Bullying. Sucks. A lot. Having been the fat kid growing up, I suffered through my share of it. Not from my peers so much, but from older kids and people in the world around me. Society as a whole can be really hard on people who are different. Different in any way, shape or form. Body shape, skin color, height, weight, age, sex, glasses, crooked teeth, freckles, etc, etc. It’s a never-ending list of stupid being perpetuated by people who have ZERO confidence in themselves. I survived it, but it hurt. A lot.
Having said all that, I’ve also been the parent of bullies, on a few different occasions. I’ve seen the world through their eyes and their outlook is just as grim as the persons being tormented. These kids believe that they’re worthless and stupid and ugly and horrible and that no one likes them. They feel abandoned by their parents, their friends and the world as a whole. They are lonely in a way that not many of us can understand. They feel powerless in their personal lives and bullying gives them POWER. They are controlling the situation instead of the situation controlling them. Bullying is almost NEVER about the victim, it’s about the Instigator. Almost Always.
It’s sad and maddening, but bullying is never going away. No matter how many posters we hang up, or how many commercials get shown on TV, bullying is here to stay. Think about how many “bullies” you know right now in your own group of friends. We all know someone who will push and push until they get their way. We’ve all got a friend that thinks it’s funny to pick on you or your other friends, and then justifies it with a “just kidding”, or “you know I love you”. I can guarantee we’ve all had bosses that took their position of power to an unreasonable level while we just had to stand there and take it. Are those not all instances of bullying? Adults do it ALL the time … we just use bigger, fancier words.
I think that it is worth educating kids on how to handle a bully. How to safely tell on them, how to avoid certain situations, and how to walk away. Kids need to feel safe at school and in their community. But there’s other ways to educate our kids and teach them to be better, in spite of the bullying going on around them.
Number One. Teach children their worth. If you’re a parent, make sure your children know how fabulous they are. Teach them about strength and confidence and grace. If you’re a teacher, pay attention to the kids that come from bad situations. Be their positive influence. Build your kids up so they find value inside of themselves as opposed to searching for it in the world around them. In my experience, my little “bullies” have had almost no self-esteem and were just desperate to have someone, anyone pay attention to them. No one made them feel good about themselves, so they set out to make other people look worse than they felt. Empower your children. They need your strength, until they feel it themselves.
Number Two. Teach children to not be followers. This seems like a pretty obvious statement, but how many of us really teach it? We teach our kids that there is strength in numbers and that they’re safer in groups. We should be teaching them how to be leaders … good, strong, positive leaders. Bully’s are not all that scary when they’re standing there on their own. Teach children to leave jerks and morons standing there by themselves and walk away. Teach them that it’s not rude to walk away when their friends are being mean or fighting. They don’t need to always have their buddy’s “back”. We spend so much time teaching kids to be polite and not enough time teaching them to be their own person. Give your children excuses for getting out of uncomfortable situations … “my Mom will take away my phone if I stay here”, “If I say that, my Dad will take away hockey”. Something, anything, but give them your words, until they have their own.
Number Three. Teach children that they have a voice. Kids need to understand the power that their words carry, especially positive ones. Teach them that it’s okay to tell people what they’re doing is wrong. That it’s okay to say No, and to stand up for someone else. Teach them how to tell someone when they see bullying occur. Teach them that a smile and a Hello can make a difference in someone’s life. Encourage them to speak up and not be quiet.
Number Four. Teach children that they don’t have to be friends with everyone. A lot of times bullying starts because kids are different from the majority of their peers. Everyone is NOT going to be friends, and that’s okay. The world is a big place and there is a match out there for everyone. Kids need to know that. A lot of times, they think we want them to hang out with the “weirdos”, so they fight against doing the “right” thing. I always tell my kids that they don’t have to be friends with everyone, but that doesn’t mean they get to be mean to anyone. Ever.
Number Five. Be an example. Do not laugh at the fat person that walks by. Don’t point out someones dirty, awful clothes. Don’t call people ugly, stupid, crazy. Don’t laugh when your children tell you an inappropriate story. They are watching you. They are copying you. Show them the proper way to behave. If you aren’t guarding your words and actions, why in the world will your children?
Finally as parents and adults, OPEN YOUR EYES.
Do not assume that your little “angel” is behaving appropriately at school. If someone tells you that your child has been misbehaving, don’t brush it off, look into it. Talk openly about bullying and the different forms it takes. Be present in their lives.
Watch for changes in your children. Are they pulling away from you, are talkers suddenly quiet, are social butterfly’s now hiding in their bedrooms? Have they stopped eating or are they grossly overeating all of a sudden? Something is wrong. Get them help.
Bullying is about Power. I’m giving my kids the power, so bullying has NO POWER over them. How about you?