Almost every kid is bullied at one time or another. Though the severity is variable, the consequences of any degree of bullying can be major on a kid’s sense of self. When bullied, kids report feeling lonely, nervous, angry, and sad. They develop poor opinions of themselves, assuming the identities proffered by the bullies. Ugly. Fat. Slutty.
Kids who are bullied feel “different,” like they cannot measure up to being normal. (Normal is what other kids are, out of his or her reach.) They feel a sense of un-belonging, which is one of the worst feelings we humans can feel. Isolated and hopeless, these kids are at risk–at the very least–for irritability and at the worst–depression and self harm.
“Bullying is intimidation or domination toward someone perceived as weaker, a way to establish superiority through coercion or force.” Steven Henson.
Bullying is about power
It can be traditional: kids physically or emotionally dominating other kids. Or relational: when one person is left out, gossiped about, or rejected by a group that was previously their friends.
Any way it comes, this forced subjugation does a number on our hearts, minds, and souls.
Parenting when your child is bullied
Not all kids tell their parents when they are bullied as they are embarrassed by it. But, it is hard not to notice an overall change in your child’s attitude and demeanor. When misery overwhelms us, it often overflows onto close relationships. Perplexed by the sudden argumentativeness at home, some parents bring their kids to see me in counseling. Knowing that these feelings always have a context, I inquire about different aspects in their life and quite often find the depression linked to peer-abuse at school. We usually feel as good as we are treated.
After telling his family that he did not want to live anymore, Jason, a middle school student, came to see me. He reported that bullying “hammered his consciousness” (which he describes as his “pride”). He said that the bullying did not allow him to be the person he could be and he struggled against the taunt that he was abnormal and attempted harder than anyone else to be normal. So, he began a war inside of himself to prove what he didn’t even think was possible.
This was incredible pressure that separated Jason from a strong sense of himself. He felt that it was he alone that had to face the journey, mostly because he assumed no one would understand him. Sad and desperately lonely, he even isolated himself from his parents for a time.
Unfortunately, I hear too often that kids don’t trust parents and teachers who they do not feel can help them. They feel that teachers don’t notice, or do notice, but don’t respond. Or, they put them in unsafe predicaments asking them to explain what happened in front of the bully. Also, kids realize if they tell an adult, the bully will blame them or abuse them more in revenge. This is a common tactic of power that keeps the victims quiet and allows the bullies to get off scot-free. It’s frustrating for adults because they say, “If you don’t tell me, I can’t do anything about it.” It becomes quite a stalemate, which keeps bullying rampant in schools today.
Literature points families and school administration to five avenues but there are limits to each of them.
1. Cracking down on the bullies. (Zero tolerance rules are hard to enforce when there is one word against another.)
2. Increased supervision in schools. (Harder and harder with budget cuts causing teacher and staff lay-offs.)
3. Creating responsibility in the bystanders to no longer tolerate it. (Other kids are afraid to get involve, lest they become the next target.)
4. Teaching “social skills” or defense to the victim. (This tends to blame the victim, and seems to tolerate the bullies (? not sure what you mean here) but can be helpful.)
5. Programming to promote differences. (No one pays attention.)
What can we do?
The answer: We must be models for our children. We must treat people well on every level. We can no longer complain or judge people around us; our children learn from this. We have to promote inclusion, rather than competition. No more complaining about, criticizing, or judging others in front of our kids. It starts with us.
It is very confusing that kids are taught not to use violence when we are at war. How can we ask them to do what we are not even doing ourselves? “Do as we say not as we do” does not work for this generation. Our children will always mirror what we (and unfortunately the media) show them because our culture teaches children that power is special and you get power by having power over people.
They are taught: “We are entitled to power” in practically every show they watch, in every commercial they witness, and video game they play. However, we must counter this discourse in everything we do or our children will grow up to think this is true.
What can parents do for victims of bullying to shift the effects of these experiences?
1. Just listen for a while before starting to solve anything.
2. Make a plan your child feels safe with. This may include being in touch with school faculty or the other child’s family. These can have mixed results, so it is best to speculate what the response may be and what you are hoping for ahead of time.
3. Find out how this is affecting your child’s view of him or herself.
4. Find out how your child is responding now. Acknowledge the good responses to help sustain them and brainstorm new ways to respond.
5. Do what you can to decrease isolation, encourage him or her to get together with nice friends.
6. Tell your child what you appreciate about him or her, and find others who will do the same.
8. Help them create meaning around the situation that makes them feel better.
What have you done to help your kids who are bullied?