Writer and civil rights leader, James Baldwin, said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
This is the story of two fifth graders, Jared and Josh. Every day at school Josh tried to avoid Jared and his friends. But every day Jared found another way to make Josh’s life miserable. When the teacher called on Josh, Jared nickered and his friends followed his lead. When they went to lunch Jared, or one of his friends, managed to accidentally knock into Josh in the lunch line. Even Josh’s science project was suspiciously tampered with.
Josh suddenly began having painful headaches that kept him out of school. His parents were alarmed, but a visit to his doctor found no medical reason for Josh’s headaches. Josh’s headaches may have been real or they may have been an excuse to avoid the harassment he was experiencing at school. Clearly Josh was a victim of bullying.
What is bullying? Bullying is any aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying can take many forms, such as hitting, kicking, threatening others, teasing, name-calling, excluding from a group, or sending mean notes or e-mails. A child who is being bullied has a hard time defending himself or herself. Often, children are bullied not just once or twice but over and over.
How do kids become bullies? Bullies begin at home. The sad truth of Baldwin’s quote is that aggression is often learned. Research has shown that kids who experience little warmth or adult attention, inconsistent discipline, verbal outbursts and physical punishment in their own homes, are most likely to become bullies. In an effort to find some control over their own young lives, bullies attempt to control others.
Interestingly, kids who are bullied often come from the same sort of home, where their self-esteem has taken a beating. Depending upon their personality and temperament, the lack of consistency and control in their own home makes them vulnerable. As early as preschool and kindergarten, early life experiences can set children up for many poor social interactions, particularly, being bullied.
The way to prevent bullying is to break the patterns of aggression in the home and in school. Adults are the key to change in both arenas by creating an environment of positive interest in all children, and by providing consistent, appropriate, consequences for unacceptable behaviors. Healthy emotional and social growth in children requires that they feel affirmed and supported by the adults in their world. Children benefit from knowing that the adults around them want to be with them and value them as individuals. As children are learning from adults who model good behaviors, they also discover that there are predictable limits and consequences for aggressive behaviors. Importantly, these consequences are best administered by positive, caring adults who nurture the growth of the children, even as they discipline them.
Being bullied is a loss experience—a loss of safety, a loss of self-esteem, a loss of belonging, and a loss of control over one’s life. Protecting the child who is bullied helps to reduce those potential losses, provides comfort, and diminishes the self-blame for what has happened. Empowering individuals helps eradicate bullying behaviors. The best response is to tell an adult immediately when bullying occurs and reach out to the individual who is being bullied as a friend and ally. Bullies are redirected through positive consequences. The bullied are supported and affirmed. The community of bystanders are taught what to do when they see bullying occur.
Cyber-bullying, a growing problem among adolescents, is defined as the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Cyber-bullies, though older, begin just like any other bully—the behaviors are learned. There are a growing number of laws in response to this far-reaching form of bullying. Prosecutions for the consequences of cyber-bullying (including murder and suicide) are escalating in response to the incidences of cyber-bullying. Engaging adolescents themselves to fight cyber-bullying is in itself empowering. To learn more about cyber-bullying check out: http://www.cyberbullying.us.
Samaritan Interfaith counselors are available to help provide healing and hope for individuals, families, adolescents and children