Miranda: Some adults still imagine bullies as bigger kids who pick on weaker ones on the playground or after school, taking lunch money and smash eye-glasses. But that doesn’t fully explain bullying anymore. Today, the schoolyard bully has a computer and a cell phone. Cyber-bullying has become, in my personal experience, the most prevalent form of bullying.
Bullies still have the same motives and reasoning they’ve always have—kids with low self-esteem, who get their self-validation out of making others feel small. But this jump from physical to psychological abuse has changed the way we need to respond. Cyber-bully is much more easily disguised. The moment the bully closes that laptop, he or she gets to pretend to the rest of the world that they don’t pick on others. Cyber-bullying is sly and sneaky, and the most cowardly of the cowards.
If you’re being bullied in this or any way, talk to your parents. Keeping communication is always a good idea, but it’s crucial in this kind of situation. Tell your parents the first time an incident happens, before the bullying has escalated. Document each and every case. Take screenshots with dates and save them to your computer or flash drive. This way, if and when you choose to take this to a school administrator, SRO, or other law enforcement officer, you’ll have proof rather than your word against theirs. By letting a bully get away with harassment, you are creating an unsafe environment for yourself, and for every other victim.
Dr. Wes: Too many parents believe the bully is someone else’s kid, the product of poor supervision or an abusive parenting style. Those bullies certainly exist. It’s hard to care about others if you feel you’ve not been cared for yourself. More common are bullies whose otherwise fine parents have too often looked the other way, enabling their dysfunctional views of others that fester in the emotionally charged environments of middle and high school. There, teenagers struggle for a place in the hierarchy, often not trying to scratch their way to the top, but to just avoid becoming the odd one out.
I suggest parents teach “3-Es” in every conversation they have with kids from age 3 up, to avoid creating these kinds of bullies or turning back the ones already living in their homes.
Empathy. Teach kids to think of others first and how they might feel if their roles were reversed. While this is not fully developmentally possible until the mid-20s, parents can reward and encourage empathic behavior from early on and punish selfishness and thoughtlessness. I’d spend little time arguing about household chores and a lot coaching kids on how others feel, and how to respond empathically. This is not my groovy, new age philosophy. It’s the core element in how we survive together as a society.
Ethics. Teach kids to live by a code, to have a discipline of values. Do this by example, as parents are very influential people, even for teens. If a parent cheats on a test, in a game, or on a spouse, kids will learn that cheating is okay. If a parent harasses or violates the rights of others, that same door will be open for the child. Beyond this, parents can directly coach kids on how to treat one another in fair play and to question their ethics as needed. Self-esteem never comes from being always told you’re right. It comes from confronting your wrongfulness head on, and winning.
Excellence. Many parents would recoil if their child were impolite to an elder, but see little wrong with poor treatment of a peer (e.g., boys will be boys). Kids should learn to be polite to their peers, to listen to what they have to say, and to offer a respectful opinion. This isn’t how we conduct ourselves in the public discourse these days, and that is sad, but parents who set that expectation at home can easily overturn the bad examples all around us. Don’t worry, your kids won’t grow up to be pushovers by taking an excellence approach to behavior. They’ll go out and play soccer (basketball, football, volleyball) hard and to win, but always by the rules. And when they inevitably knock down another player or cause injury, they’ll reach down and lift that player up and apologize for the mistake.
Teach the 3-Es and see how many parents envy you the great kid you’ve raised.
Want to hear more about bullying? Check out my podcast from KCUR’s Up to Date with Steve Kraske, including live call-ins. Go to www.dr-wes.com and click on the Media button.
Wes Crenshaw, PhD is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP), and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at www.dr-wes.com. Miranda Davis is a Free State High School senior who has co-authored the column since August 2011, and is the eighth in a series of teen co-authors. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to email@example.com. The column is reprinted from Double Take, published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal World. Opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.
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