Bullying is repeated aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. About one third of all U.S. school children have experienced bullying. Many more individuals are by-standers who are afraid of the consequences of helping out.
Bullying can take many forms, such as hitting, kicking, threatening another, teasing, name-calling, excluding from a group or sending mean and destructive notes, emails or texts. This is called cyber-bullying and occurs more often among girls. Boys are more likely to be physically bullied. Girls are more likely to report being the targets of rumors, sexual comments and innuendos and exclusion.
Our country recently went through what I believe was the most disrespectful presidential election in the history of our country. Politics can certainly get nasty. But this went way beyond. It became very personal and very destructive. It also seems to have set a tone that has given some permission to continue this behavior. Anyone who has been on Facebook is aware that people have been nasty to each other. Friendships have been jeopardized. But now, even as we swore in our new President, people have started taking aim at President Trump’s son. Mary Scanlon, in a posting of her own, pointed out just how wrong this is. “Kids are off limits,” she noted. “When people made negative comments about the Obama girls, some felt it was racist”, she continued. What makes people take aim at kids? Why is it so easy to criticize others and not look at ourselves and our own behaviors? And certainly, being a 10 year old boy, suddenly thrown into the public eye, hearing lots of negative things about his dad and entire family, has to be overwhelming.
Our culture seems to have become increasingly tolerant of aggressive behaviors. Although we often think of bullying among children, we must remember that bullying behaviors occur in all ages, ethnic and socio-economic groups and certainly not just in schools. Reports of parents assaulting their children’s coaches are all too frequent. Domestic violence cases generally involve bullying behaviors. The effects on everyone involved can be devastating. Although there is no single bullying syndrome, children who have been bullied are more likely than their peers to be depressed, lonely and anxious. They exhibit low self-esteem, more physical symptoms including headaches and stomach aches, and often report thoughts of suicide.
We clearly are living in turbulent times. People have lots of different opinions. But, the reality is, people have always had different opinions. We have choices on how to solve these differences . We can sit down with each other and talk until we find some common ground. Or, we can scream at each other, simple wanting to get our point across and never hearing what the other has to say.
A classic story in mediation concerns an orange. 2 people want the orange. There is only one orange. They fight, each wanting to be the winner. Finally, someone asked them why they each want the orange. One says they need the rind to add to a recipe. The other wants the fruit to make juice. They realize they can share the orange and each get what they need. If only they had communicated their needs from the beginning. The problem was so easily solved.
As parents and adults, in general, we need to demonstrate these types of healthy problem solving behaviors. We need to help our kids learn that it is important to have your voice heard, but violence is never OK. We need to insist that our leaders work together to solve the problems at hand and if they don’t, let’s work to make sure they are not re-elected.
Our kids are learning these behaviors from us. The other night I watched a boy of about 10, on live television, take credit for setting a fire in protest of President Trump and then with a big smile, raised his hand and using a four letter work shouted “sc.. our president”. I am certainly all for freedom of speech. But, behavior like this from a 10 year old frequently translates into disrespect in general. Too often, I am seeing families in my office where kids are using this kind of language, including the “F” word to their parents.
Children who bully are more likely to develop problems with drugs and alcohol, skip or drop out of school and show anti-social behaviors. They tend to be impulsive, lacking in empathy and more accepting of violent behaviors. Many are acting out the aggressive behaviors that they are experiencing in their own homes. By targeting the “next weakest link” they perpetuate the cycle of violence that is all too common in our culture. Bystanders who do nothing to help the victim also can suffer from feelings of guilt and shame.
The solutions to the problem are not simple. However, we can and must improve this situation. We must begin a culture change that is intolerant of bullying. We must teach our children, both at home and at school that aggressive behaviors are unacceptable. It is important to develop a reasonable and effective way of disciplining the bullies while also providing them with the tools to improve their social skills. We must also emphasize that being kind is cool, for children as well as adults and work with our children and schools and work environments to promote a culture of kindness and good problem solvers. Psychologically healthy and respectful schools and work places are definitely the most productive!