressive or abusive.
Dean said that both of his parents were very loving and not abusive at all. I do not feel that any genetic factors played much if any of a role in Dean being a bully. Dean and his older brother also had a good relationship. They played sports together and were fairly close even with the four year age difference. Dean felt that another factor at this age was that he started seeing less of his brother. His brother started driving and was playing different sports so he was not around as much as he had been. There were many sources that influenced the changes and or lack of changes in Dean’s behavior. As I discussed earlier his parents’ divorce had a big influence. Another factor that had influence was the changing of schools from elementary to middle school and the extra freedom that came with that. In talking to Dean he said that a big factor in changing his behavior were a few male teachers and coaches. One in particular made a strong impact on helping to stop his bullying. He said that his junior varsity football coach played a big role in teaching him how to act properly and held him to a higher standard of behavior.
This particular coach was also his U.S. History teacher so he spent quite a bit of time around him. This teacher/coach helped him to understand why treating people, including classmates and teammates with respect is an important life skill. The last topic we discussed was how we can get through to young people so that we can stop the bullying. In Dean’s opinion and I agree, we need to continue as adults to take the time to get to know students and understand their individual situations. Once you have a better understanding of what’s happening in their lives you can figure out a better way to stop the bullying. His past behavior and the belief that he could help troubled youth turn their lives around was the main reason that he chose the career that he did.