I was thinking…. Is it possible that bullying and picking on each other has been around for hundreds of years and will always be a crappy part of growing up. Like young lions picking on each other as they find their place in the pride? Somehow it is a normal part of the human experience, like stressing the body on a long run prepares us for a normal day at the office. Is this simply a normal part of stressing the human spirit so we can recover from a lost job or a failed relationship later in life? Like a forest fire burns the environment, but somehow is a natural part of a healthy forest. I hate even thinking about this issue in this way, but I want to challenge the current thinking. Speaking as a High School student that was actually bullied by my teacher and as an 8th grader that bullied a fellow classmate for the way she looked. I wish I could find her now and apologize. I was a jerk; yet consider myself a good person. What was I thinking?
I’m not condoning being mean and hurtful and I think the behavior that kids face today is at a new high or low depending on how we measure it. Internet bullying is just one of the new ways that people can attack the weak in the herd and show them they are not a part of the alpha group. Lets just say for a minute that kids will be kids and that includes them being mean, really mean. What do we as the grown ups need to do to prepare them for this reality? Notice I said prepare them, not protect them.
As a parent of three kids ages 7, 10 and 12, I am in the thick of what we are talking about, on both ends of the sword. I have propped up my 10 year old after her best friend told her she was ugly. I have consulted with another parent over what to do about what my 12-year-old daughter said to some friends about her daughter who overheard the slander. Ouch, where did I go wrong, I asked myself?
Back to the question: What do “grown ups” need to do regardless of the behavior of kids to change the reaction to bullying?
My suggestions: Just a few to start.
Kids need the support of a family to prop them up, an available family that listens to them at the dinner table. Yes, the dinner table! Remember that flat space with the chairs around it and all the clutter on it? That is the dinner table and at least four times each week we should gather around it for a meal, turn the TV off, no cell phones, and listen to each other like we matter more than anything in the world. The kids can even set the table and learn the discipline of contributing to a meal.
Find activities that will build their self esteem so they can withstand the impact of the bad behavior. Help them develop a work ethic by doing chores around the house, clean their room or watering a plant, something! T.V., Facebook, texting and eating and bathing are not enough to develop a child who sees themselves as an important part of the operations of the family and the world. Give them a place they belong, so if they feel like they don’t at school they do at home. Without a sense of accomplishment and value outside of peer acceptance then if they are not accepted they could do something crazy to let people know how much they are hurting. I’m asking, what seed we need to plant in order to change what grows over the next 25 years. The current bush is thorny and very painful but the seed starts in the family. Don’t pick on each other at home and then complain about bullying at school.
All that being said, bad things happen, even to kids that grow up in great homes! The ugliest of truths is that bullying has gone way too far and we ALL need to step up and change the path we are on before we are all woken up by tragedy. Go first to make a difference in your home and then look around and keeping doing something to help.