The “red flag” is up. We need to sit up, pay attention, and not let this topic fade into the background once again. Recently, bullying has become a prominent topic with the tragic suicide of a teen girl in our country. Bullying degrades, it demeans, it violates. Bullying is a direct attack on the sense of self. Bullying includes physical violence and intimidation, emotional and relational violence, shunning, mimicking, harassing, and coercion. According to doctor Ken Rigby, the accepted definition of bullying is: “repeated oppression, psychological or physical, of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons.” Girls tend to use relationships as weapons while boys use name calling and physical violence. While bullying is not new, we are becoming more and more aware of the damage that it causes. A culture of bullying in a school creates many challenges and impediments for our children to learn, play and grow.
Why do kid’s bully?
Kids may bully for several reasons:
- “My friends bully and I go along with it or I won’t belong.”
- “I am jealous of her, she has everything, I want to tear her down.”
- “She was mean to me, so I was mean back.”
- “When I say a mean thing it is funny, and everyone notices me.”
- “When I bully I demand respect.”
- “She is annoying me and won’t stop. I react rather than using words or getting help.”
- “She is pathetic and weak; if I put her down I feel more powerful, better, superior” (creating a false sense of self-esteem or power).
- “I am feeling weak, hurt or angry in my heart…I will inflict that on another, trying to feel better myself.”
Adult And Media Influence
What kind of environment and example are we adults creating? Do we have an authoritarian parenting style that may have controlling aspects, or do we demonstrate how to problem solve in a respectful and collaborative manner. How do we treat our children at home? Do we use screaming and intimidation to get our children to do what we want them to do? How do schools problem solve with children? I have heard parents’ concerns about the culture of bullying in the schoolyard, only to find school teachers or administrators “scream” or intimidate. The media culture we live in imparts another profound impact on our children’s internalized values. In many ways media culture teaches our children that being rude and aggressive is cool and that being mean is funny.
Who Are The Targets?
While we often believe bullies target children who are different or odd in some way, this is not always the case. Even confident and well adjusted children can become the targets of bullies. There are also some behaviours which may attract the attention of an aggressor. If a child acts in a passive-aggressive manner, lies, teases, or frequently blames others, it may annoy peers. Likewise, if a child plays the role of a victim, or acts weak or under-confident he may become a target.
Ask a New Question
When we ask the question “How do we stop bullying,?” we can feel powerless and overwhelmed. So what about if we asked something different? What if the questions are more like…
How do we build respect, connection and resiliency in our children?
How do we teach children to be physically and emotionally safe?
Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate point to evidence which suggests that children who have strong relationships with the adults in their life are less likely to be bullied or to bully. These relationships include parents, teachers, coaches and youth leaders. However, when attachments are stronger with peers over parents it leads to less stability and a host of ills. Having strong adult attachments is one key to emotional resiliency and safety. It gives children a “source of authority, contact, and warmth.” (Neufeld and Mate, Hold on to your Kids, 2005.)
Resiliency And Power
Emotional and mental resiliency are two keys to protect our children and entrench a sense of empowerment to deal with a bullying culture. Emotional resiliency means a having a “protective shell” which prevents hurtful words and actions from “hitting the heart.” It is the ability to “throw away” hurtful words and comments and not accept them. Mental resiliency is having the inner self talk to evaluate words and their influences and make good decisions. In her book, Bullying – What Adults Need To Know And Do To Keep Kids Safe (2010) Irene van der Zande describes several metaphors for kids to embrace for resilience, including a hardened “shell,” an “emotional raincoat,” and “the trash can.” She describes several “powers” they have, such as “walk away power,” “mouth closed power,” and “setting boundaries.” All of these strategies are taught in the Thrive Resiliency Program.
So What Can Parents Do?
Make sure your relationship with your children is open, honest and based on respect.
Make sure you are front and centre in your child’s life. Relationships are primary!
Find help early if you child is being bullied, suffers from low self-esteem, or is struggling emotionally. Talk to school counsellors or find a counseller in your community. Counselling can be very helpful to give your child the tools needed to build resiliency. E.g. Thrive Resiliency Counselling
Talk to your child about bullying and keep the channels of communication open.
Here is what the experts say kid’s need to know….
- Talk to adults about bullying and what is happening. It is OKAY to tell someone what they see.
- If possible, help the person being bullied get away from the situation or find help.
- Be a friend to the person being bullied. Small actions and support can be a lifeline.
- Be a leader by setting a good example – do not bully others.
- This is very important – don’t give bullying an audience or participate in “gossipy” conversations. (Many bullies thrive on having other kids see what they are doing)
Our children need adult connections, resiliency, and empowerment. Resiliency is increased when we embrace powerful thoughts rather than disempowering thoughts, when we choose not to own negative words thrown our way, and when we focus on what is positive and good about ourselves, allowing our “self” to be comfortable and strong. While we may not be able to entirely prevent a bullying culture, we can offer a great deal of protection by asking the right questions.