April 22, 2012

I work with bullies. I work with kids being bullied.

I work with parents who are bullies. I work with parents who were bullied.

It’s out of control. In a serious, life-threatening way.

It’s not the bullying of days gone by. I’m only 29, and the bullying that happens today is about 1,000,000 times worse than “my day.” When I felt bullied, it was because someone said I smelled like tuna fish. This may or may not have led to a life-long fear of smelling like tuna fish, but it did not lead to suicide. It did not lead to dreading school, avoiding others, self-isolation, and self-loathing. At worst, it caused me tears and a whole lot of jars in Baby Soft perfume (love that stuff). I don’t mean to belittle any experience with bullying in the past, it is all stressful, but I do believe it is a different beast these days.

A lot of the parents I work with assume that when I talk about bullying, I mean relatively harmless interactions between kids. They throw our sayings like “boys will be boys,” or “that’s how they learn how to toughen up.” I don’t believe that anything about today’s bullying is harmless. In fact, I hestitate to call it bullying- because it is frequently more like terrorizing. And it isn’t just high school. It’s middle school. It’s elementary school.

This changing world of ours allows kid to be in constant contact with one another. I have kids who are in third and fourth grade with cell phones! Why? Just in case. Of what, I’m not sure. Kids who have access to laptops, computers, and iPads. Kids who see too much, hear too much, and are exposed to too much. Bullying is happening earlier because kids are “growing up” earlier, but they can’t handle it. Because they aren’t meant to hear and see so much from the adult world. Pleeease parents, do not let your kids have unsupervised time on the internet.

Bullying is becoming terrorizing because kids can no longer escape it. Social media, internet, phones. They are all connected all the time. It’s easier to hide. It’s easier to be anonymous if you are the one doing the bullying. Being connected all the time isn’t healthy for anyone, much less children who don’t have the ability to distinguish the internet world from reality, nor the established self-esteem to be able to withstand negative comments.

There is no one magic answer for bullying to disappear. Unfortunately. I think much of what it will take is everyone (not just parents, not just teachers, everyone) to be tuned in to what is happening. If a child is complaining of being picked on- this isn’t a time to let it go. If you have kids, know who their friends are. Often times kids will explain their friends, only to find out that their “friends” are bullies or unfriendly kids. Humans do not necessarily come hard-wired to understand what a good friend is – lots of kids assume that any attention means that someone is a friend (or even a best! friend! ever! omg!). Also? Bullying does not happen only if your kid is “different” or gay, or has red hair. It can happen to any kid.

I cannot stress enough how strongly I feel about this, because I see the fall-out every day. Now, we all see it in the news, with multiple suicides from teenagers and new laws being produced around online bullying.  As adults in the world, we need to pay attention to this. We need to unplug OURselves and plug in to the youth, to our kids. Before it’s too late.

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