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Are You Raising a Bully?

Which Breakfast Club character were you in high school? (Yes, I know I am borrowing from a Facebook application.) I was Allison. The loner. The weirdo. The quiet, scared one. Now I’m more of an Andrew — love my Spin classes — but back then, yes, I was an Allison. I got treated like one, too. School was hell. I stayed home as much as I could. It was easier dealing with my mother than the kids in the hallways and in my classes. I got picked on. My pain was so great that I ended up being home schooled for medical reasons in my junior year, and becoming emancipated my senior year so I could switch to a neighboring school. That’s just to give you a little perspective about how bad it was for me.

In the weeks since the Phoebe Prince story broke (reminder: Phoebe is the Irish girl who killed herself after being bullied by her classmates) there have been a lot of wonderful stories written about preventing bullying. A colleague from ASJA wrote a touching story for USA Today that chronicles her own experiences. But only a few have touched on the fact that bullying doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s usually the fault of the bullier’s parents. Lisa Belkin came right out and said it, but it’s not really a popular thought. How could adults stand by and let their kids bully? Who are these people who value a child’s popularity so much that they allow it to continue unfettered. And an equally significant question: If parents are to blame, does that mean the parents of the kids who bullied Phoebe to death are liable?

Do you know if your child is a bully? (And don’t think just because you have toddlers they aren’t capable of bullying. It can often start as young as three.) Would you be able to figure it out and stop it? Would you want to? I interviewed women’s rights advocates Anne Ream and Randi Shafton, co-founder’s of the tween/teen empowerment project Girl360.net about this very subject. Here are their answers:

KB: How can a parent tell if their child is a bully?

Girl360.net: A parent can tell if their child is a bully by the stories those children bring home. Listen carefully to the language your child uses. Is it derogatory, judgmental, or mean-spirited? Is your child preying on another child’s misfortunes? If so, it may be time to talk to your kids about the importance of having empathy for others, and being kind and respectful to everyone despite the differences we each have. It may also be a good time to ask yourself if you are “modeling” positive behaviors for your kids. Remember, the ways that you interact with others will very often shape how your kids interact with other kids.

KB: What are the long-term effects of being a bully?

Girl360.net: The long-term effects of bullying can include feelings of aggression and distrust, aloneness and insecurity.

KB: How can parents prevent their children from becoming a bully?

Girl360.net: We can try to prevent our children from bullying by teaching our kids not to be owned by a clique or reliant on other kids for their own happiness. Having said that, it is important to emphasize that in the end, our children cannot be expected to “control” the behavior of a bully, and even the most self-confident kids can become victims. This is when engaging as a parent, or reaching out to the school to alert them that a student is bullying is critical. Parents also need to engage in authoritative parenting and not authoritarian parenting. Authoritative parenting is building boundaries, not walls, setting limits, keeping communication channels open and teaching mutual respect to our children. At Girl360.net, we talk a lot about how our own behavior is the first and most important model for our children. If we as parents model healthy, constructive, kind behavior every day, our kids will learn healthy, respectful communication and healthy, respectful confrontation.

What’s your experience with bullying? Has your child ever been a bully? Would love to hear your thoughts.

4 Responses to “Are You Raising a Bully?”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Karen. It’s amazing to me when my kids come home with the same stories I heard when I was their age. “So-and-so called me this… and THAT!” When it comes to bullying, not much has changed. Also, I tend to think that there’s not much that can be done about the bullies, in terms of converting them. I wonder how many bullies saw the light, not as a grown-up, but when they were still young enough to influence the kids around them.

  2. nicole says:

    Dear KB,

    Great article!

    As a mother of a third and first grader, this is a subject I think about often. As a matter of fact, just a couple weeks ago, my eight year old daughter got glasses for the first time. She has actually probably needed them for awhile, but I was in a bit of denial. Why? As a child I wore glasses and endured the teasing that my little tortoiseshell bifocals seemed to so naturally evoke. Somehow in my subconscious mommy-mind, I thought it would be better for my daughter to have a blurry view of the world than face the teasing I endured as a child. Of course, I quickly came to my senses and after a doctor confirmed what I already knew, we were off to choose her first pair. (She chose an adorable, very bright blue pair, by the way. They are a perfect reflection of my daughter’s confident and happy personality.) The day I sent her off to school, I sat home sick and unable to get any real work done for most of the day. She had been so excited with the glasses – proud that she had picked them all by herself and even a bit delighted that she now wore glasses, just like mommy does. Great news – glasses are now cool. She and the glasses were a huge hit at school. Some of her friends are now actually bugging their moms and asking if they can get glasses too. It could have gone the other way, of course…

    In addition to speaking to my kids about how to handle being bullied, as well as the critical importance of kindness (my children have heard since birth, “If you are nothing else in this life, I want you to be kind.”) I also speak to them about not being “bystanders.” I don’t know if this is the proper expression for what it’s called today, but essentially I am teaching them that to stand-by and witness another child (or animal) being bullied is tantamount to doing the bullying themselves. I would love to see this element added to anti-bullying education – i.e., what to do/how to handle a situation where you witness a bully. Would this make a dent in the bullying issue – who knows, only time would tell. I don’t think it could hurt though.

    Again, great article!


  3. Shari says:

    I can remember specifically one girl who was a terrible bully since childhood. She even spit on my hair (in the back ofcourse b/c she was too much of a coward) in HS. As an adult, I periodically run into her parents and, although they know my husband, I can’t even bring myself to say hello to them. Even though 15 years has passed since HS, I still can not understand how they could have raised such a mean, mean, mean girl and will forever hold it against them.
    I do believe that bullying is tolerated less these days then when I was a child. I know my son’s elementary school has a strict policy against bullying and character education is a strong part of the curriculum.

  4. kb says:

    I wonder if they know what an evil child they raised?

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