Fight or Flight Instinct activated by a middle school gang
The following interaction between eighth-graders Tyler, Dennis, and Shawn’s gang is a fictional account of what many middle school and high school face on a regular basis.
Just the facts
Our FIGHT OR FLIGHT INSTINCT is an instinct we are born with that is provoked when fearful situations happen that usually begins in the region of the gut. It is our body giving us the energy to fight in some way or to run away or escape in some way and hopefully survive to tell the tale. The FIGHT aspect of this instinct is demonstrated by literally fighting or trying hard or persevering in spite of obstacles. The FLIGHT aspect of this instinct is demonstrated by running or escaping or crying or getting hysterical or giving up.
A Mob Mentality enacts when a group reacts and acts as if they are operating under one brain – the brain of the dominant member of the group.
Psychological Warfare is a method a gang uses to separate a prospective member from all friends and allies. They play mind games with this person, being alternately nice and mean to him or her. They make the prospective member feel that the only way he or she can be safe from them and from others is to join their gang. Since the prospective member feels he or she now has no one else to turn to, he or she often capitulates.
Self-Mentoring is a way of taking care of oneself mentally and emotionally. You can give yourself a pep talk, find a trusted other to consult with; do something enjoyable to get your mind off negative thoughts and feelings and events; take deep, calming breaths; talk things out with the person you are having the conflict with; listen to your inner wisdom, etc.
An interaction between a middle school gang, a prospective member, and poor Dennis
When fearful situations occur, our FIGHT OR FLIGHT INSTINCT activates. This instinct guides us to evaluate whether it is necessary to either FIGHT back or escape in some manner to best survive the encounter.
That is what happened to eighth-grader Dennis Mathers. Until this day, he had counted Tyler Saunders as one of his friends. Tyler and he would sometimes eat lunch together. They sat beside each other in the one class they had in common. They would laugh and talk and have a good time.
On this day, Dennis saw Tyler talking to a group of guys who Dennis had secretly admired as being one of the coolest guys in the school. Confident of Tyler’s friendship and wishing to elevate his status by being accepted by Shawn Owenby and his gang, Dennis impulsively walked up behind Tyler and playfully nudged him in the back as he said, “Hey, Tyler! What are you guys up to?”
Unknown to Dennis, Shawn and his gang were ‘up to’ waging psychological warfare on Tyler. They had alternately been nice then mean then nice again. This was one of their ‘nice days’. Tyler’s FIGHT OR FLIGHT INSTINCT was on red alert. On the days Shawn Owenby, Drew Johnson, Jerry Thomas, Charlie Morrison, and the other guys in their group were nice to him, Tyler felt fine. On the days, Shawn and his gang threatened him and were mean to him, his FIGHT OR FLIGHT INSTINCT activated. He certainly had no intention of FIGHTING them. He knew he would be no match for all of them at once. So instead, he would give in to his FLIGHT instinct by avoiding them, pleading with them that he hadn’t done or said any of the things they accused him of doing, and tried not to think about what he suspected they were setting him up to do.
One day, Drew, the newest member of their gang, confided to Tyler that he had to beat somebody up before he was finally accepted into the gang. Tyler wondered if he would be forced into a similar situation.
Tyler no longer felt safe to walk through the halls. He never knew when he would encounter one of the gang members. He was so eager to remain on their good side that he was just about at the point that he would do whatever they required of him so he no longer had to be afraid.
On this day, as Tyler talked with Shawn and the others, he was relieved to hear that Shawn was suggesting that Tyler might be able to join their gang providing he pass his initiation. Tyler was listening so intently and concentrating so hard on what Shawn was saying, that it scared him when some unknown person nudged or hit him in the back. He was so scared that it was one of Shawn’s gang members initiating a sanctioned attack, that he barely registered Dennis’s words.
His FIGHT OR FLIGHT INSTINCT motivated him to quickly turn around to see who it was who attacked him. When he realized that it was Dennis who had dared to interrupt such an important negotiation, he became enraged. Tyler snapped, “What the big idea, hitting me?”
Dennis was really surprised. He exclaimed, “Hitting you???!!! I didn’t hit you! I was just playing around. I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”
Dennis’s FIGHT OR FLIGHT INSTINCT activated even more when Jerry said, “That’s not the way I saw it. I saw ‘Dennis THE MENACE’ here purposely come up and knock into you. Playing around — nothing! You hit Tyler, and you know it!”
Charlie said, “That’s right! I saw it too! You better admit it and then beg for mercy!”
It became apparent that a mob mentality was being enacted energized by Shawn’s dominant personality to overpower and intimidate. One by one, each guy in Shawn’s gang looked at Dennis with hate and animosity. Each member made some derogatory comment to Dennis. When a teacher walked toward them, Shawn concluded the discussion with the threatening words, “You better watch your back, Dennis!” Then Shawn, his gang members, and Tyler all turned and walked away.
Dennis felt totally shell-shocked. He thought, “What was that all about?” He did not feel equipped to even begin to understand what had just happened. When he heard rushing sounds around him, he realized that the tardy bell was about to ring. He too hurried off to the one class that he and Tyler had in common, a conflict resolution class called Communication Skills.
Dennis sat down in his assigned seat. Tyler was already seated in the next desk over. Desperately afraid of losing a comfortable friendship, Dennis leaned over and said, “Tyler, I promise you, I was NOT trying to hit you. I hope your friends weren’t serious in what they said!”
Dennis waited for Tyler to joke around like he usually did; but instead, he simply looked away. Dennis wondered if Tyler had heard him. Quickly, he thought he would try one more time. He said, “Tyler, I’m really sorry! I didn’t mean for it to hurt, if it did. I was just playing around.”
Still Tyler acted like he didn’t hear. Feeling a little desperate, Dennis thought about tapping Tyler on the shoulder to try to get his attention. Dennis stopped himself from trying that, as he was a little afraid Tyler and his friends would make a federal case out of it. So he did nothing and said nothing more.
Somewhat coincidentally, Mr. Campbell started talking about the FIGHT OR FLIGHT INSTINCT that kicks in when people find themselves in fearful situations. Dennis wondered which he did. He thought, “Well, when Tyler and those guys turned on me, I didn’t exactly do the FLIGHT thing as I stood my ground. But then, I did kind of take FLIGHT since I didn’t FIGHT harder to make them understand that I was just trying to attract Tyler’s attention. The last thing I’d want to do is hit him. I just wanted to be part of the group.”
Dennis no longer felt safe or secure with Tyler or those guys. Additionally, he no longer was getting his belonging need met with Tyler. He felt really disrespected. He also felt a little paranoid that he wasn’t as free to walk through the halls, since he was going to have to watch his back, as Shawn had threatened.
Over the next few days, Shawn and every member of his gang made veiled threats to Dennis. Over and over, he was warned to ‘watch his back’. Although Tyler did not say anything else mean to him, Dennis was still distressed as Tyler ignored and avoided him completely. It appeared that Dennis had one less friend. Dennis felt lonely, upset, and scared of what Shawn and his gang might do to him.
One day, Dennis decided to visit Mr. Campbell. He wanted to request that his assigned seat be changed to a different location so that he and Tyler no longer had to sit beside each other. Upon a little questioning, Dennis finally confided the details of what had been happening to the teacher.
Links for story called “Tyler Chooses Between Dennis and Shawn’s Gang“
To read the complete story on Yahoo Voices, click on:
Story– Tyler Chooses Between Dennis and Shawn’s Gang
To read the story in role-play form on Yahoo Voices , click on:
Role-Play – Tyler Chooses Between Dennis And Shawn’s Gang
For a student copy of the scripted role-play to print for classroom use in PDF format, click on:
Scripted Role-Play for Students – Tyler Chooses Between Dennis and Shawn’s Gang
(Note: Print at least 10 copies for students to share.)
For a grades 6-8 lesson plan that addresses the topics of Fight or Flight, Mob Mentality, Psychological Warfare, and Self-Mentoring, click on:
Fight or Flight Lesson Plan (Grades 6-8) – Tyler Chooses between Dennis and Shawn’s gang
To read the ‘Just the Facts’ shortened version of story with vocabulary words defined, click on:
Fight or Flight Instinct activated by a middle school gang
Sequel links for story called “A Mediation session with Shawn, Tyler, and Dennis”
1. Fight or Flight Story
2. Fight or Flight Role-Play for Teachers to preview
3. Student copy of Scripted role-play to print
(Please note: Print at least 10 copies for students to share. This is a PDF file.)
4. Fight or Flight Lesson Plan (Grades 6-8)
[Topics: Fight or Flight, Mob Mentality, Psychological Warfare, Self-Mentoring, and the six steps of the Mediation Process]
5. Fight or Flight writing assignment
Instructional objective: Students will give answers to the following six Bloom’s Taxonomy Questions for Fight or Flight tale called “A Mediation session with Shawn, Tyler, and Dennis“
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