We’ve all experienced intentional meanness that makes us feel bad and uncomfortable. In today’s world, it’s called bullying. Bullies hit, kick, push, trip, call nasty names and spread nasty rumors. A menacing look, a certain hand gesture, a flip of the head count too. It’s not a new problem. And it’s not just kids who do it. Adults do it too. You heard the recent and shameful news story of the employees who frequently tazed a co-worker and as he screamed for help they laughed and watched him wet and dirty his pants. Bullying is not confined to schools. It happens at work, in churches, homes, parks and any place where people gather.
Also, bullying has gone high-tech. With technological advances, cyber-bullying occurs. People who once assaulted their victims in person can now track them down and torment them by cell phones with text messaging and the Internet using websites, e-mail, twitter, Instagram, chat rooms, blogs, and Instant Messenger.
People bully for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s for extortion; they take what they want. Sometimes do it for amusement, to entertain themselves and impress their friends. Sometimes it gives them feelings of power over others. Sometimes they’ve learned to hurt others, just because they can.
While most people naturally treat others with respect, those who bully make life harder for all. Meanness, like bad air, affects everyone in the environment. Just seeing someone bullied leaves us gasping for a breath of fresh air.
According to D'Arcy Lyness, PhD, “No matter where it comes from and what form it takes, bullying has no redeeming value. Lives are ruined or lost, families and communities tainted, and suffering ensued. It’s a contagious disease that must be stopped.” No one deserves to be bullied. No matter what you look like, what your race is, what your sexual orientation is, we all deserve to be treated with respect.
It is easy to find the emotions and behaviors that fuel bullying. Separate people into US and THEM, focus on their negative points, find flaws in them, repeat these things to yourself and put distance between you and the person you want to hurt. You become so focused on their negatives qualities (We all have some) and those negative qualities become additional reasons to take destructive action. Love requires us to focus on people’s positive traits. It’s harder and we rarely do it consistently. We must be taught to care for people not for their virtues but despite their faults.
Bullying is also bad for the bully. You’ve heard this saying. “Be mindful of your thoughts because they become your words. Be mindful of your words for they become behaviors. Be mindful of your behaviors, they become your character”. In the end, most bullies wind up in trouble at school, in the community and with the law. As they continue to be mean and hurtful, sooner or later the only friends they’ll have are folks just like themselves. People with positive values move on and leave bullies behind. They figure out that it’s better to be THE BEST of THE BEST rather than THE BEST of THE WORST.
What Are Parents To Do?
1. Behavior patterns begin at home. Start by examining your own behavior. A parent who is angry, bitchy and threatening, models these as problem solving skills. Unfortunately, parents may not see this as bullying behavior and are likely to use them toward others including their own child. Children learn what they live. Further, parents who punish their children for not fighting back are adding to the problems.
2. Look for signs. If your child is being bullied, the signs and torn clothes, bruises, loss of appetite, mood changes, reluctance to go to school. Many children fall deeper and deeper into depression as a result of long term bullying. If your child is bullying others, there are also signs. You may see competitiveness, impulsiveness, lack of empathy for others, or a desire to be in control. They are often arrogant and boastful winners and poor losers. Calling others names such as faggot, retard, stupid and the N word are favorites, even when they are playing.
3. Be mindful of the language children hear at home. Racial and ethnic slurs and name calling are favorite forms of bullying. When you hear your child doing this, look the child in the eyes and say in a firm but kind voice, "I don't like it when you say those things. Stop it." Say no more. Arguing is a waste of time and merely prolongs the incident.
4. Make your home a safe zone where everyone feels loved and is treated with kindness and respect. A finger to the mouth with a shush is often just enough.
5. Act. Avoiding the problem and hoping it will just go away on its own is fruitless. It will blow up before it blows over. Stop it in its tracks.
Bullies can learn to use their power in positive ways. Some bullies turn into great people. Others remain trouble-making losers. Which do you want for your children?
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. October 2, 2013
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a private Clinical in Springfield for more than 40 years. She lives and writes in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.