BULLIED: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear is written by Carrie Goldman. Goldman was prompted to write this book after her daughter, Katie, was teased for carrying a Star Wars lunch box to school. Her blog post on the matter has been called “the post that launched a thousand geeks,” and came with its own hashtag #MayTheForceBeWithKatie and she got a lot of media attention.
The statistic I like best from the book is that half of bullying behaviors will stop in less than ten seconds when another student intervenes. This means that bystanders and witnesses are one of the primary means of bullying prevention.
So, teach your kids to stand up for someone else. In other words, teach them to be a good human.
Cell phones are a fantastic weapon in the ant-bullying crusade. Often when students report bullying behavior there is no evidence so teachers and principals tend to play the offenses down, and try to make peace. Some even blatantly ignore it because they lack the power to actually do anything about it. But, cell phones have cameras and video recorders on them now. That’s right. Any witness can pull out their cell phone on a bus or on the playground and get footage of what’s really going on. It’s hard to ignore hard evidence.
Bad at Being Human
We hear a lot about bullying these days. Lady Gaga has a foundation and everything. Glee addresses the issue a lot – mostly by featuring a lot of bullying behavior between both students and adults.
And our kids come home with stories. Stories of being teased or someone said something mean. Or the girls decide to shut another girl out. Or someone passes a cruel note.
We call it “bullying.”
Sometimes though I think we overreact. Just because your kid got their feelings hurt doesn’t mean they are being “bullied.” Just because someone doesn’t want to play with your kid doesn’t mean they are being bullied. Teasing someone about what they are wearing or what lunch box they bring to school isn’t necessarily “bullying.” It’s not very nice, but it’s not necessarily insidious, damaging behavior either. This kind of behavior doesn’t have to scar your child for life. It could just be a learning experience about how to stand strong in who you are.
Kids aren’t very good humans by nature. Hang out with a two-year-old sometime. They bite, hit, kick, steal, scream, throw tantrums and cry at the top of their lungs if they don’t get their way. They’re lousy humans really.
Parents socialize their children so they aren’t banned from the Mommy playgroup. They want to avoid their kid getting kicked out of pre-school for anti-social behavior — otherwise they are stuck with the little monster 24-7 and it’s exhausting trying to teach a feral beast the manners in which to operate in society.
In other words, we become good humans by sheer peer pressure and a desire for social acceptance. We teach our children how to be good human for the same reasons.
So, no I don’t think that a lot of what we’re calling “bullying” is actually bullying. I think a lot of it is just kids learning to be good humans. And learning takes practice. And mistakes. And social issues ensue. Some kids learn it easily and it becomes their currency. Others have a harder time at it, making more mistakes than others. Some have a terrible time learning impulse control – like just because I feel like kicking you doesn’t mean that I should.
The Real Mean Girls and Bullies
Then there’s the real bully and mean girls. These are the people who, rather than figure out a way to get what they want by being kind, realize that they can get away with a hell of a lot by being intimidating jerks.
This is demonstrated by repeated and malicious attacks against another person or people. I would say kid, but adults bully other adults all the time.
You’ve heard plenty of stories, so I don’t need to give you a bunch of examples. Childhood can be like Lord of the Flies.
When I get out of high school it will be over, many people think. But, then you realize there are people who never learn how to be good humans. They just walk around being a-holes forever. And sometimes you’re going to run into one of them and God forbid they are your boss or your next door neighbor.
When Good Humans Confront Bad Humans
You know that whole be kinder to them advice? That never works when dealing with a bully. It works when dealing with someone who is just trying to learn to be a good human and made a mistake, but with a bully it’s just inviting more bullying.
The old adage keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Also bullshit. A bully is a bully. A mean girl is a mean girl. You keep them close and you’re just a sitting target. It might feel like this person will attack others and not you because they *like* you. But, it will be your turn soon enough. No one gets a free pass when dealing with a bully.
My favorite bullying scene ever is when Ralphie finally just loses it and clobbers the hell out of Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story. I loved the story that Joe Biden told at the Democratic Convention in 2008 about when he came home without his coat and his mother told him to go get it from the bully and he punched his lights out. I like these stories not only because the kid deserved to get socked in the mouth, but because the bullied took back their power. They decided to stop being afraid of the bully and decided to get their own power back.
Of course, if you’ve ever seen My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, you know that a cat fight doesn’t always turn out this way. You might end up with your $10,000 blinged-out mini-dress pulled up to your waist, with clumps of hair ripped out and a missing tooth and … the other gypsy wife is still a big fat bully. Fight. Repeat. Fight. Repeat. It’s their thing.
The point is you have to take back your power. I’ve been bullied by a few people this year and it did stop. And I didn’t punch anyone’s lights out or kick their teeth in. I just took back my power. I calmed down and thought, “Ok, what can I do to take back my power?” Once I gave her exactly what she threatened to do, which took away her ability to use it against me. Once I hired a lawyer and stood my ground. Once I called the cops, held my ground and stood back and watched her self-destruct. The Universe has been giving me awesome opportunities to overcome my fear of being bullied.
People always say “ignore it,” or “forgive it.” And sometimes that works – but only if you’re doing it in a confident way and not a cowering in the corner way. Don’t take anything personal is likely some of the best advice I’ve gotten. In each case I thought, the only reason this hurts is because I expect something different from this person. I expect them to be loyal, or sane, or rational, or fair, or kind. When I remove that expectation I can better find a way to take my power back. Here are some of my own rules and the ones I try to teach my kids. And this year, I’ve had the opportunity to teach them by example in real life.
1. Don’t hang out with bullies. They are feeding off your energy because they aren’t generating their own. Do not give it to them. Stay as far away from them as possible.
2. It’s about them. Their stuff is their stuff. You didn’t do anything to make bullying happen. They choose how they behave.
3. Don’t make excuses for them. I don’t care if their parents got divorced or their daddy touched them wrong, or they had a rough time of it or whatever. Everyone has a story. Their story doesn’t give them the right to treat other people badly. No exceptions. Do not let your own sympathy put you in the line of fire.
4. When people tell you who they are believe them. The first time. When they show you who they are, you better believe them or you’re in trouble. By which I mean, if they say things like, “I’m a Christian, but I’ll still kill you!” Which truly is the way a neighbor introduced herself to me. Realize that her belief in Jesus won’t prevent her from killing you if she gets upset. So maybe she shouldn’t be your new best friend.
5. Listen to your inner voice. You’ll hear the warning, “don’t hang out with her,” or “this guy is bad news.” Always listen and act accordingly.
Really Unpopular (but worth considering advice)
Listen folks, I know we try to tell ourselves that our kids can be anything they want and that our kids should be their authentic selves 100% of the time and that all stereotypes are bad and we should get rid of them. And everyone should jump around in clouds and rainbows and be nice to everyone all the time, especially to my kids. Yada yada.
To some degree this is a worthy goal. Without ambitions like these we’d still have segregated schools and gay people couldn’t come out of the closet.
But, remember that when we’re dealing with children we’re dealing with people who haven’t learned how to be good humans yet.
Have you read the story about the couple who decided not to tell people the gender of their child in order to negate all stereotypes? They send the kid to school cross-dressing with weird anti-gendered hair. Not only does the kid wear girls clothes and boy clothes, but it doesn’t even match and its decidedly, purposefully odd. Not in a cute way. But in a political statement way. Political statement really isn’t the best look for a Kindergartener. There is no pronoun for the kids or teacher to use.
That’s just asking for it. Their great social experiment really puts their kid at risk – basically it’s painting a target on its forehead. Not just for bullies, but for everyone who doesn’t know what the hell to do with a kid who dresses in a skirt one day and camo the next. A kid who doesn’t disclose whether it’s a boy or a girl and uses both restrooms. Come on. Noone knows what to do with this, not bullies, not kids, not teachers, not parents, certainly not five year olds.
These parents are expecting FAR too much from people who haven’t learned how to be good humans yet. This is not to say their poor kid deserves bullying, but these parents are increasing the odds pretty heavily.
Everyone has to learn how to function in society. School is essentially a Lord of the Flies training ground for this. You’ll learn or you’ll pay. You’ll compensate for your weird or the other kids will point out the fact that you’re weird and it won’t feel very good.
This, of course, is based on my personal experience with bullying and is not taken from the book.
Back to the Book
BULLIED: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear gives a lot of great advice for what to do if your kid is being bullied, bully prevention initiatives that schools can use, great advice about how to negate and prevent online bullying, how to prevent your kid from being the bully, and how to teach kids to be witnesses and defend the defenseless. Read it if this issue is a concern to you.
Last but most important — teach your kids how to be good humans. If it’s your kid that’s doing the bullying don’t let them get away with it. Teach them to be better than that. Teach them to step up to defend another. And teach them that just because someone says something asinine doesn’t make it true of them. Teach them to listen to their inner voices that tell them who not to hang out with.
Oh and, Don’t be a bully.