October is National Bullying Prevention Month. October 7th will be the fifth annual blue shirt day to stop bullying. We’re supposed to wear blue shirts to show we want to “stomp out bullying.”
I know people’s intentions are good and yet, these efforts to control bullying are not working. In fact, we are seeing an increase in bullying!
How did all this focus on bullying become such a big deal?
Do you remember the massive school shooting in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado when two boys brought guns to school and shot and killed many students? It horrified our whole nation. When people found out the killers said they did it because they were bullied, we started “anti-bully campaigns” throughout the nation to find bullies and punish them. It has become a bit of a “Salem witch hunt” I dare say.
Kids were told (and are still being told) that if someone says anything mean to them, to tell the teacher or their parents and they will deal with “the bully.” Now we are labeling anybody who teases or says mean things, a “bully.” Would you like your child to be labeled a “bully”?
Anti-bully campaigns are well intended efforts to prevent future homicides and suicides, but is it really working? Do victims know how to deal with teasing and bullying? No. In fact, unknowingly, we are encouraging a victim mindset by teaching kids that no one should ever say anything mean to you and if they do, tell an adult.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anywhere but heaven where no one will ever say anything mean to you. How are we preparing our kids for the future?
Will there be mean people on the job? Yes. How will they deal with marriage conflicts? Boy, if kids grow up thinking no one should ever say anything mean to them, wait until they get married!
The underlying issue that is not being addressed is how to teach victims how to think and respond differently so they can stop the teasing and bullying themselves without tattling. And when they learn the skills to stop being teased, their self esteem rises immediately! Why? Because they did it themselves!
Most bullying among kids is verbal. Ask kids and they will tell you the name-calling that goes on. What ever happened to teaching kids the old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me”? I would change it to say “but words don’t have to harm me” (if I don’t believe them!).
I recently led a workshop on dealing with bullying for youth at the YMCA. The kids loved it when we role played situations they encounter. The kids took turns pretending to be tease and bully me. I showed them when I got defensive, I gave away my power to the bully & without knowing it, I actually encouraged him/her to continue teasing me. Then I showed them how to respond so the bully can’t keep it up. They were amazed how quickly the bully couldn’t keep it up. It wasn’t fun anymore. It was frustrating and the bully felt and looked foolish and stopped. For example, if kids spread rumors like, “I heard your mother sleeps in a dumpster,” respond by calmly saying, “Do you believe it? You can believe it if you want.” This response turns the focus back onto the bully and the victim never has to say whether the rumor is true or not.
Let’s say the kids keep calling you “weird” or “nerd” or “stupid”. Instead of getting all upset, use a little humor and say, “If you think I’m a nerd, you should see my family!”
Think of your enemy (bully) as if they are your best friend giving you feedback. Then you won’t get defensive or fearful and you’ll be able to lean into the situation and respond from a place of self respect and humor.
This new way of responding to teasing and bullying takes practice, but I’ve seen kids turn it around within 5 sessions, working with me and doing role plays. One middle school boy I worked with, went from nightmares, low grades, and refusing to go to school; to laughing with his former bullies. His teachers were totally amazed.
The illusion is that if someone teases us we think we have to make them stop and so we get all defensive trying to make them stop or we go tattle on them to get them to stop. But do they stop? No. When you tattle on the bully, then he or she gets in trouble and feels like the victim who wants to get revenge on you, and the cycle keeps going.
The truth is, the more we try to control other people, the more power we give them to drive us nuts! Can you make other people change? We put people in prison to try to make them change. Does it work? Only if they want to change will anything work.
So, what do I have the power to change if I cannot change other people?
Myself, and that’s hard enough!
We need to re-examine our approach to dealing with teasing and bullying.
Certainly, if kids are in real physical danger they need to get help & tell an adult.
However, most teasing and bullying between kids is verbal and if it becomes physical it’s usually pushing or shoving, not real physical harm.
The reality is that life is difficult and people say and do mean things. Hurt people hurt people. We need to teach kids coping skills that will enable them to become resilient, compassionate, strong adults, instead of fearful “emotional marshmellows” waiting to be victimized.
To be continued ….
Next week I will be addressing: “What’s a bully want?” and “What’s a victim want?”
For upcoming workshops see my website:lindaspeaks.wordpress.com
To schedule a private session: [email protected]