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Mike Lee | Education, Elementary, Social Issues | May 20, 2012

Bullying: A Life Skill?


Better than you

Bullying behaviors.  

We know them as daily and lamentable interpersonal events.  We can recall moments of being observers, and perhaps even participants.  We may remember Alex’s peers snickering behind his back because he was quirky and “just weird.”  Or, the cool girls looking down on Maria because she didn’t dress as well as they did.  We recall David’s lack of social status as being painfully obvious to everyone in the neighborhood, especially him.  Our peers sitting at the lunch table and spreading stories they suspected weren’t true about Kristen.  But because they were quickly and awkwardly silent when she entered the room,  she never had the opportunity to contradict the details before word spread.  Perhaps we remember Andre getting mocked daily because his family had different customs, traditions, and beliefs than the “popular group.”

We remember name calling.  Taunting.  The exertion of will and power.  

If you don’t remember these sorts of events, look closer.  Because, I’m not talking about children.

I’m describing us.  You know, the role models that children are supposed to strive to become.

In fact, I’m tired of children being asked to be better than us, when generations of bullying children have become bullying adults.  However,  we have new and whitewashed names for the phenomenon, such as,  “Politics,” “The Water Cooler,”  “Tabloids,” “Business, ” or “Reality Television.” I would assert that the typical adult breakroom can be more destructive than a high school cafeteria.In our world it is perfectly acceptable to gossip about others.  To tear them down.  To roll our eyes behind their backs.  To not find solutions to differences by focusing on thoughts, not the people behind them.  To insult, rather than debate.  To excessively belittle an opposing team’s fan at a sporting event, in front of a thousands of children’s eyes.  It is normal to have an overheated confrontation in a parking lot, a stop light, or a checkout lane.  And, often, the loudest cries of, “He cut!” come from the parking lot of the school, not the hallways.

Why? Because, we’re old enough to believe in our perceptiveness about others.  In short, we think we’re right.  

Never mind the irony that roughly 80% of us believe we’re better than average.

In essence, we’re asking children to ignore what children see all around them. 

Sanctioned bullying. 

We tailgate to make the car in front of us go the speed we would prefer.  We name call and ridicule people through syndicated media programs, rather than critiquing their ideas.  We create celebrities and then relish in their fall.  We gossip.  We slander.  We intimidate.  We’re asking the impossible from our children: do as you’re told, not as you see. 

Make no mistake, bullying is a legitimate problem, and many adults are doing their best to counter the culture I describe here, but few reading this will identify themselves as contributors to the problem.  

The stories we hear about children being looked down on, humiliated, or made to feel second rate, are heartbreaking.  But, at what point do we stop calling it bullying?  It seems to me it’s sometime around when they’re old enough to vote.

What a coincidence.

Turn on your television.  Sit in a parking lot after school  Watch a session of Congress.  Go to a football game.  Look at magazine covers in the checkout aisle.  Eat in a breakroom.  

It seems as if bullying is a life skill.

I believe kids get a bad rap. Bullying should not occur, and schools need to work diligently to ensure that no child is subjected to such behaviors.  But most children are kind, compassionate, supportive, accepting, and tolerant.  Three year olds might call a passing woman “fat,” because they’re too young to have the requisite filter, not because they’re trying to feel better about themselves.Our children are often amazing citizens who can collaborate, cooperate, and produce.  If you’ve ever seen the fifth grade girl welcome the non-english speaking student, and guide her through her first days, you might not believe it.  If you’ve never seen a group of kindergarteners support a child with Down Syndrome, you don’t know what you’re missing.  

Children can often represent the very behaviors we should emulate, and, it's why I relish working with them, everyday. Contrary to popular beliefs, schools aren’t crawling with bullies who seek to exert their will on others.  They’re full of our kids.  Wonderful kids.

But, be warned.

They grow to be more like us with each passing day.  

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Wow. Bravo. So true.

Here's a wild hair:

Perhaps we're all bullies because we were bullied and told to just turn the other cheek? All those feelings get pent up...we bully because we were bullied...we subconsciously want to reclaim that power...perhaps? Just thinking, not asserting.

When my oldest son (at the time in kindergarten) was being picked on, he did all the "right" things: he told the recess lady, he told us, he told the teachers. None of it worked. So, without consulting my wife (who I know did not approve of this advice) I gave him permission to lay hands on the bully--in defense--to fight back with all his might, even hitting. I told him he would probably get in trouble and that he would need to take the school's punishment without complaining, but that if he did fight back the bullying would stop. In this case, I was right. The bullying, the roughing-up, the blocking my son's way out of the restroom at recess, kept on until one day HE put a stop to it. The bully blocked my son in the restroom, so my son grabbed his bully by the shoulders and shoved him down and shouted at him to stop messing with him. Was what my son did right? Not by our social standards. Should he have gotten in trouble? Yes...he broke a rule... but there were no adults around and the bully was not about to rat out his victim and give up even more power than he had just lost.

First grade went much more smoothly.

Of course, not everything is this simple, and not everything ought to be solved the same way. I wonder, though, as some old men often contend, that we're raising generations of weaklings--I was home with my dad one summer and heard an old fella on the golf course say no wonder so many don't stand for anything because they can't even stand up for themselves anymore.

Absolutely true.

I wonder, then, if our focus on eliminating bullying is misdirected. What about how we react to bullying--not just so that we stop it, but so that its impacts are diminished.

I still remember those moments of being bullied at all ages, they shaped me for better or for worse. I really do believe that there comes a point where we are wasting our breath trying to stop bullying, for the reasons you point out and many more.

Let's not battle bullying, let's build resilience.

That idea of resilience (and sticking it through and wisely and gratefully playing the hand you are dealt as opposed to demanding different cards or calling the game rigged) are, to me, what is missing not just in social interactions but in many layers of the issues of our society. Kids--and adults, for that matter--want their way as you point out above and will bully out of the premise that they shouldn't compromise. Don't take "no" for an answer. Don't settle for second best. You're worth it, you deserve it. My way or the highway. Sets your sights on what you want and don't let anyone get in the way of your dreams. The list goes on. It is all about me and what I want. When we only care about ourselves, no wonder the bully behavior comes so naturally.

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