THIS POST DOES NOT COMPLETELY ADDRESS THE COMPLEX ISSUE OF BULLYING. NO OPINION EXPRESSED HERE PRETENDS TO APPLY TO EVERY SITUATION OR BE THE FINAL WORD.
I watched a segment on the Today show yesterday about Phoebe, a teen who committed suicide. Bullying from classmates is identified as what pushed her over the edge. Some of her classmates are facing charges.
Another story I saw was about a teen boy who was dowsed in alcohol and lit on fire by some other boys over a disagreement about payment for a video game. He’s doing well now, but was burned over 60% of his body.
Last night my three-year-old was at the park with my wife. Like always, he asked a couple boys (one his age and the other little older) if they could all play together. They said no, that they hated him, and kept telling him that they were higher (on the equipment) and better than him.
Experts on the topic consider all three of these situations to be bullying–any time there is intimidation or dominance, whether is siblings, friends, parents or strangers. Bullying is most harmful when it continues for long periods of time, the victim can’t predict when it will happen, and the victim has no control over what happens.
The harm, pain, and death caused by bullying warrants a strong response, but not always the response we automatically jump to. It’s tricky to find balance. On one extreme, parents can hover and be uber-vigilant. On the other side, parents can miss red flags and children are physically and emotionally harmed. Given only these two choices, most of us would pick uber-vigilance, but the consequences of pampering and hovering are significantly harmful as well.
The approach I’ve chosen is more proactive. All bullying resources share this belief in common: People who have inner strength, confidence, and courage are best equipped to handle situations when they come up. It also really helps if a kid has a lot of assets like a network of people at church, sports, hobbies, extended family, and other caring adults in their life.
If you ask people, some will say that they don’t really ever remember being bullied. I don’t think this is because nobody every tried to intimidate or dominate them. In many cases, it is because their internal strength and support network were so good that they didn’t perceive and internalize their experiences that way.
To be clear, I don’t blame the victim. I’m not saying that bullying is all about the way that the victim interprets it. We should respond vigorously to bullying when it happens, especially if we see signs, symptoms, and red flags that are being kept secret. We should keep at it until we get to the bottom of what’s going on.
More importantly, however, we should be building our kids up in their confidence, inner strength, social skills, and courage. The Coaching I provide is incredibly effective at this. Get in touch with me, even if you’re not interested in coaching. I’m happy to help you find resources that will work for your situation.
One final point before I wrap up. As a parent, it’s my job to show my kids how they deserve to be treated. If I’m a bully to them, then I’m teaching them that they don’t deserve to be treated any better. Why should they be surprised or stand up to abuse, belittling, and punishment from others if they’re getting it at home from their own dad? We need to honor our kids, respect their dignity, and love them incessantly. If we do, then they’ll know who they are and that they don’t deserve the treatment they’ll get from bullies.
We can’t (and shouldn’t) control every experience that comes to our children. We can (and should) make sure we’ve given them the tools to be strong, confident, and courageous.