Thinking about bullies ...

The bully situation seems to have become more intense over the years. It's not "just" name calling or blowing spit wads anymore, and tuning it out doesn't make it stop. A lot of adults just don't seem to get it. "Aw, toughen up." "Ignore it; they'll leave you alone." Well-meant words that don't help. Bullying can include all sorts of behaviors and just seems to get more extreme as the perpetrators get older. Internet bullying is huge now, mainly because it's faceless. As the younger generations of kids grow up with less and less personal interactions with people and more time spent with gadgets, society seems to be loosing a huge personal "self-check" function. "Is what I am doing wrong or hurtful? How would I feel if someone did this to me?" Remember the Golden Rule? That kind of thing. Now it's type, type, post picture, hit send. It doesn't affect the sender as much as if they were trying to spread their meanness in an open and public view. But to any degree, bulling includes name calling, making fun, isolating, following and interfering with someone’s personal space/information/belongings, spreading rumors, using violence (hitting, pinching, or other inappropriate touching), and making threats. The kids participating need to be held responsible for their behavior. The parents of these children need to be held accountable as well. There's always more to the story than we hear in the news, but if people could just take ownership of their behavior and choices, the world would be a much lovelier place.

I'm completely out of my depth for when things get really nasty and into the higher grades, but this is some information I wrote geared towards the younger-elementary-student set. It is based on anti-bully protocol for a fantastic elementary school my children attended, for when situations/behaviors are just getting started. Think of it as dipping your toes. Bullying situations can be very hard to navigate, and this does not attempt to cover hard-core problems.

Suppose somebody (either a grown-up or another kid) makes a wrong and cruel choice, creating an uncomfortable and hurtful situation. What can be done? If it happens to you: Speak up. Use your words to say, “That’s mean and I don’t need to listen.” Walk away and inform a safe grown-up. It is not a tattletale. Sometimes people aren’t even aware that they’re being inappropriate because they haven’t learned better. With assistance they can learn. Sometimes the person is going through something difficult and doesn’t know how to express those emotions in a safe manner, and therefore takes it out on the most convenient person. Telling a safe grown-up (at home and at school) about the bully-behavior can get that person the help he/she needs to overcome their own situation.

Witnessing someone being picked on or bullied in anyway is uncomfortable. If you witness bully behavior, work to be a part of the solution. Holding back and letting it happen is being a part of the problem, but helping can be simple.  Stand up for the victim by saying, "That’s not okay,” and ask the victim to come with you. By saying you or an adult want to see them, you remove the victim from the situation. The bully loses his/her power. Then, go to a safe grown up and explain the situation. It's best to tell both a grown-up at home and at school; it makes it more likely for the situation to be looked into and taken care of.

What if it’s you with the bully behavior? Be aware of what sets off your negative emotions. Are you angry? Feeling hurt or alone? Are you upset or sad about something? Just in a bad mood? Are you reacting to something that was done to you earlier in the day? Try to use your words to express what’s really going on. Find a safe grown up and ask for tips how to express yourself in a safe manner. Sometimes we get unintentional responses to something we do or say because we are not clear in our tone or body language. Doing mean things on purpose is different, but whether intentional or not, that behavior always comes back to hurt you. It affects how people treat you and feel about being around you. True friends try their best to make you be your best. Friendship is based on respect and kindness. It’s okay not to feel friendly or even like someone. In that case, just leave them alone; don’t use your feelings as an excuse to pick on them.

As a grown-up? Pay attention and watch for signs. If a child informs you of concerns, look into it. Contact the correct people and get them involved in a solution. Break the cycle of silence and fear.