Monday, July 18, 2011

Bullies are People Too

Just a thought on bullying.  It really f'ing sucks.

I know none of us want to think that our child is a bully.  Even if they are doing "bullyish" things...parents will often say, "Oh that's just a kid doing what kids do."  Really?  So when does "what kids do" cross the line into bullying?  What are your thoughts on that?

Often times young kids don't even know they are being bullied.  And even if they realize it, they may not have the verbal skills to express it in a way that an adult takes it seriously.  They will say things like, "Kids are being mean to me." or "Joey pushed me today."  As parents and educators we often go right to, "Well, what were you doing that caused this to happen?"  In turn, children feel blamed and stop telling.

On the other side of the coin, sometimes bullies don't realize that they are bullying.  Our educators do a lot of work teaching children about "being bullied" but how does a child know if they are actually doing the bullying?  I have heard children say, "Oh, I didn't know that is what I was doing."  School age children especially lack the ability to determine how their behavior is effecting others.  Is is important that we talk with them about this, use role playing and ask questions.

Some people feel that being bullied is a right of passage.  It builds character, makes you stronger.  This might be true in some cases, but more often than not, bullying causes serious mental and emotional harm.  Children are resilient, yes...but they are also impressionable and vulnerable.  Having to encounter a bully on a day to day basis chips away at their self-esteem and feelings of self worth.  Physiologically it causes an unhealthy increase in cortisol which is our stress hormone, making the child hyper vigilant, anxious, unable to concentrate and depressed.  All of these things have an effect on the developing brain and psyche.  Ultimately it can change brain function leading to long term consequences.

Bullying doesn't just occur with children.  As adults we encounter bullies in the work place and in our social circles.  These are the people who go out of their way to make others feel uncomfortable, unappreciated or unheard.  Often times they lack the social skills needed to have positive social relationships...and if you confront them, they would probably be genuinely surprised by other people's experience of them.

Ultimately, we have to understand that there will always be bullies...and there will always be victims.  It is inherent in our social structure and almost unavoidable.  The good news is that we don't have to tolerate it.  We have more options now than we ever have in terms of speaking up, finding our voice and being heard.  I say this from the point of view of the bully as well as the victim because when it comes right down to it, bullies are victims too and should be afforded the same opportunities to grow and learn.

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