Standing Up Against Bullying
By Tracey Dowdy
Whoever said “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” was either deluded or a liar. At some point in our lives, we’ve all been on the receiving end of hurtful or hateful words. We’ve all been bullied.
“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.” – stopbullying.gov
In any given situation where bullying occurs there are three distinct roles: the bully, the victim, and the bystanders. It’s important to note that the focus needs to be on the behaviors, not the individual kids. Kids who are the bully in one situation may be the victim in another, and vice versa. Life isn’t a fairy tale – the bad guys aren’t all bad and the good guys aren’t all good!
Kids engage in bullying for a myriad of reasons and it’s important to determine that reason before trying to change the behavior.
1. The Child Who Bullies – Children bully for a reason. It’s power, plain and simple. For whatever reason, the child feels powerless and in order to feel good, needs to exert his power over those around him. These kids may be sad, depressed or angry, and confuse bullying with leadership. They may have problems at home or at school that they don’t know how to fix and asserting themselves is how they feel in control. This is why it’s important to focus on the behavior and not the child.
2. The Child Being Bullied – The victim of bullying doesn’t fit a profile. Athletes and academics; thin or overweight; pretty or plain; any child could be the victim.
3. The Bystanders - These kids may or may not be directly involved in the bullying. They may encourage the child engaging in the behavior by cheering them on; they may be part of an audience that stands by and laughs; or they may simply stand on the sidelines and not intervene.
4. The Advocate – The key to breaking the cycle of bullying is the fourth kid – the Advocate. This is the child that steps up and stands up to defend the child being bullied.
Keeping the focus on the behavior not the child is critical. The children in any of these roles may need counseling or support to make the changes necessary to avoid carrying negative behaviors into adulthood. The effects of bullying are well documented and can have long term and tragic outcomes for those involved.
As a parent, it’s difficult to know what to do. Our first reaction may be to swoop in and rescue, but depending on the circumstances, it may not be best option. If your child is at risk, clearly you need to act swiftly and decisively to remove your child from that situation. But although our reaction may be to rescue, it’s important to equip our kids to deal with similar situations in the future.
Teach your children about bullying, but also teach them empathy and courage. Help them to believe in themselves. Stay engaged in your child’s life so you are aware from the beginning when bullying behavior starts. Set limits with technology – this is particularly important if the bullying behavior is happening online. My generation could escape being bullied by our peers when we went home. Today, it follows children into their bedrooms. Be consistent and compassionate with those technology boundaries, and keep your kids engaged in the conversation so they understand it’s for their own well-being and not a punishment.
After you’ve dealt with the bullying, whether your child was the one being bullied or the one who bullied others, remember it takes time to heal. Both sides may feel fragile and uneasy, wondering what others think, what they know or what they remember. They may be unwilling to talk to you about it, so be open to counseling or support services that can reinforce the positive changes or behaviors and speed the healing. Exercise has been proven to be a significant factor in reinforcing positive mental health, so look for ways your child can get active.
Above all, remind your children that they are loved. Everyone wants to feel valued and to feel that they are being heard. Support them, stand by them, and reassure them that you are their biggest advocate.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.