"Be a Friend, Don't Be a Bully"
At the end of the last school year, I noticed the above sign outside a local elementary school: "Be a Friend, Don't Be a Bully." Now that school is back in session, it is time to address the issue of bullying and its impact on our children.
I will identify the role of the "bully" and the role of the "target." Then I will examine the issue in the home and in the school. And finally a focus on how to read and react to signals and warning signs.
What is a bully? A bully is defined as a person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller, weaker people. This can include verbal harassment, physical assault, or coercion and may be directed towards particular victims on the grounds of race, religion, gender, appearance, sexuality, or ability. Indirect bullying is the silent treatment or arguing others into submission.
Gossiping, lies, rumors, staring, and giggling behind someone’s back are devastating. Males tend to be more physically aggressive and females generally favor exclusion and mockery. Cyber bullying, a newer form of direct bullying, is dangerous and can go undetected because of the lack of parental/authority supervision. Bullying through the use of technology – cell phones, video cameras, all kinds of apps – creates harassment directed at teachers as well. Bullies posting as someone else on the internet is an anonymous, scary form of bullying because people are often meaner when not using real names. (This behavior includes blogging, email, instant messaging, text messaging, website and social networking sites.)
While some bullies are arrogant, others use bullying as a way to conceal their own shame or boost their self-esteem by demeaning others. They feel empowered when others suffer. Strangely, many bullies enjoy going to school – they’re the least likely to take off sick days.
Is there a bully in your home? Parents take note: Research shows that adults who bully have personalities that are authoritarian with a need to control and dominate others. There is a risk factor that a bully is reflecting the environment of his or her home, thusly repeating the model learned in the home. Carefully look at what you model to your child and how you as a parent treat others.
- How do siblings treat each other?
- How do mom and dad treat each other?
- Notice how your child relates to you and others.
- Is anyone scared of another? If so, why?
- Are any of you taking out painful feelings on others?
- Is there name calling in your home, physical punishment, teasing?
- Is anyone displaying envy and resentment? These are often motives for bullying.
- Is anyone in the family forcing their way aggressively or by intimidation?
- Is there respect for the right reasons, such as kindness, moral judgment, and fairness?
- Are family members listened to and emotionally supported?
- Who do members of the family side with – top dog or under dog?
- Do you as a parent teach your child to respect that everyone is different – and that’s a good thing? Or do you make snide comments about others?
- Does anyone in the family use humor or sarcasm at someone else’s expense?
A victim is known as a “target.” Targets of bullying can suffer from long-term emotional and behavioral problems. Targets suffer from loneliness, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The effects on the target can be extremely serious and sometimes fatal.
Warning signs and signals about the target for teachers and parents to be aware.
- Is the child being called names?
- Do you notice teasing?
- Is the child not talking?
- Is the child withdrawn and shutdown?
- Does the child not want to go to school?
- Does the child lie?
- Is he/she being ridiculed?
What can we do?
- Be clear about cyberbullying and what the rules are. You have a right to know what is being communicated on the internet and/or cell phones.
- Listen to your child.
- Do not ignore warning signs such as withdrawn or shutdown behavior.
- Don’t judge.
- Help your child know that you are there to support and help them.
- Help your child react to initial bullying in ways that tend to discourage potential bullies from repeated attempts at shaming. If you do, your child is less likely to be drawn into a destructive cycle.
- Help and connect to others who do see the behaviors. Help create a group or each other – it’s possible. Just one person is needed to help. Go to the school.
- Do not be silent, therefore the cycle will end.
- Teach your child NOT to be a bystander.
- Most important, your child needs to know that they are protected – by the school and the parents.
I worked with John at the end of the school year. He was graduating from a private school and beginning college this fall. John dealt with a concrete issue. He’s gay. Peers were mean, he had no friends, most lunch hours were dealt with by hiding in the student store. One lunch he became the target of salad dressing thrown in his face. As John and I worked together, we discussed how John knew this behavior well. His father was abusive toward him and his mother from an early age. In our work together, I shared how an adult who has been abused when growing up is far more likely to target or abuse their children becausethis is familiar and what they know how to do. We talked about how something is vitally wrong with the person who feels better about himself or herself when hurting and forcing another into submission. John became very clear that passivity and ignoring what was happening to him would not make it go away unless he stopped the cycle for himself. He went through periods of worry that no one would want to become involved with him and help him because someone sticking up for him could also be targeted.
There can be either of two endings: Before reading on, I would like you to stop for a moment and imagine what you think the result has been for John.
Fortunately, John, with my help and his mother’s, got the support he needed from his environment. His mother became clear that his not talking, watching hours of TV, and not wanting to go to school was reflecting what was happening to John at school. He opened up, sharing the truth of what was happening to him. He graduated feeling enormous potential, feeling successful in navigating through this experience with the tools to help him in college. He said to me, “You know, feeling successful is the best revenge against any bully.”