Sticks and Stones
Bullies have changed quite a bit since our childhood, haven’t they? In my case, the bullies were the ones who were socially inept, overtly aggressive kids. In today’s schools, however, bullying is regularly, if not mostly, perpetrated by the cool kids. So, sadly, the kids most likely to make your child’s life at school miserable, are also the ones that your child probably looks up to.
Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso, who wrote the book The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander reports that what sets bullies apart from their peers is “the need to hold others in contempt.” That old making-yourself-feel-bigger-by-making-others-feel-smaller thing.
But that in itself is not enough. You need to have someone see this interchange in order for power to be gained from it. So that means you need an audience — bystanders — who, by their mere presence, add legitimacy to the bully’s actions. And despite the fact that most parents would say that their children would never support a bully, research shows that peers are present for 85% of schoolyard bullying. It’s human nature to want to be on the side of the power and the status — that’s the way you avoid becoming the next victim.
But here’s the rub: although they may be revered on some level, studies have shown that other kids don’t actually want to be the bully’s friend.
As a parent, it’s important to talk to your kids about bullying, and to let them know that someone who watches bullying take place and doesn’t say anything, is just as responsible as the person doing the bullying. Explain to them that they are hurting the victim as much as the bully is, just by finding entertainment in the victim’s pain. And support your schools in implementing their anti-bullying policies. Whether you are the parent of a victim or a bully, you need to get involved and stay connected to your school community.
(The Canadian Safe School Network is a great resource for anti-bullying programs, and PBS Kids has a cute anti-bullying game for younger kids, to get them thinking about their own roles in instances of bullying.)