It is Bullying Awareness Week around the world (November 14th – 18th) with the general theme: “Power for Good”. Unfortunately, until it happens to you or your child, you probably haven’t given it a lot of thought, have you? Well, if you’re as sick as I am of people using their upbringing to bully, then read on…
Ever heard parents say things like; “That’s how I was brought up and that’s how I will deal with my child”?
Bullying is defined as “a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behavior directed at an individual, intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem and/or reputation. Bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance”. The truth of the matter is; you don’t have to be a kid to be a bully, you just have to fit the description.
Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and the way their parents talk about other people
An adult, every single one, has the choice to be better than they were brought up (especially in cases where they were brought up in harsh environments that may have scarred them emotionally, physically, mentally, socially and sometimes sexually and even financially). Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Have you heard parents say things like; “That’s how I was brought up and that’s how I will deal with my child”? That’s a bully and an eventual emotional, mental and (often) physical abuser.
Parents and adults who use threats and intimidation to get what they want out of their children and spouses are bullies breeding bullies
Acts of bullying come in different forms, such as:
- Physical – hitting, shoving, stealing or damaging property.
- Verbal – name calling, mocking, or making sexist, racist or homophobic comments.
- Social – excluding others from a group or spreading gossip or rumors about them.
- Electronic (commonly known as cyber-bullying) – spreading rumors and hurtful comments through the use of cellphones, e-mail, text messaging and social networking sites.
Often, our public discourse regarding the need to end bullying centers around the assumption that children are only bullied at school. That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Many children are bullied before they ever walk into a school — they are bullied every day by parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings and caretakers.
“Don’t make me hurt you.” is no way to talk to a child
This begs the question: Are parents to blame if their child is a bully?
Home Is Where the Lesson Is
Bullying in my home often manifested in the form of verbal threats, such as: “Shut up before I hurt you”; “Stop doing that before I hit you”; “Sit down before I slap you”; or “You better get over here before you regret it”; and “Don’t make me hurt you.” This is no way to talk to a child.
Parents, caretakers and relatives who bully have an even stronger influence than peers because it comes from people who purportedly love the child and are the ultimate authority in the child’s life.
Research shows that a harsh or negative parenting style is more likely to produce children who are bullies and victims of bullying than an emotionally warm environment with clear rules and supervision. Negative parenting includes obvious offenses like abuse and neglect, but also subtler forms of negative role modeling such as name-calling, threatening, manipulating and persistent teasing. Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and talk about other people.
For some parents and families, intimidating and threatening demands and behaviors are what they believe to be discipline or teaching a kid to be “tough”
Home is where empathy is or isn’t learned, and school is where the lessons learned at home get played out. If relationships at home are based on fear and intimidation, children are more likely to use the same tactics with their peers. Women who are bullied by their spouses at home are more likely to be mean to their kids and their colleagues. Kids who are involved in bullying are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are at higher risk for depression and suicide.
To a lesser extent, children of overprotective parents – those who buffer their children from all negative experiences – are also at increased risk of bullying. Similarly, parents who have difficulty saying “no” to their child or foster a sense of entitlement may also inadvertently contribute to bullying tendencies.
Mediating Sibling and Parental Disputes
Even if you’re a model parent, have you given much thought to the other influences in your home, including the interactions between siblings and between one parent and the child(ren)? While rivalry is part of sibling-hood, a new study reveals that ongoing, targeted harassment directed at one sibling can come at the expense of the child’s mental health. Sibling bullying is not relationship-building or training for the “real world”, as some parents think. It can have the same effects as school bullying by peers, including depression, anxiety and anger, even after just one incident.
Discipline need not be violent (verbally or physically) and “tough” children often turn out to be bullies themselves
This is yet another area where parents can model problem-solving, communication and conflict resolution skills. When siblings fight, bloodshed shouldn’t be the only impetus for parental involvement. While parents can’t (and shouldn’t) attempt to solve all of their children’s interpersonal conflicts, a little mediation can turn squabbles into a learning opportunity rather than a lifelong emotional scar. It can also help parents detect any emotional and behavioral issues early on and prevent frustrations from getting acted out at school.
Bullying is a learned behavior
I need to say this very plainly and clearly: Parents and adults who use threats and violent intimidation to get what they want out of their children are bullies.
Consider this: If you heard a child make these same statements to another child you would quickly label him or her a bully, and yet many adults speak to their children in this manner every day. Sometimes at the dinner table in households where resources are limited, children are intimated to give their food away or have it taken from them by adults only to have them laugh.
No child’s play time should be defined by fear
Of course adult bullying isn’t relegated to the dinner table. Parents and adults even bully children during play, as well as during productive times of learning. I know this all too well. The parent who turns dinner into a time of anxiety is likely to create a disruption during play time just to exert authority and inflate their own childish egos — and no child’s play time should be defined by fear.
Parents and family members who intimidate, threaten violence, and demean their children and/or each other are no different than a bully in school or t work who does the same. For some parents and families, intimidating and threatening demands and behaviors are what they believe to be discipline or teaching a kid to be “tough” or their spouse “fall in line”. But discipline need not be violent (verbally or physically) and “tough” children often turn out to be bullies themselves, while bullied end up depressed and unproductive people.
Evaluate your methods of discipline and do the hard work of determining whether your child is becoming a well-adjusted individual or turning into a bully
When parents bully at home to get what they want, they legitimize using threats and intimidation as normal behavior for their children. As a result, kids who are bullied by parents or family members turn around and do the same to their peers. Many kids in school cafeterias and playgrounds become victims at the hands of children who just left homes in which bullying is practiced.
Parents and adults, allow this to serve as your wake up call. Please evaluate your methods of discipline and do the hard work of determining whether your child is becoming a well-adjusted individual or turning into a bully. Advocates, remember bullying doesn’t always start in the school yard. As we work to end bullying in our schools and amongst our children and loved ones, we must end bullying at home as well.
Remember: Charity begins at home.