BULLYING – what we can do to help both bully and victim
From what we see reported in the media, bullying seems to have escalated rather than declined. As I watched a TV coverage of a young 12 year old boy and his distraught mother describe what has brought this young man-child to the brink of suicide, I felt compelled to write about what I believe may help minimise bullying, even if we cannot stop it in its entirety.
As I listened to this young boy say words to the effect that he gets so angry that he’d like to lash out at those bullies, it was obvious that it wasn’t just the bully making him feel powerless and victimised.
Though it may be difficult to understand, bullies are as much a victim as those they bully. Deep down, bullies want to connect with others and when they are rejected, they resort to a forceful connection with someone whom they believe to be weaker than they. This stems from a lack of self worth and self confidence in themselves, but which they cannot see.
This is not about blame. When we look past the obvious, the recommended response to bullies reflects more idealism than realism. While we can idealise about always walking away from a bully, and/or reporting it to someone with a supposed degree of clout to take care of the situation, this is not always realistic. And as much as we want to be idealistic, we live in the real world.
Several years ago a concerned mother came to see me, seeking help for her son who had just started high school and was being bullied. When I asked how she responded to him, she said she made it clear to him that he was in no way to act like a bully himself and fight back. He was to walk away and report it to his teachers. His teachers however, did not resolve the situation, and so it continued.
What evolved over the ensuing weeks left the parents at a loss as to what more they could do to help their son. This boy who was being bullied at school became a bully at home, towards his parents and siblings. As you can imagine, he was punished for his aggressive behaviour. So in reality he was victimised on three counts. Not intentionally of course. Once by the bully at school, secondly by his teachers and thirdly by his parents.
How did this happen? From a psychological point, the boy reached a stage where he saw himself as powerless as his bully saw him. He was denied his God given right, his basic human right to defend himself, by the very people he expected would protect him, namely his teachers and parents. The boy’s will to survive however, was so strong that he subconsciously believed the only way out was to become the aggressor himself.
Because the underlying reason is not evident on the surface, the boy continued to be both bullied and bully, according to the situation in which he found himself. Meanwhile, his carers continued to reinforce a non negotiable ‘walk away’ response. We appreciate that this comes from a base of love and is intended as the ideal way. But life is to be lived for what it is, not for what we think it should be. Consider this- If we are crossing the street on a pedestrian crossing and see that a car is not about to stop for us, we don’t keep walking because it should stop, we stop to save ourselves from possible injury.
We not only owe it to those being bullied to act, but also to the bully. As long as we continue to respond in the same way, the bully is subconsciously encouraged to maintain that aggressive path. And so the situation reaches a state of ineffectiveness as well as an escalation and continuation of the problem. On the up side, I believe it’s a state that we can change. As parents we need to let our children and those children in our care, know that they are valued and their basic human rights are respected.
PREPARING OUR CHILDREN FOR LIFE
Children need to know that their life matters and that they are worthy of preserving and prolonging it, for all that it holds for them. As importantly, we need to make it clear to them that if they start a fight we will not back them. But if someone attacks them and walking away is not an option, and they stand and defend themselves, we will be there to back them.
As parents and carers we owe it to our children to prepare them for the rest of their lives. Walking away from an assault, (yes, bullying is classified as an assault), must always be the first response, the recommended response. But if that doesn’t work, then that child must know that he/she has every human right to defend himself/herself.
If we as a society continue to deny victims of bullying their basic human right of self defence, we are in danger of creating a society of individuals who lack autonomy, not able to attain individuation, which in turn has the potential to create an avalanche of human beings with an array of mental illnesses that didn’t have to be.
A generation ago children played in the streets, rode their bikes, skated outdoors, met at each other’s homes or on the nature strip. Through play they learnt to interact with each other, with different personalities, different backgrounds. They learned how to get on with other kids, and how to stand up for themselves.
Today’s human interactive landscape is not like that. Children spend more time indoors interacting with a screen rather than their peers. So when they are picked on or bullied, they are at a loss to respond appropriately. Realistically, responsibly and lovingly, we owe it to our children and those children in our care to adapt to new ways of preparing them for today’s world. We cannot simply wish it wasn’t so and feel powerless to do anything.
Nothing prepares a child for life more than knowing and believing that they have the ability to take care of themselves. As parents and carers it’s our love as well as our duty, to encourage children towards self actualisation and independence, anything less is not good enough. Anything less encourages a fear based dependency instead of the freedom, independence and confidence in oneself to live a happy and successful life.
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