Bullying is a problem. It’s a simple sentence. But there is not a simple solution. Almost one third of all kids will report being bullied. With the new avenue of social media, cyberbullying is a new and particularly burdensome problem. October is bullying prevention month, and one of the first steps of bullying prevention is education.
Personal Connection to Bullying
I have a great connection with bullying as I have experienced it in multiple realms. When I was a 4th grader in a small, private elementary school, I was bullied relentlessly. This included severe name-calling, but also physical bullying such as pushing and shoving. I remember crying, every day, “Why me?” I hated school, I hated feeling left out. To this day, that short three month experience has shaped who I am. I am still insecure, lack confidence, and have a need to feel accepted. At one point, in fourth grade, I so badly wanted the bullying to stop that I sent a terribly mean note to another student that I had all the other kids sign. I felt so relieved to not be the one being picked on that day until I saw the face of the student who I hurt. It was then that I knew that even though I couldn’t answer “Why me?” that I still never wanted it to be anyone else either. I made sure to be someone who tries to lift others up. I still pride myself on being that type of person.
I also witness bullying in my role as a teacher. My students know they can come to me, to report any concerns to me, and I will act on their behalf to stop it. There is a whole new realm of bullying, cyberbullying, that is difficult for teachers to help with because it doesn’t happen at school. And while it is a big problem on social media, it’s also the video game chats, emails, and more. This is one area where parents can be involved. Stay involved in your child’s digital presence. So many of my students don’t realize their “digital footprint.” They don’t realize that what they put out there, stays out there. While not having to invade their privacy, it is important to have open conversations with your children about their behaviors online and check in with them periodically.
I am also surprised by how much more cruel behaviors I see between friends, especially those who find themselves in the “in-crowd.” I truly do not understand it, but its like they cannot stop the little digs at each other. I will watch them pick on each other, for something minor, like one of their friends liking hockey instead of football, or missing a big catch at the game. And while it may seem like all in good fun, I frequently see it go too far. I can tell feelings get hurt. And the next day, the one who was picked on is the leader of the pack against someone else in their group. And they are all friends! But they don’t want to be the one who gets targeted that day. I don’t have the answer, but how do we break this cycle? I tell my students often “be a good person today.” One of my favorite quotes is “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Be kind, please be kind.
I am also witnessing bullying now as a parent. My son is a kindergartener, just one month into his full-time school career. And it breaks my heart when he comes home talking about the boy who is picking on him and his friends. My son seems to be handling it well, stating that it doesn’t hurt his feelings and that he still invites the boy to play. But I was surprised last week when I heard that the boy hit my son, and had to go to the principal’s office. It made me wonder how a boy so young could learn to be so unkind. So much of young children’s behavior is learned, and we as parents need to make sure we are being role models in appropriate and compassionate behavior for our kids.
Our Differences Make us Special
During my son’s nightly prayers, we often end with the same sentence. “Lord, help people to realize that it is our differences that make us special.” One of the best steps to start toward bullying prevention is teaching our children to be kind. We need to teach our children that while people may be different, it is the uniqueness in each of us that makes us individuals, that makes us special. Utilize resources that helps your child, even at a young age, teach children to value those differences. The children’s book “We’re All Wonders” is a great start. “Stick and Stone” is also a light-hearted story that is easy for children to relate to. Reading these books with your children gives you the opportunity to discuss and develop an open relationship about bullying. It is also important to foster a relationship with your child that allows them to talk to you. Honesty without repercussions. In other words, they can come to you if they are being bullied, but they can also come to you if they did something they regret. Both sides of these conversations are important. And may we all hope for a day that we can break the cycle of bullying among children. Try to take steps today to start the process.