Friday, March 25, 2011

Bystanders Against Bullies

I am very sensitive to bullying as many of you are too. I don't have tolerance for it and it hurts me to the core when I see it or hear a child cry out because they have been bullied. This blog entry was inspired by a Dateline special about bullying. I got very emotional while watching it.  Now that would not surprise my husband or children because mommy will cry over a soap commercial. In my defense, I have a big heart and my emotions are triggered easily by  happy things, sad things and...any things? Ok, whatever.

 It is fair to say that we as parents hope that our children will make the right choices. It is fair to say we have talked to our kids about bullying, being nice and stepping in when something isn't right. It is also fair to say, we as parents, don't always know the pressures our kids are under and how they will really respond to any given bullying situation.

Even if our kids know what is right and wrong, it can be very difficult for them to stand up for what they know is right and confronting someone who is being mean for fear of being included in the ridicule. None of us really know how we are going to respond to a situation when emotions are involved. How many of us have had the George Castanza moment,
GEORGE: (angry, to himself) The ocean called. Running outta shrimp. Outta shrimp! (a thought occurs) Oh! Yes! That's what I shoulda said! (frustrated shout) Dammit! 
GEORGE:  But then, I said to him, 'Oh yeah? Well, the jerkstore called, and they're running outta you.

That situation where we walked away from a situation and said, "I should have said this or that."  In saying that, we need to arm our kids with tools to help defend themselves and others without making themselves a target.

On the Dateline show, they showed that when one of the kids got the nerve to stand up to the bully, the other kids joined in to stand up for the victim. Sometimes, people just need to know they are going to be backed up. In a group, chances are only one or two of the kids are the mean ones. Some of the others already have bad feelings about what is going on but are afraid to say anything. If one person can stand up and redirect the situation, others may add to the power to stop what is going on. This, then, takes the power away from the abuser.

Now, I also read about the "bystander effect" which says that in a crowd there is a diffusion of responsibility where people don't get involved because they figure someone else will take care of it. I can see how that might be true but no matter what the situation, I would hope that I would assess it enough to decide whether something was being done and take action if needed. I believe in bystanders in numbers.

In another situation, a boy distracted the bullies to get them away from the victim by laying on the floor. This caused the bully to put his attention on him rather than the child being attacked.  Another boy, put himself between the bully and the victim and made positive comments about the victim which encouraged the other kids to do the same. They became a force and took some of the power away from the bully.

We as parents cannot assume our kids won't ever bully no matter how minor the teasing. Kids bully for many reasons. There are family risk factors like lack of attention or supervision, parentental bullying and even victimization by older siblings. There are also peer risk factors like friends that are bullies, aggressive kids,  some kids are insecure or from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and use bullying to deflect from themselves. Kids can also bully when imitating role models that they see on tv and movies. When groups of kids come together with similar interests and backgrounds, they tend exclude others who are different. Parents can be a factor in how kids treat others, as well. When parents form clicks, exclude others and talk negatively about their own peers, it can cause their children to model this same behavior. Bullying is also an attention seeking behavior.

We need to be aware of how our children interact with their close friends and other children and correct behavior that can be misconstrued. It is important not to assume we know what we "want" our kids to be like in public. We need to be aware. I would be extremely disappointed if I found out my kids were being mean to another child. I watch their interactions with their peers at lunch duty, when their friends are over and during other events to see if their behavior is appropriate. My daughter and her friend get sassy with each other often. I correct that behavior because it isn't how I think we need to be talking to one another and I don't want it to be misinterpreted even if they are joking around.

We can also give our kids tools to use to protect themselves against bullies. Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman "offers concrete strategies to help you to empower your daughter to be socially competent and treat herself with dignity."  Rosalind Wiseman was part of the Dateline special as well.

So, these are my thoughts on bullying. Bullying has a dramatic impact on it's victims that take them right into adulthood...if they make it that far. Make sure your child isn't bullying and make sure your child isn't the one being bullied.


Anonymous said...

I love that you are addressing bullying...raising my girls I always told them my number 1 rule was...Never make fun of someone for ANYTHING...Then I had a daughter who was bullied and picked on...heartbreaking..but now my Alex is 16 ..she survived it...She didn't allow it to change her, she is still kind to everyone...Sometimes the best lessons are those we learn from our children!

Amber Housey said...

Anonymous, thank you for your comment. It is a very important topic for me. We need to be aware of whether our children are being bullied or if they are doing the bullying. It is even more difficult to see the world through their eyes than it was to live it ourselves. Thanks.