What Parents Can Do About Bullying

IMG_8521I am all leaden and goopy about the issue of bullying right now for reasons I don’t want to discuss directly, but I feel compelled to speak about it in a general way. I hope this doesn’t come off as too preachy but it probably will because I think being a preacher would be a really fun job with endless Sunday deadlines.

Bullying isn’t new. I used to catch all kinds of hassles from the Lockard kids walking to and from school and I wasn’t a very nice kid myself. School was scary. In the (what felt like) gigantic arena of trying to matter in a space apart from our families, we vied for position and hassled each other. But I don’t remember killing ourselves. Well, obviously, but what’s the deal with suicide evolving into a viable solution to the bullying problem? I’m sure there’s a ton of variables that operate in complicated ways toward an answer to that question, but this is not so much about figuring that out. I just want to acknowledge that, hey, kids are killing themselves and the kids who don’t kill themselves seem to be shouldering an intensity of suffering that transcends my fear of the Lockards. I don’t know why. I’m not even sure it’s true. But that’s how it looks from here and I want to know what to do about it.

What can we do about it?

We could blame the schools and, yes, there are probably more than a few ways that our schools could tighten up their bullying prevention programs but that doesn’t answer the question. What can we do about it?

We could blame the bullies and the parents of bullies. This is perhaps a gross over-generalization but a truly mean and cold-hearted bully was, I would venture to guess, probably raised in a mean and cold-hearted home. Mean and cold-hearted parents have their own deals – problems and demons that tend to overrule the possibility of being kind and nurturing. It’s likely that they, too, were raised in mean and cold-hearted homes (and so on). But, you see, it’s not likely that they’re reading Babble parenting blogs in search of ways to make a brighter day for you and me, so the question still remains unanswered.

What can WE do about it? In what ways can we, in a world that has more than its fair share of imperfect schools and cruel flawed people, contribute to alleviating the suffering that is right now happening as a result of bullying?

I want to first suggest  that we constantly explore ways to be better parents. At this suggestion, there is perhaps a tendency to feel confronted and defend the fact that you’re already a damn good parent and if all those rotten schools and kids and parents would just get with the program, then… etc. Here, I would politely ask any offended parties to please get over yourselves and rest assured in knowing that I’m talking to myself as much, or more, than anyone else. Perfect parents can stop reading now. Have a nice day. As for the rest of us, let’s continue to ask ourselves how we can be kinder human beings, then be kinder human beings, and repeat. Insofar as we do this, we’re modeling kindness for our children and that’s a pretty big deal. In addition to modeling kindness, let’s talk about it with our kids explicitly and explore ways to instill a kind tendency in the way they behave. My thoughts about this, lately, have revolved less around kindness as a virtue, as a way to be against your will, but more in the fact that being kind plainly feels good in and of itself. It’s infectious and transformative and can quickly become your default setting in relation to the world. So in terms of instilling the tendency to be kind in our children, we should first consider being kind ourselves and then exposing our children to experiences wherein they have the opportunity to express kindness and discover for themselves that it’s, beneath and beyond the inertia of selfishness, the way we truly are.

So now, very good, you have a super nice kid who is probably not a bully. That was the easy part.

Not being a bully is not good enough. My next suggestion is for the idea of “good parenting” to entail the integration of a new ethic that calls for our children to bravely intervene when they are witnesses to bullying. I’m suggesting that our kids – the innocent, kind ones (see above) – should be ready and willing to STAND UP and confront a bully in the act of bullying, right then and there, as it’s occurring. I’m not talking about telling a teacher. I’m not talking about filling out an incident report. I’m talking about raising a generation of kids who, in the moment, as the cruelty occurs, confront the bully in an effort to stop it – even if, in doing so, they put themselves at risk. It is at this point that our instincts to protect our children tend to dig in their heels and we resist. We might be tempted to justify inaction because, after all, our kids aren’t doing anything wrong; it’s not their responsibility. But it is precisely here where we need a revolution in the way we conceive of our relationship to others.

We are all each other’s responsibility.

Because this is a basic fact of existence (that extends, by the way, past responsibility to human beings to animals, the environment, and the mysteries beyond), if your child witnessed an act of bullying, did nothing, and the victim later killed him or herself, your child would be wracked with guilt, and not without reason. I am suggesting that the guilt, the responsibility, for bullying extend beyond merely the bully to include the bystanders, to include the kids who look away and pretend it’s not happening. In the tweaked paradigm of these perspectives of ourselves, others, guilt, and responsibility, it’s perfectly logical for us to teach our kids to intervene when someone is bullying another and say, “Hey! Knock it off! That’s totally not cool!” and, in the context of this being a generally accepted ethic, I like to imagine a handful of kids joining in the protest. Together, there are a lot more victims and innocent bystanders than bullies and a world where our kids join forces to take care of each doesn’t seem like an absolute impossibility. We just have to raise those kids. That’s what we can do.


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