On Bullying: the Ultimate Solution

I confess that what I’ve written today was not what I sat down to write.  See, I sat down to write a funny story about this one time I went swimsuit shopping. But I can’t write it. Not today.  My heart is full of sadness, anger, disappointment and frustration.

Since the start of the year there have been three suicides in our metro area. Three teens, no longer on this earth. Three teens so pained that the only escape they thought they could find was to end their lives.

I didn’t know these three boys. I can’t imagine the torment they faced to get them to the decision that they made. I’m not passing judgment on their decision, whether there could have been intervention, how it happened.  It’s not my place, and this isn’t about suicide.

It’s about compassion.

Two of those three deaths have been attributed to bullying. One family has kept their situation private. The other has gone public seeking answers, and their friends organized two rallies against bullying – raising awareness, educating, finding solutions – the first being today.

The response that I’ve seen online goes from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some are supportive of the rally, expressing that “if even one kid steps up and intervenes when another kid is being bullied, it is worth it.”  Others expressed dismay that the rally was being held as it would be disruptive and traumatic to the students at the school. All opinions that they are entitled to, but the way I see it, if you can’t say it nicely… You can fill in the rest.

Some people went as far as saying “well, we don’t know the full situation, this might not even be a bullying situation. It might be the family looking for someone to blame. The facts might be wrong, entirely, so I’m waiting to make my decision.”  (Which begs the question: decide what?)

And I ask: so what?

Bullying happens, every day. If people are motivated to get a school to look at and possibly change its policy, or a motivate (or empower) a kid to step in and help another, and if it’s done in a peaceful manner to let people feel like they can affect some change, let them.

The situation has been discussed, dissected and I had to walk away from Facebook because I was disgusted and disheartened by some of the cruel comments made as much as I was saddened by the multitude of stories of how other mother’s children had been bullied.

It’s an emotional situation, and sadly, some of the online exchanges have been downright nasty. I’m all about your right to express an opinion or your disagreement, but I also think it can be done civilly.

And I have to ask myself: where is the compassion?

Because if they are this vocal on social media, what are they saying out loud, at home, around little and bigger ears?

People often forget that (despite what they might think or how their kids may behave at times), children are ALWAYS listening. They see how we respond to things. They hear our words. They can model our behavior. I know that I say or do things at times that I regret the moment it happens, and  I have to make clear to my kids that what I said or did was NOT acceptable.

Because they need to know that grownups make mistakes, too – and that if you do something wrong, you need to apologize.

Clearly, I would love to see a world with no bullying. I applaud the people attending the rally trying to bring attention to the fact that bullying can’t be brushed under the rug, and there has to be some repercussion for cruel behavior.

But a rally alone won’t change a bully. I can’t control how other people behave. Neither can you. And guess what: quite often, children who are bullies grow up to be adults who are bullies.

So what can I do? What can WE do, to make a difference?.

What I can do is teach my children compassion and kindness and respect.

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I can teach them to put themselves in another’s shoes. If they were in the position of the child they see being bullied, would they want someone to step up and say “leave him alone”?

I can teach them that kind words can befuddle a bully where anger or fear or sadness feeds them.

I can let them know that they can talk to me about anything, and they can expect an open mind and no judgment. (And if they feel like they can’t talk to me, or to Dad, well, we can find someone to talk to.)

While of course I can intervene as a situation calls, but on a day-to-day basis, I can’t fight their battles for them, so they need to learn to stand up for themselves. It is MY job as a parent to help them develop the skills and confidence to do so.

But that’s not enough. I need to model kindness and compassion and respect. If I want to teach them to respect their coach or a referee (even when we think the referee did a poor job), I can’t bash the coach in front of them when I’m unhappy.   I shouldn’t tear down the skills of the referee, because in the end, his calls are final, good or bad – and if I behave poorly, then that lets them think the behavior is acceptable, even when it isn’t.

Life isn’t easy, nor is it fair, and those are lessons they must learn too.

In all the words I’ve read today, these  hearten me the most:

“Yes, we need to do something to stop bullying, but all the rallies in the world wont stop us from raising bullies. I doubt that the parents of the bullies in question raised their kids with the intention to be a bully, with the intention to be un-kind people. We need to have a heart for those parents as well. How about we take this time to shift our focus to raising children who are kind, compassionate, and empathetic? Wouldn’t this be the ultimate solution?”

I agree, wholeheartedly.


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One last thing: the teenage years are tough enough as it is and  mixing social media with kids who aren’t prepared for the kind of cruelty that can come with it could be a recipe for unhappiness.

If you haven’t set ground rules for social media, please do. Today.

To that end, fellow blogger and former teacher Galit Breen just wrote an amazing book that can help you with this: Kindness Wins. In it she talks about how to teach our kids about social responsibility, and offers ten practical habits to directly teach kids how to be kind online. (And honestly, these are habits that many adults could benefit from, as well.)

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Comments

  1. Wow. Jenn. I decided to read my email as I’m helping my Little Man fall asleep. In his tiny single bed are the dog, myself and him. I told him a story and we were giggling at the dog squished between us. Now he’s lightly snoring so I decided to read your post. I’m crying. Thank you for the reminder of kindness and goodness. I’m going to share your beautiful post.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. I look at my kids after reading about comments made to other children and I want to wrap them in bubble wrap and homeschool them.

      But we’d kill each other in a week. So much for compassion. But I still hugged them close tonight.

  2. Sad. Life is not fair. Well said.

    • Anne Lamotte recently wrote: “Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked.” Life isn’t about fair, it’s about what we do when things are good and when things go impossibly against us. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Jenn, this is such an important and worthy conversation. I’m so sorry for those kids and their families. And you’re absolutely right–change starts with us. Our words, our actions, our comments on status updates. Thank you for including me in such an important post. I’m grateful for voices like yours.

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