Not long ago, I was a teenager in high school. Okay, maybe it was a lifetime ago, but I can still remember the horrific acts of bullying that my friends and I faced on a daily basis. We were, by all standards, misfits. The popular kids thought we were losers. The “rocker” kids thought we were boring. The jocks thought we were “fat and useless.” We had only the teachers to impress, and several of them fell in line with the bullies and segregated us in their own manipulative ways.
No, high school was not fun. In fact, the bullying didn’t really start there; it had actually started years before, when we were in elementary school. It just got crueler, taken to higher levels. Scary. There were days when we were hurt physically, when we were followed home, prank called, and name called. There were days when we begged to not go to school. Each of us was bullied in many different ways, but we were all bullied, together and alone. We had each other, but that wasn’t always enough.
Sure, we told our parents, and told the teachers, but it just made things worse, as we knew it would. Obviously, the bullies did not like getting into trouble, and telling only made us look weaker in their eyes. No, I promise you, telling got us nowhere, and neither did the advice those “trusted adults” gave us.
It seemed that everyone, from our parents and teachers, to the police officers who were sometimes involved in the situations, fed us the same lines that they had heard when they were younger.
“Don’t let it get to you.”
“Stop taking it so personally.”
“Oh, it’s just a joke!”
These old adages do a brilliant job at validating the bully and suppressing the rights of the bullied.
It’s time that we arm our children with the tools needed to stand up to bullies, and win! It’s time that we stop ignoring the rights and feelings of the victims. Bullying hurts. It’s not a joke. Why should someone have the power to make fun of another person? Why should someone have the right to deliberately demean and manipulate someone else in order to fulfill his, or her, own narcissistic need for power?
The fact is, when ignored a bully will do just about anything for attention, often increasing the extent of the torment and negative behaviour. Bullies want to be noticed. They want to be seen, heard and felt.
Rather than telling a victim to “ignore it and walk away,” we should be empowering our children to stand up for themselves and their friends. Recently, I had groups of kindergarten children chanting, “Be a buddy, not a bully,” and, “Bystanders are bullies in disguise!” These 3-6-year-olds were able to role-play and tell bullies, “I don’t like that. You can’t treat me that way!” They were able to recognize when their friends needed help and stepped in, or got the attention of a trusted adult to intervene.
Ah, the “trusted adult.” Your role is much greater than you think. Your involvement is pivotal in how the bully/victim situation will play out. Punish the bully and the victim will feel it later; brush things off, the victim now feels as though his/her feelings are being ignored, that the bully has more rights than him/her, obviously not desired outcomes. So what is an adult to do when faced with having to play referee in a bullying situation?
There is a solution to bullying. The solution involves Empathy.
Believe it or not, one of the main reasons that a bully becomes a bully is to protect him/her self from being bullied. It’s really quite simple – if I push you around, you can’t push me around. If I can manipulate you to believe that I’m superior to you, then you will fear me, as will others. More often than not, bullying is a learned behaviour. Children bullied by their parents,or siblings will bully other children at school. Children bullied by other children will dominate those they consider to be weaker, and so forth. Empathy comes into play in recognizing that the bully has issues that need to be dealt with as well as the victim because, in truth, everyone is a victim in one way or another. Taking a look into the lives of the bullies may help in getting them to stop in their tracks. Realizing why they are bullying leads to helping them.
Empathy also comes into play when deciding how to deal with a bullying situation. My personal preferred method has the bully helping the victim. For example, if I deliberately throw your books in the mud, I should have to pick them up, clean them, and find a way to replace them. Sitting in a school office, missing recess will simply build up more frustration for the bully, thus causing more bullying to take place. No one learns by simply being punished. People learn by correcting their mistakes.
Of the hundreds of books about bullying, I’ve found the following two, written by Jodee Blanco, to be the most powerful books ever written. The first, Please Stop Laughing at Me, is her autobiography of the horrendous bullying that she encountered throughout her life, and how she overcame it and now teaches people how to cope with bullying. The second book, Please Stop Laughing at Us, isn’t really worth the read except for the last few pages where Jodee shares incredible tips on dealing with bullying situations. She promotes empathy, not punishment. Honestly, the last pages of this book should be posted publicly in every institution! Schools, homes, gyms, workplaces, everyone would benefit from her ideas!