At some point in all of our lives, we have encountered a bully. Whether we were directly targeted, or saw someone else being targeted, it happened to us at least once. Think about how you’ve reacted to bullying in the past. Did you pretend like it was a game or humorous, did you get upset, or did you choose not to react at all? If you answered yes to at least one of those questions, then answer this one: Did your reaction to bullying make it stop, either temporarily or permanently?
I was expecting you to say no to that. You can’t stop bullying once it starts. Once someone has it in their mind that they hate you, that’s how it will be. Bullies feel justified in their judgments and hatred toward others because we have taught them how to do it. We give our children simple orders such as “behave yourself” with no indication of how or why. We tell our children to just ignore it. We tell our kids to suck it up, because it’s just how things are. We tell our children to shut up, compare them to other kids and hit them when they don’t do what we want them to. And above all, we tell our children to express themselves and their feelings without making it clear which feelings and expressions can hurt other people. We have created bullies.
I’m sure you are a great parent. Your kids have clothes, food, a shelter, apartment or home, and an education. I’m sure in your heart of hearts you feel like you are doing the right thing. But you don’t know everything there is to know about being a parent. No one does. The phrase “Don’t tell me how to raise my kids” won’t cut it anymore, because you always have room to learn new things. The diffusion of responsibility by saying “All parents make mistakes” is unfair to you because you are the parent, and your child does not know better than you. You don’t have room for mistakes, and you need to own up to your own behavior before you expect your child to own up to their’s. Making a stubborn mistake because you didn’t want to listen to the warning signs is exactly why your kid grew up to be mad at you. And please don’t tell me that “what was good for you is good for them”, because most of your parents’ fuck-ups are why you are socially awkward or anxious, think you are too fat, too bald or badly dressed, repeatedly compare yourself to other people your age, hate that you are getting old, regret nearly 90% of your actions or choices up to this point, and work ten hour days and come home feeling dead. It’s time to stop the legacy here.
In your head, the definition of “behave yourself” is likely long, empathetic and deeply involved in societal norms. How many six year old kids do you know of that actually think about their place in society and how they relate to other people? Children don’t develop common sense and a stronger sense of empathy until approximately age ten, but some will understand things earlier or later than that, and that’s okay. Kids don’t know the full meaning behind “behave yourself”, so when you say it to them, they either have their own definition or they are confused. A child might not ask you to clarify, rely on what they know or don’t know, and end up getting in trouble because they don’t know better. Or, they will ask you to clarify, and they get slapped in the face with “You know what I mean!” Aside from the fact that if your child knew what you meant they wouldn’t have to ask, they grow angry because you won’t be honest with them. Kids have a bad habit of turning inward, and they assume the worst: Maybe my mom/dad won’t tell me because I’m too young or too stupid to understand. You have successfully trained your child to think low of themselves. Now they can take that feeling of shame, and apply it to other kids. You’ll have to explain why, and how, your child can behave the right way several times before they understand it.
I have often felt that telling children to ignore bullying is a parent’s way of creating a simple solution, to a very big problem, so they don’t have to deal with it again. Telling a child to suck it up is even worse. While the intentions are good, making the point that a kid is picked on because they are different or an individual/unique, is blasphemous. Your child told you they were being bullied because they need your help. Saying they should ignore it means you are ignoring it too. Saying they should suck it up is like saying they, as human beings, don’t have the right to feel hurt when someone hurts them. But the most evil kind of justification of bullying, is by giving a logically sound reason for it. Your child is their own person, sure, but now they know that being themselves means they have a target on their back. Kids don’t understand things the same way as adults, so whatever you say to them has terrible implications.
There is nothing wrong with telling your child that they shouldn’t be bullied. Yes, you are accepting it’s a problem, and responsibility for helping to fix it. Yes, you are stressed out with your job, bills, groceries, housework, education for them and you, but you signed up to be a parent, and the only person who needs to suck up anything is you, the parent. There’s a reason why you have family, advice blogs/articles (like this one), child/parent advocacy groups and school administration. There are masses of people around the block lining up to help you raise your kids, and most of it is free, or required assistance by your state. There is nothing weak about asking for help. If anything you’re a hero because you’re a responsible parent. Bottom line, you can feed, shelter and clothe your kids for 18 years, and they can still grow up to be an asshole if they haven’t been taught how to treat other people.
I have had far too many arguments on the city bus with moms who yell at or hit their babies out of impatience or frustration. An example is a woman talking on her cell phone, who’s 1 year old son was babbling as babies do. She didn’t want to give up her unnecessary and vulgar phone conversation to talk to her son, so she kept telling him to shut up. If he turned and looked out the window, or moved in anyway for that matter, she would strike his leg with her hand. Lets just say my argument with her became very loud when I told her that she couldn’t do that to her son. When we don’t speak up, we let parents bully their children, which in turn trains their children to become bullies. Confronting a bully puts them on the spot, and shows them that what they are doing will not be tolerated. If you want to make someone feel bad for something they did, it should be bullying. If ten people witness bullying, and all ten people think “someone else will tell that bully to stop it”, then nothing happens. And don’t tell me it’s hard to speak up, because there is nothing difficult about caring about the state of another human being. You don’t have to model your actions off of other people; you think with your own brain and you stand up for people.
The biggest mistake we make, is comparing our kids to other kids. And we start when they are babies. If another parent’s baby starts walking before our’s, we start thinking “time to ask the doctor why my kid isn’t walking yet.” Did you know on average, girls start walking before boys? Did you know that even that is only an approximation, because no two kids develop the same way. Kids are their own people, physically and mentally. Yes, there are things to be concerned about regarding your child’s development. But, if your kid is talking (this includes ALL vocal sounds), making eye contact with you, listening to what you say, desiring appropriate affection, curious about their environment, trying to use tools, and assemble/disassemble toys (properly), then they’re doing all right. This comparison behavior is also present in television shows, like characters who want to be exactly like another character. Or on a magazine cover, with a photoshopped celebrity talking about weight loss. And my personal favorite is the 40+ year old women, who make it their personal mission to guilt me because I’m a healthy body weight. I understand that you are unhappy with your appearance, and I understand why, but attacking me won’t make you thinner, or make you feel better about yourself.
Emotions and self-expression are just as bad as they are good. Yoda may be a muppet but he was right, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Everyone becomes afraid of something, but when we don’t understand how someone else feels, that lack of empathy creates an unknown. The unknown is a scary place because we have nothing to work with when we’re there. That inability to understand the unknown becomes frustrating and then angry. That anger keeps building, so intensely that it leads to resentment and eventual hate for what we don’t understand. We take that hate, and we lash out with it to protect ourselves from the unknown, but all we really do is cause the suffering of another person. Another person who didn’t deserve it.
Unfortunately, an addict may stop taking drugs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still an addict. Addicts relapse quite often. Bullies are exactly the same. You can teach a bully how not to bully, but they’ve learned how to judge, how to express hate, and they’ll probably relapse. Even if they don’t say their judgments aloud, they will think them, or give people a “look” that that shows that hate. If they hate a certain race, they’ll avoid that race. In essence, retraining a bully doesn’t make a good person, it just makes a quieter bully.
What we can do, is stop bullying before it starts. How do we do it? We show empathy to our children, by treating them with the utmost respect and humanity, and expecting that same respect and humanity in return. If someone falls, you help them get up. If someone is crying, you offer to listen to why. You tell your children that you love them for who they are. You talk to your children about their day, their likes and dislikes, and you show a general interest in the things they do. You care about the human condition of your children, so they will enter the world and care about the human condition of other people. This isn’t just your job, this is everyone’s job. It takes a village to raise a child. We can’t stop the bullies that already exist, not completely anyway, but we can stop making new bullies, and bullying will eventually become extinct.