Meanies have been around since the beginning of time. The kids who steal your lunch money, taunt you because you aren’t “cool” enough, give you wedgies and swirlies, call you embarrassing names…you know, those guys! We all know a bully intimately…we were either bullied by someone, we were “friends” with a bully, or we were actually the big bad bully – we might still be? Relentless teasing at someone else’s expense. Picking on the little guy (or gal). Good for a laugh. “Sticks & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” right?
Well, people are getting hurt. Our kids are getting hurt. Bullying has escalated beyond just the typical meanies making fun of your floods or your dorky new haircut, bullying is cruel and consistent punishment. Day in and day out, bullies pick a target and they hone in. With the advent of social networking, today’s bullies are much more pervasive. They go from school, to the playground and then they follow kids home via the internet. It used to be once you got home, you were safe, but now there is nowhere to escape from constant taunting and ridicule. So, let’s remember when we were kids…what was it really all about? It was about being different.
Kids who looked different were immediate targets. Maybe they didn’t shower as often, or they wore clothes that weren’t trendy. Maybe they were too small for their age or they were too chunky. Maybe a little zitty or a little sweaty. Maybe they were a different color than everyone else. Maybe they were too colorful, or not colorful enough. Maybe they seemed too feminine…or too masculine. Maybe they were over-developed, or under-developed? Remember? Kids who acted differently were targets. Maybe they brought their lunch and ate something kind of weird. Maybe they played a funny looking instrument and carried the case to and from the bus stop every day. Maybe they were a little awkward – feet were too big, boobs were too big – not quite fitting into their bodies yet. Maybe they had an accent from somewhere we’ve never been. Or, God forbid, they were just super smart. Remember? We have all been there and it does get better.
When you are a kid, the very last thing in the world you want is to be different. You want desperately to fit in, to feel connected to your family, your friends, your community…to be part of something. Kids don’t want to be too big or too small, they want to be just right. They don’t want to have curly blonde hair, if their friends have straight brown hair. They don’t want freckles. They don’t want anything unless everyone else has it. It is a time honored period of insecurity, for everyone. The most insecure become the bullies.
Bullying is all about power and fear, fear and power. They are insecure and they want to feel better about themselves, so they do it by making someone else feel bad. They start bullying to elicit fear in someone – a reaction that empowers the bully and makes them feel in control. A bully becomes a bully by modeling adult behavior or not having adult engagement, they themselves are fearful of being bullied or not being important, either way a bully is born. A lot of bullies are bullied at home by one or more parents, so their actions, albeit not excused, can be expected. The flip side is that bullies become bullies in their twisted attempt to form an alliance, so they create an “us” vs. “them” posse because they don’t have a connection to their own families. Usually, the posse is made up of other kids that feel this way, too. Super sad really. And, then the cliques form – jocks, band geeks, nerds, popular girls, goths, etc. We form little gangs, little mini-societies within our school community to insulate us and make us feel connected to other kids that are sort of the same. The secure ones are friends with “everyone,” the really insecure ones aren’t. Consider it practice for the big bad world.
If we don’t figure out how to stand up to bullies, then we are going to be left with kids who don’t make it past the tween/teen years, commentators with a BULLY pulpit spewing hate, power hungry politicians ramming policies through, BULLIES on the border terrorizing communities and a citizenry that thinks the only way to get what they want is to take it…and keep it for people who are just like them.
Webster defines bullying as follows: to treat abusively, to affect by means of force or coercion and/or to use browbeating language or behavior. So, what is the difference between a meanie and a bully, really?
Here are O-MAMA’s tips on how to recognize a big bully:
someone who picks a specific target and constantly badgers them
(meanies are just mean to everyone)
someone who invades personal boundaries/privacy on purpose
(meanies are just mean when you’re in their space)
someone who is relentless
(meanies don’t seek you out, they are just mean when you run into them)
someone who feels physically superior/stronger than you
(again, meanies don’t really discriminate that way)
Meanies eventually soften…when they fall in love, or have their first baby, or some other life event. Bullies get more abrasive as time goes on…unless someone stands up to them at some point, “once a bully, always a bully.
Our kids should not put up with bullies…or meanies, for that matter. A lot of little people figure these dynamics out early on, but some are in over their head and can’t do it alone: they need YOU. Schools are implementing anti-bullying programs with the help of outside of organizations. That is all well and good, but the key to any educational effort is parental involvement. Our kids need their MAMAS to help them stop bullies and bullying.
First and foremost, talk to your kids – tell them the difference between meanies and bullies, open up dialogue with them and let them know that they can tell you ANYTHING. Make sure they feel safe at home (be aware of who they are chatting with on the phone and computer, yes, be nosey – limit the time they spend using technology and monitor it all of the time). Have the “don’t ever be a bully” and the “don’t let yourself be bullied” MOMent and then hug it out.
But, what do we do if we think our child is being bullied?
• talk, talk, talk – figure out if there is a problem; encourage them to talk to you, to teachers, to administrators to their friends, to the bully’s parents (beware – could be a bully, too); this is not a “helicopter” debate issue, this is absolutely the time to advocate for our kids
• create a circle of trust – help kids develop specific “go to” people; parents, teachers, administrators – encourage friends/school-mates to become “bully buddies”
• create a safety zone – home should be a safe place for kids, so if they are being bullied, phone calls should be screened and email/social networking should be de-activated; they need relief, space and a place to feel protected from the bullying; also discuss a safety zone at school with administrators – where can your child go during lunch/recess to feel safe
• tell them to avoid the bully – don’t give the bully the satisfaction of having a target; it’s not about being wussy, it’s about taking away their power; think of it this way, bullies are pretenders, insecure people that desperately need to step on someone else to feel better about themselves; inside they are sad and lonely and they are trying to make you feel that way, too – don’t let them
• stand up to the bully – if you can’t avoid them, stand up tall; believe it or not, most people don’t stand up to bullies, so it actually reinforces the bully to continue his bad behavior; derail the behavior by not giving them the reaction they want so badly – fear; if you are not afraid, then they do not have any power over you; stick with your pals, there is strength in numbers
We are advocating a simple step to prevent bullying – every MAMA has the power to make a big difference. Have a conversation with your kids about bullying – the dangers, the signs, the skills to deal with a bully – then, draw a circle on their hand with a heart in the middle. The “circle” will remind them that they do have a circle of people they can trust and the “heart” in the middle will remind them that they are loved. The O-MAMA symbol lets teachers know you’ve engaged your kids in the conversation and it lets other students know there are kids that are taking a stand to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Change begins at home.”
-Michelle & Debbie