Were you bullied as a kid? Before you answer, stop and really think about it and then consider how your kids will answer the same question thirty years from now.
The word is being thrown around a lot lately and in the process its definition is becoming diluted, which personally I think is an insult to those kids who are truly being tortured to the point of suicide. It’s also a danger to our own kids who are being taught to label those around them as bullies when in fact they may be nothing
more than an ignorant kid who simply called your child a poopy head.
I myself was teased as a youngster. I was the short kid in school. At one point I strongly considered legally changing my name to Half-Pint. Kidding aside, it had a profound affect on me. It wasn’t just kids calling me names and labeling me, it was teachers, parents, coaches, friends, family, you name it. They all had their
“affectionate” little names for me and were always quick to point out that I was too little to do things. My self image throughout life was that of being small and scrawny. Even after I’d become an adult and, for the most part, caught up, I still considered myself puny.
Would I consider it bullying? No. Teasing maybe, but not bullying. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I react to it? Certainly. I remember one day getting so angry I actually found myself shoving the tallest kid in the class into the chalkboard and punching him. But that was pretty much the extent of it. It led to a trip to the principle’s office for both of us and a lesson on choosing how we react to people.
Then I discovered Ernie DiGregorio, a point guard for the Buffalo Braves of the NBA. Listed as 6′ 0″, he was closer to 5′ 10″ and seemed dwarfed by the other players on the court. Yet he held his own. He had poise and exuded inner strength. I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet and he was my idol. To a kid like me, he represented that the size of my body didn’t matter as much as the size of my heart. He gave me a positive to grab hold on to and carry with me.
I still hated being short and looking back can see how the names, always being at the head of the line in school, the names, having short sisters who were bigger than me, the names, and frankly just being short, all had a profound affect on my self image; both as a child and as an adult. Still I wouldn’t consider it bullying.
Would it have helped if people would have been a little more sensitive? Sure, but the question is at what point does teasing become bullying or something more criminal? And do we at times put too much of the responsibility on the teaser, and not enough on the teased?
WHAT? Blame the teased? No, I’m not suggesting we blame the teased. But I do believe we are on a path of making everyone out to be a victim, which is dangerous. Yes, it is without question important to teach our children (and adults for that matter) to be sensitive to those around us. To be compassionate, supportive and understanding. To lift each other up rather than knock them down. But we also need to be giving our kids the tools to deal with jerks. To recognize that they exist and how to look past them and keep moving forward. To learn the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who appreciate us and ignore the noise emitted by those who would put us down in an effort to build themselves up. To understand why people are mean and learn how to blow it off.
The reality is, no matter what we do as a society, there are going to be assholes. Hell, as a dear friend and mentor once taught me, on any given day we have the potential to be that asshole. There are going to be jealous, insecure idiots who will do whatever they can to push down the strong willed and those different than them. When they attack we need to know how to handle it and brush it off. To recognize that typically these people need bigger hugs than we do and buying into their ignorance is giving them too much credit.
That takes practice and it takes a support system teaching us that the actions of the mean are irrelavent and nothing more than a cry for help from someone much weaker than ourselves. They are actually a sign that the potential strength they see in us is a threat, one they don’t know how to deal with so they choose to spew hatred. I honestly believe bullying has more to do with fear than it does hatred. We fear those who pose a threat and tend to become defensive. Some take it to extremes with relentless taunts, facebook posts, threats, verbal torture and worse.
My point to this post is simple. I’m concerned that too much focus is on teaching kids not to bully and not enough on giving kids the tools to deal with being bullied. As much as we need to let kids know how important it is to accept each other and respect each other for our differences, we also need to teach our kids the value of having a tough skin. To learn to deal with adversity and defeat. To pick themselves back up when they fail or someone hurts them. This doesn’t mean giving everyone a trophy to build up their self esteem. Quite the contrary. It means recognizing those teaching opportunities. The strikeout, the D-, not making the team, being called fat or skinny; singled out because of race or sexual orientation or for wearing the wrong shirt to school. These are all precursors to the struggles that await them as adults. Their childhood is a pre-season of sorts. And it’s our job to coach them through it to prepare for the big game. From pre-school to middle school to high school, each instance is a chance to learn how to deal with struggles and find the inner strength to over come them. (Please don’t wait until high school to start.)
YES! We need to help kids understand the impact of their teasing, and bullying. But there are always going to be those who bully because they already KNOW the affects of their actions. It’s why they do it! They want to inflict pain. They want to knock you down. That’s their goal. The more you point out to them that their actions hurt, the more you’re going to encourage them because they WANT to hurt.
My hope is that we as a society not only teach our youth the power of their words and actions, but that we also strive to raise a generation of emotionally strong, self confident young people who recognize that people who hate are afraid. Afraid of your strength. That sometimes the only way they know how to build themselves up is to take you down a notch. We need to raise a generation of kids who know how amazing they are to the point that even the harshest attacks will leave nothing more than a scratch. When I shoved the kid into the chalk board, we were BOTH sent to the principle’s office. I was told that while the other kid’s actions were unacceptable, how I responded to them was as bad if not worse. That violence isn’t the answer. When I got back to the classroom my teacher told me the same thing and told me that I was “bigger” than that. And she was right.
Your kids are going to be told throughout their lives that they aren’t good enough, that their thoughts are wrong and will feel at times like they don’t belong. They’re not going to gel with everyone they meet. We need to teach them that just because someone thinks they can’t sing doesn’t mean they should stop singing. In fact, we should teach them to sing louder so that more people hear them. Because I promise you, there is someone out there who will think they sing like an angel. Teach them to just walk past the ones who don’t and keep looking for those that do.
Yes, teach your kids to be sensitive. Yes, coach them to be supportive when someone stumbles. But at the same time educate them to know how to pick themselves back up when they themselves stumble and there isn’t anyone around to help them. Because it will happen. They will be picked on, they will be teased, they may even be bullied and feel like the world is against them. Give them the tools and the inner strength to battle through those moments, brush themselves off and be there to help the next guy.