Everyone, even President Barack H. Obama, is talking about the bullying crisis these days. Many professionals prefer not to even call it bullying. They call it harassment.
Whatever you wish to call it, it has been around for a very long time and over the years has put on new faces and taken a very deadly turn.
Our moms were asked if their children have been affected by bullying. Affected doesn’t just mean being the victim, but rather it can mean doing the actual bullying or being a bystander to bullying. All have their emotional sides, and all can do damage that can last a lifetime.
Last week the Ellington High School drama club, Opening Knight Players (OKP), presented their original production Where The Sun is Silent to the Ellington community. The play, written by OKP advisor William Prenetta, was fictional but based on the life of Phoebe Prince. Prince was a young girl from Ireland who moved to South Hadley, MA. She took her own life after being bullied by her high school classmates. A few of our moms attended the OKP production.
Some of our moms report their children have not been affected by bullying. The tough part about the subject is that many kids do not tell adults what they have experienced. As author of Queen Bees and Wannabes Rosalind Wiseman says that there is a code of silence with kids. “No one wants to be a snitch,” she says. Wiseman strongly believes empowering bystanders is the key to stopping bullies, and adults need to create an environment that encourages bystanders.
Kathy does not believe her children have been bullied, however she remembers her son who is highly allergic to milk products was threatened once when he was younger by another child with a carton of milk. Her daughter has witnessed bullying very similar to what happened to Phoebe Prince. Prince was a freshman and dated two seniors at her high school and the girlfriends of those boys harassed her relentlessly which ultimately led to her suicide. “Unfortunately, my kids have the perception that the school administration will sweep it under the rug, especially if it is one of their prized students or athletes doing the bullying,” she said. Kathy also sees the brutal cyber bullying every day on Facebook. “I think most parents would be shocked if they could see their child’s Facebook wall.
Nikki says her kids have not had much exposure with bullying. She feels society is smothering our freedom of speech to the point that nothing negative about another person can be said. While she does not condone bullying, she thinks that children’s self-esteem is built up too much and has created children with a false sense of self-importance. This she thinks on a basic level ties into bullying.
Tammy has not had many issues with bullying either. Her daughter was born with a vision problem and Tammy has made sure her daughter had lots of self confidence growing up and as a result has not been harassed much. “I just basically taught her to have a f--- you attitude about people who don’t have anything better to do with their time.”
Donna has a younger son, now in high school, who she hopes has not been a victim of bullying. Her son has a weight problem and when he leaves for school every day she thinks to herself, “please let the kids be kind today.” She tells him often what a great kid he is and she makes sure he knows he is loved. “I am glad schools are taking this problem seriously. Each year more and more kids hurt themselves or take their lives because they have been bullied.” She thinks so many kids are embarrassed and ashamed so they keep it to themselves and deal with the pain alone.
Amy’s children are too young at this point; however she taught middle school and has seen bullying first hand. She thinks when children are very young it can start by kids taking away toys from other kids. That is when parents need to teach their children right from wrong. She believes bullying happens at all ages and all levels, even in the work place. “Being different in any way makes it easy for people to pick on you. I’m short and always get comments about it.” She also said it is important for adults and even kids to stick up for each other if they hear it happening and make the bully aware that what they are doing is not ok. “Kids see what their parents do and say and how they act. We need to remember that and practice what we preach.”
It's estimated that 5.7 million kids in the U.S. are involved in school bullying, and 39 percent of middle schoolers say they don't feel safe at school.
So how can we help our kids get through it?
Psychologist Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D, wrote the book Why Good Kids Act Cruel and offers some insight to bullying. He says from age 9 to 13 years a child becomes very developmentally insecure. He also says make sure that your kid is a target of social cruelty -- not a victim of social cruelty. Victims have no choice, but targets do. Parents should talk about some of the ways their child can act that might be different from what they've done in the past to get a different response. Pickhardt suggests asking your kid what they think the bully thought they'd do in response. Then ask what would happen if they violated that prediction. Suppose they spoke up and acted friendly? Suppose they laughed or blew it off? If the bully doesn't get what he or she wants, that person is likely to move onto someone else, and you've empowered your kid with choice.
Pickhardt also offers some tips on how to keep your kid from becoming a bully. He says family activities remind a child of the importance of family. Volunteering in the community is another important tip. It teaches them to look at others. In addition, Pickhardt says children need to have unpaid chores as a responsibility and to be a contributing member of the family. Lastly, he says children need role models. Spending time with significant adults other than their parents gives them the chance to make mature friends that can give them a positive role model they may not get with their peers.
For more information on bullying, visit this Web site: www.stopbullying.gov