Saturday, August 27, 2011

Is Your Child a Bully? The Answer May Surprise You.

This was the first week of school in my area of the country.  Everyone headed back to school, anxious to get the new school year under way.  Understandably, some kids were apprehensive about the year to come.  Unknown territory is hard to face at times, and going into a new grade, with new teachers, a new locker combination to remember, new hallways to navigate and new friends to make can make even the bravest among students nervous on the first week.  No one is immune.

My kids are in High School and Middle School now.  They are fairly well-liked kids who have a good number of friends, but even still, they had some apprehensions (well, not my 8th grader, according to him, but I think that was a bunch of bravado without much to back it.  That story another time) about how smoothly the transition to a new school year would be.  I believe one of the most anxiety inducing events is: Where, and with whom, am I going to sit at lunch?  My 7th grader voiced his fear surrounding this very thing the night before school started.  We talked about it, and he made a plan to ask a friend, whom he knew was in his 1st period class, to sit with him at lunch.  Fortunately for my son, it worked out well and I was glad.

My gladness turned to sadness, however, when today I found out one of his fellow classmates didn't have such a positive lunch-table experience.  I'm still sad.  No, make that angry, about the situation, which is why I feel I need to write my feelings down here, lest they eat away at my insides.  The specifics of what happened aren't important.  What is important is that a wonderful, big-hearted, loving kid was crowded out of his seat on Friday at my son's middle school.  The worst part is the boys who crowded this student out were kids this boy has trusted and known since kindergarten.

Worse still, is that it will probably continue to happen.  You know why?  Because parents are often reluctant to believe their kids are involved in bullying, so they will ignore it.  I get that.  To an extent.  It is hard to wrap our brain around the fact that the child we have nurtured and loved is capable of making someone else feel scared and bad about themselves.  The act is unconscionable to most of us, so thinking of our child  as the perpetrator of such action is almost more than we can bear.  But bear it we must.  Not only must we bear it, we must face it - head on and with determination.

At some point, we all have to come to the realization that, in human nature, every child  is capable of everything.  Given the right set of circumstances, every child is capable of doing something their parents (and perhaps they) aren't proud of.  This doesn't mean our child is a bad seed, or a horrible child simply because they made a bad choice, but if we parents turn the other way, chalk it up to 'boys will be boys', or completely deny the situation, that child can quickly become someone we don't recognize.

I urge everyone who reads this to dig deeply into your conscience and sit down with your child today.  Let them know you love them unconditionally, but also as strongly stress your desire for them to be a leader in kindness instead of cruelty.  Believe the child you've nurtured has the strength to stand up against people whose only ambition in life is to tear others down in order to feel better about themselves.  Most often, your child will rise to the challenge.  If, however, you find your child is unwilling to do so, and instead joins the bully ranks, you must believe that as well, and act quickly and decisively.  Don't turn away from it in shame or denial.  The only way to stamp out this kind of behavior it to acknowledge it.  Acknowledge it and call attention to it in order to nip it in the bud.

Nipping bully behavior in the bud stage, before it becomes an integral part of a child's personality, is a key to breaking a cycle.  Counsel your child.  Find out why he/she feels the need to bully others.  Get to bottom of their insecurities, so that you can help them deal with their feelings without involving someone else in their self-doubt.

Growing up is hard under the best of circumstances (middle school being no doubt the most angst ridden years).  Everyone has their up days and down days and different struggles along the way, but no one should ever have to go to school scared or afraid.  No one should be expected to learn at optimal levels when they are anxious about who's going to push them out of their seat at lunch time, or worse.  It's unacceptable and we, as parents, set the most influential example for our kids. We can't complain about the behavior of today's youth while pretending we have nothing to do with it.  It's just not right. I believe we can make a difference - if only we have the courage. It's up to us to take the first step toward securing the future for all children.  Not just our own, but all children.