What’s in your bully toolbox?

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WCL Bullying Audience April 18, 2012

My day started very early this morning with a 6am commute into the city…and while I am currently exhausted mentally and physically at this point, I felt I had to write on this tonight…before sleep.  Normally, I’d put off writing…(which is why I haven’t posted since March) but this one was especially important to me and I was not willing to lose my thoughts to sweet dreams and an early night to bed…

Today I had the privilege of being one audience member on the Windy City Live morning TV show during their program focused on bullying.  As somewhat of a social media addict, I tweeted and posted prior to attending and immediately before and after the show… but please note that I did follow the rules and did not tweet DURING the show…I actually turned my phone off, as was requested of me!  (Shocking, I know).  What was so interesting to me was that by the time I logged back on to my phone when I left the studio at 10:30am, I had received multiple messages from friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers, telling me THEIR bullying story (about either themselves or their own children).

I am still amazed at how many people I know that are (or were) affected by this epidemic in their youth (and some as adults).  Even after all the time I’ve spent working on bullying programs and advocating for the cause, I’m still amazed – and saddened by the sheer numbers that are affected overall.

The statistic they shared on WCL today says that 1 in 4 high school kids are bullied.  1 in 4.  Think about it…if your child is in a class of 24 kids that means 6 of those kids are being treated so badly that they do not want to come to school, they are losing confidence in themselves, and any one of them might even consider the unimaginable idea of suicide because it is so difficult for them at school.  Think about your child’s classroom and imagine 6 of those children not wanting to come to school – every day.  Now imagine that one of those 6 kids is yours.  Now what do you do?

As parents it is so important that we teach our children how to deal with this epidemic.  Although I honestly believe that working to prevent bullying all together it is most important (and should start at an early age)…but as we can see, based on the facts, the bullies are still getting to so many kids that unfortunately we need to offer our kids some solid advice on how to deal with and handle bullies if they ever are put in the situation.

Today I asked Karin Stortz, the WCL panelist and LCSW, how parents should help their kids react in a way that will help a situation if they ever find themselves on the receiving end of a bully.  And her response was that most parents typically tell their child to ignore the person being mean and then we often reassure them if they do this, it will all go away.   But, if you have ever given your child this advice you already know that it isn’t really that simple.

So…as parents we need to teach our children to stand up for themselves (and others if they are the bystander in a bullying situation).  Eye contact, a firm voice and the ability to use them both effectively offer bullies a target that is less desirable in the end.  So much of what a bully wants from their own poor behavior is any reaction from their targets – tears, outward frustrations, etc.  So, if our kids are armed with the tools and the direction on how to react to a bully, before they ever become a target, then maybe – just maybe – some of the bullies will give up sooner since they have no one left they can push around?  (A girl can dream, can’t she??)

When I say we need to arm our kids with the tools to be effective…I mean we really need to arm them!  We can’t just carry on a conversation because that won’t make them confident in their decision to stand up.  Yes, the conversation is a big part of our tools box, BUT…we have to take the time to actually role play the scenarios and allow them to practice these tools – before they need to use them.  (And if you have ever read or seen Harry Potter #5 you know that even the imaginary wizards of the world practiced their defense tactics before they actually needed them and that paid off for them in the end!)

In so many of the stories I have heard from people that were in fact a victim at one point in their lives, the pain of their experience has stuck with them, even as adults.  And as a parent, I know that I never want these to be the parts of childhood that my own children remember into adulthood.  Knowing that the people I have talked with, and have been targets of bullying behavior, still, as adults, are tormented and hurt by the words that were used against them in their youth, saddens me.  To think that something so small as a single word can scar one single person so deeply that the memory of it lasts for years

is something no child should have to add to his or her internal scrapbook – ever.

So…remember that simply knowing how to react is just one tactic that can offer at least one child the one tool they might need to make one day a little bit better.   And if that day comes I hope that on that one day it isn’t one of the 6 kids in your child’s class, and I also hope it isn’t your child, and ultimately I hope that is it NO child – but if it is, I certainly hope that one child has been armed with the tools they need to successfully stand up to a bully (for themselves or another), because that could make all the difference in the world on that one day.

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