The thing is, they create this vicious cycle, where people keep getting hurt.
I have a teenage family member who is dealing with the hateful behavior of a couple of students. These students call her names and harass her in front of other kids. Additionally, in my line of work, I frequently hear horror stories of embarrassing rumors, cruelty and hate. This is all spewed by teenagers. There is a nasty culture in many schools, despite all well-intended efforts.
I understand that teenagers do gossip and tease one another. I understand that teachers and school faculty cannot be expected to micro manage or be present for every nasty remark or insult. Parents are limited, too—limited by what their teen shares or what is exposed by teachers or principals.
Perhaps there is only so much we can do, but it has to be more than what we’re doing right now. After all, how do we expect children to focus on school work in these kinds of circumstances? They aren’t adults who have control over their environments. No one should be subjected to such cruelty, especially a child.
I guess, at this point, there are just two questions: Where does the behavior cross the line and what can we do about it? It’s tough to determine where the line is drawn. School isn’t always comfortable for children. In a sense, this builds character and teaches kids how to navigate difficult circumstances. Still, that doesn’t tell us when typical steps into problematic…
Maybe we should ask these questions to the kids who are victimized. They have great ideas. They know the culture of the schools and what might alleviate the problem. They live the problem everyday, in fact.
For my family member, being followed home is probably that threshold, where the line is clearly drawn. Or perhaps she would back up, and say it’s when she’s called names at lunch by the same student, over and over. I have encountered other teens who would say the volatile rumors cross all kinds of lines. They would say the attacks on their family members hurt the worst. Some would vote that the comments meant to belittle their personal appearance are the most difficult to swallow.
And then, at that point, the mission of the bully is accomplished. Someone is hurting. I hear the stories at work, and I’m left cringing, feeling like I’m the one being traumatized.
No, we can’t control each movement a teen or child makes. We wouldn’t want to. There must be some shared responsibility in these scenarios, though. In fact, I would say we’ve got to back way up, and start over. Way over.
In my mind, I keep circling back to the parents. Of course, parents have enough to do. As do teachers. In the case with my family member, the parents of the bullying child want nothing to do with resolving the problem. They don’t want to admit their child is terrorizing others.
So, what’s a parent to do? What do we do as a society?
Do we leave our teens to handle it for themselves? Do we come to their rescue? Do we home school? Do we encourage physically aggressive behavior? Do we urge our kids to ignore these students?
I don’t know the answer, but I do think it must start with home. After all, families are the first to socialize children, introduce them to right and wrong and provide guidance. Children and teens can be mean to classmates and still come from well-meaning families. There is no rule that bullies come only from broken homes.
If this is the case, how can parents respond? How can they assure their young child or teenager isn’t an aggressor or an instigator of teasing or rumor spreading?
I think parents have to begin with the cultures of their own homes. Sometimes, the family inadvertently breeds intolerance. It is important parents don’t equate “different” with “bad.” Oftentimes, parents set their children up for these behaviors by ridiculing others in front of their kids. Parents must teach their children to be appreciative of differences, and at the very least, be tolerant of them.
That’s typically why children are bullied in the first place. They’re different in some way. If children associate different with wrong or bad, they feel their teasing is justified. See what a conflict this creates?
When possible, parents should pay attention to their children’s conversation. If your daughter’s having a slumber party, and you overhear frequent name calling, over the top gossiping or other forms of hatred, you have a red flag. If you’re doing carpool, and you hear ridicule and teasing, you have another red flag. Parents should always follow up on these comments. Don’t let problems like this work themselves out.
Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to keep the discussion about the treatment of others ongoing. Reinforce your expectations and standards. Talk about what it must feel like to be teased or bullied on a regular basis. Discuss why this child is targeted. Empower your child to stand up for others or befriend children who are left behind. Remember, bullies thrive on their audience.
Empathy is what you want to accomplish in your child. Then, pay attention to how they interact. Watch how their friends interact. Discuss what is meant by being “popular” or “cool.” Understand the social breakdown of your child’s school. Communicate with other parents.
It really wouldn’t take much to make my job easier, to make my heart lighter. Ultimately, raising children who are respectful, tolerant and compassionate will only make the world a better place.
Maybe there are already a lot of hurting people out there, but a parent’s mission should be to assure their children aren’t creating more of them.
Published: October 7, 2012