The harsh reality is that bullying will never go away. As long as there have been people, there have been bullies. They just have more potent, far reaching tools with which to wield their power. Therefore we need to manage it. To contain it. Make it unattractive.
My third-grade daughter has seen bullies since at least first grade. There’s a group of mean girls that gave her grief starting then, and while second grade was a nice reprieve (they set their sites on others) she’s seen some of that this year. It’s starts out subtle, and continues when they get a reaction. As a parent, it’s painful to see – and since she has a great group of NICE friends, not too tough to manage thus far. Especially since they’ve not yet started using social media.
So how can we parents manage the bullies? More important, how can we teach our kids how to fend for themselves? I don’t pretend to have the answers but let’s think out loud here.
Since we can’t eliminate bullies, I see two possible approaches:
- Help the bullied and non-bullies. This involves setting expectations for engaging online – what you share and who you share it with. Know as best you can who your friends are.
- Help the bullies. Yes, go right to the source. Show them a healthier way to engage online. I can’t imagine many bullies feel good about themselves. Insecurity breeds such behavior.
I’m currently reading Switch by the Heath brothers about how to facilitate change. It talks about approaching big change by focusing on the easiest, smallest solution. Things you can affect when you don’t have any power. The key analogy is the elephant and the rider. The elephant is your emotional side and the rider, your rational side. You can guess who usually wins and therefore why you need to find a way to appeal to both.
For your kids, set them up for success by instilling a sense of confidence and security knowing they’re valued, worthwhile people. Particularly, girls need a lot of support during their teenage years – even when they think their parents are stupid and don’t want them around – they DO WANT them around according to Michael Gerber in the Wonder of Girls. They’re not ready to be independent adults as much as they pretend they want to be. It’s during this time that he says many parents pull away thinking their kids are becoming self-sufficient and don’t need them as much. But they do. So no matter how hard it is as a parent, we gotta stay in the game. (Not that we don’t, but . . .)
Help kids develop a healthy network of friends – I’d like to believe that if there’s a strong network willing to support each other, they can overcome the negative effects of bullying and make it less attractive. Online or off. I tend to believe that the more unattractive we make bullying by minimizing the impact, the less likely the bullies are to continue.
Help the bullies find more productive outlets. One of the examples cited in Switch was a kid who was an extreme trouble maker in school. Always disrupting class, he spent much time in the principal’s office and didn’t seem to have much hope of changing. One person, however, looked at the 20% of the time he succeeded. What was different. Turns out the teacher in the class he did better politely greeted him at the door each day. Treated him with a bit of respect whereas the others, avoided him more or less. What if we looked at the times when bullies were nice? What was different? And then try to extend what worked.
As a society, it seems we need to make bullying unattractive. This is a bigger nut to crack as unless you’re either experience bullying, have kids who are, or simply aware and care, you’re not going to focus your attention on it. Let’s face it, most of us have plenty of things clamoring for our attention. Particularly in tougher economic times. And I’d suggest it’s these times that breed more bullying. When people struggle with making ends meet they’ll look for an outlet for their frustrations.
So let’s get the ideas on the table. None are too simple. In fact, from what I’ve gleaned from Switch, it’s the simplest ideas that can be the most effective because they snowball. Let’s start small and see where this goes. Join #smsafety this evening at 9:00 EST.