My family spent the past few days locked offline in a cabin in the woods. We breathed in nature, swam, played tennis, saw a goat, pushed the girls on swings and got spooked at Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Ah, the Dells.
Our wholesome annual tradition of posing as boozy gangsters
After three days of no Internet, I noticed the hubs and I hadn't even finished one bottle of wine. We were genuinely relaxed - no elixirs necessary. Our phones didn't even work. No texts. No calls. No Gmail. No message boards. No Facebook. Coming home last night and cracking open my laptop was like sinking back into a familiar grind. After a weekend of being lulled into peace in the absence of trend pieces and horror news stories, it felt particularly accosting to discover the bullying story of the century I had blissfully missed: The School Bus Monitor Debacle.
This incident of bullying strikes a nerve because it's so familiar, so plausible in any town and at any time and is so incredibly mean. Maybe I relate to this clip more because I was bullied as a kid and, regrettably, I was also a bully. I never witnessed anything as grueling as what happened to the school bus monitor, but it sure felt that way. Seeing this story made me clutch my children and forced me to think about my own bully situations to find answers as to why. Why was I a victim? Why was I a bully? How can it be prevented?
I don't have a degree in psychology or have the research behind me like my fellow Chicago Now blogger Carrie Goldman, who wrote the book Bullied, but I can speak from my experience and offer these tips to teach my kids.
1. Find an ally. Your child must find a friend in every social situation as soon as possible. Bullies usually prey on people who are alone or appear to not have allies. If your child is shy, encourage her to find another shy child and sit together. They don't have to talk or overcome the difficult social hurdles of friendship-making, they just have to be proximal to one another and appear as allies. Bullies don't take on gangs, they take on loners.
2. Don't appear weak. Teach your daughters to be kind, but not doormats. Bullies are looking for people so desperate for friendship that they will put up with taunting and who are so willing to please others that they will not "tattle" on the bully to an authority. This is a fine line because you want your child to have allies, as previously mentioned, but instruct them to find an adult if they are being mistreated. Sadly, I can admit part of my experience of being bullied was that I allowed it to happen. Eventually I befriended my bully and became a perp myself. Teach your kids to not protect the bully or try to win them over - it's a recipe for disaster.
3. Don't fight back. There is a delicate balance between not seeming weak and not fighting back, but your child must learn this. If a bully begins taunting your child, instruct her to begin talking to someone else (hopefully an ally) or find an adult. Fighting back with defenses and insults only provides fodder for the bully. Getting a negative reaction, especially an angry one, is what the bully is after.
4. Be exposed to many types of people. Part of the bully problem is that the taunters are picking on people different from themselves. They have never been exposed to special needs kids, kids of other races, or people of differing socioeconomic backgrounds. Teaching empathy involves seeing, face-to-face, people unlike ourselves. This is a little easier if you live in the city, but don't isolate yourself in your circles. Take the kids to your neighborhood shelter. Enroll them in public activities. Walk down your street and talk to your neighbors. If you live in a more homogenous community, have important conversations with your child about feelings. All people have feelings - young, old, big, small, light and dark. We are all people and we all hurt.
5. Nurture your child's self-esteem. I'm wary to list this because I don't believe in coddling kids or letting them run the show. Far too often parents, in an effort to raise a child's "self esteem", will fail to teach discipline, which actually results in lack of respect for others and may contribute to the bully problem. True self-esteem is valuing yourself and not needing to cut other people down to fill a hole in your own life. Don't say, "you're so special!" and "you're the best!" Say, "you are special to me" and "I'm proud of you for doing your best". I think that's what parents mean in the first place, no?
I can't say I'm a perfect parent by any means and I certainly wasn't a perfect kid. But I can only hope my child isn't the person crying on the bus - or worse, one of the bullies.
My heart is with you, School Bus Monitor!