Bullying has been in the news all over the place lately, the most recent one in my area being the suicide of a 12 year-old girl. Such a tragic, unnecessary loss of life.
Suicide is obviously the extreme end of the outcomes, but loss of confidence, truancy, depression and other unnecessary elements result from it as well.
So of course, and thankfully, schools and communities are reacting. But, as we so often do, we are nearing the point of overreacting.
We are revamping team selection methods, imposing penalties on language, creating campaigns and holding assemblies.
But in order to successfully address bullying, we need to come to a consensus as to what it is.
Obviously, any sort of physical harassment is bullying. But a fight may not be.
Sure, some fights may come as part of an escalating bullying situation, but kids fight. They have yet to learn how to properly reel in their impulse control or express their frustrations. This can easily erupt into a physical altercation.
But not all physical altercations are bullying.
Being picked on constantly is constantly is bullying – if you mock my appearance, my braces, my income bracket, my weight or anything else with any level of consistency you are likely a bully.
But being picked last consistently, isn’t. Part of school, of growing up, is learning not only book lessons, but life lessons. And in real life, you will be passed over. Repeatedly, at times. And usually, it isn’t personal – the choosing of teams, whether it be for dodgeball or for management, is about excelling, about winning. Those are coping skills that need to be developed early, and completely.
We are once again trying to paint a fine picture with a broad brush. So the picture becomes blurred and indistinct. And it becomes difficult to identify the elements that make it the whole.
Beyond the element of the bully, over which we have limited control, there is also the element of the bullied.
In dealing with the concept of bullying, we are often forced to be reactionary – this happened, so here is our response. So perhaps a focus should be made to address the other side of the equation in a manner that is proactive.
Give your kids a safe haven. Interact with them in a way that fosters their ability to speak up, to share with you when things happen, to express feelings of frustration and fear.
Give them perspective – work with them to make them understand the implications of their words and actions. Once words are out, they cannot be recalled, and there may be consequences. And no matter what, all problems are temporary.
Teach them caution. Help them understand the far-reaching world of the web, and that what is placed there, no matter how private they think it is, it is in a public domain. The only secrets on the web are those that aren’t there.
And teach them confidence. Help them understand it is not only okay, but right to stand up for themselves, and for those weaker than them. Help them find their voice. Help them find something to excel at, to be proud of. Let them participate in martial arts or other programs that foster the concept of self-possession.
All of this matters, because no matter how many assemblies are held, no matter how many campaign posters they see, bullys will be. In school, on the playground, and later, in the workplace and nursing homes.
Help your children be strong.