Wednesday, October 20, 2010


With all the different suicides in the news lately, mostly gay teens who have been treated horribly, the subject of bullying is on everyone's mind, and rightly so. Our newspaper ran an article on how to protect your kids from cyberbullying.

And here's my response:

Why not run an article on how to know if your kid is one of the bullies. Nobody wants to think about that, do they? We all assume that we are the good ones, the ones who don't bully, would never treat someone that way, would never shun, spread rumors, out someone online, etc. And certainly our kids would never do that.

Oftentimes, when bullying takes place, the very people to whom one turns for help--teachers, principles, councilors, parents--do not believe the kid being bullied. "How could Janie be bullying you? She's a very nice girl. You must be misinterpreting her intentions."

Uh, no. Very often, it's the "nice" kids who are the worst bullies. They achieve their bullying in very subtle, but pervasive ways. They spread rumors, they shun you, they give you evil stares, they treat you like a nobody. And when you complain, they act like abusive spouses act in front of the authorities: they are all nice and pleasant. And so the victim is the one who ends up being blamed.

Look to the board in your own eye first. Do not be in denial that your kids are the "good ones" who would never treat someone this way. They probably do on more than one occasion. Yes, they've probably also been on the receiving end as well, but that just means they know how it all works, and are just as happy to dish it out when the chance presents itself.

In other words, we are all capable and culpable. We all have the capacity to treat others as lesser than ourselves.

We need to teach and learn empathy. And we need to face the ugly in ourselves. This is the only way episodes will stop. Parents and teachers especially need to make ourselves familiar with the ways "nice kids" bully, and let them know it is completely unacceptable. Teach them how to do better, be better.

To learn more about this subject, I recommend the book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons. It is a fabulous study in the way girls bully.

Obviously, this is a big issue, and one that has multiple solutions and actions we can take. My first action is to look inward and to my own children to make sure we are not contributing to the problem.

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