I picked the picture above, because bullying does begin young. More about that in a few minutes, but first the story that started me on this post: a sixty-eight year old bus monitor was bullied verbally to tears by a group of four middle school kids. If you haven’t heard, seen or read about this here’s the Fox News story: Police: Bullied bus monitor won’t seek criminal charges against students | Fox News.
Glad there is an outpouring of anger about these teens. Glad someone started a fund for her. Sorry to hear some are sending death threats to the kids involved. My feeling is the public shaming for this behavior is sufficient punishment. As usual, however, parents are taking much of the blame.
Before I became a foster parent, I was on the side of the blamers. It took becoming a parent to see the errors of my therapist training and my own behavior. Not to excuse myself, but most who do not carry 24/7 responsibility for a child, respond to unacceptable behavior in children as failed parenting. This includes professionals.
Why? If you have not parented, you know only the pain children know and every child knows what it means to be hurt by those parenting. Even the kindest, gentlest parents inflict pain. As simple an act as not praising a well praised child hurts.
Another reason parents are easy targets: most of us also know we are not perfect. When our conscience hurts, finding someone to blame eases our pain. Jerome Kagan, Harvard human development researcher and expert, believes we calm uncertainty about our goodness by blaming others—not all the time as I discussed the Blaming Dance in an EFTI Blog post. It is a dance with some of us holding more tightly to guilt than blame. Kagan says that it is likely to cause depression.
Finally, parents don’t always do the right thing. In an unfair twist of our memories, the rarer a painful event, the more likely it gets filed away in our long term memories. My father was a gentle man, but I remember with great pain the few times he was angry enough with me to raise his voice. Not yell, just raise his voice and add those dreaded words, “I am disappointed.”
REALITY CHECK: As Kagan notes, while parents start kids off, many other factors make us who we are. Here are only a few of the things he considers important:
- The mix of both parents’ genes
- Birth order
- Identifying or de-identifying with the powerful people in your life
- Your various competencies or talents and how they meet what their world wants of its citizens
- Who you think it is important to please
- The acted on values of your community
- Your personal experiences
- The world events that were part of your growing up and later life
- The beliefs you create for all of the above
- Luck or what Kagan calls chance
In the scenario in the news at the moment, the bullying probably began with someone the other kids wanted to please. One of the known facts about teens, and particularly young teens, is that more than parents or teachers or any other adult, the kids of today want to please their peers. This explains why many otherwise good kids get seduced into doing bad things.
Howard Polsky, the researcher and author of the book Cottage Six describes how smart kids can rule adults by getting less smart or secure kids to do the leader’s dirty work. He calls such smart kids captains and those who do the dirty work lieutenants. Often the captain can look like a good guy. I have a great deal of respect for Polsky’s book and advice—he was a colleague at Columbia University helped stabilize our foster home.
Ageism also played a part in the bullying of the bus monitor. Ageism is a problem in the USA. At best, those of us who are past sixty become invisible. At worse we are blamed for all current ills. Moreover, particularly if female, we are the easiest to bully. Bullies generally do not mess with anyone they think can out-power them.
Finally, I think in trying to protect our children’s self esteem, we have seriously over-looked something. That something? Life in the real world. You best survive that world by respecting others. Sadly, too many of today’s children believe the world centers on them. Others are to be ignored at best and at worse used for the child’s pleasure. That was what the bullying of the bus monitor was about—kids feeling powerful because they could push an adult to the point of tears.
A clarifying note: mostly the problem of overly self-centered children is one of middle class Westernized children, parents who have time and resources to worry about protecting a child’s self esteem. Poor children and children in third world countries, or countries ruled by dictators, often learn different lessons. Often the poor are kinder and more giving than the well-off, providing they have not been beaten, abused, or starved into submission.
WHAT CAN A PARENT DO?
Another bullying story is making the rounds. This is about a teacher who had a six-year-old deemed the class bully and then slapped by all the other kids in the class. Click here for that story. Use both stories as teachable moments by having a family discussion about bullying.
- Start the discussion with the bullying of the bus matron. What are your kids ideas about why it happened?
- Add to their mix of ideas, your own ideas.
- Make certain the fact that the media sends out messages that too many people buy, but that are destructive and have created a bullying mentality in many places, not just on school buses.
- Ask them if they can think of messages that hurt people and support bullying.
- Make sure having to look a certain way, have certain talents, or own certain things are in the mix if your kids don’t put them out there. Also point out negative messages about adults.
- Then turn to the story of the six year old being slapped and ask their opinion of that.
- Ask what might have been a better way to handle that bully.
- Re-emphasize that both stories have made you wonder if you have been making clear that the good life involves getting along with others without bullying or being mean.
- Ask your kids what messages they hear from you that might make them think bullying is okay.
- Apologize for any ways you have promoted bullying.
- Institute a a family monthly “Give to Others” event. Be sure to include your kids’ ideas in the mix.
Here is a good quote to end the discussion: “Human beings are created to be loved. Things are created to be used. Problems start whenever the opposite occurs.”
I found the quote in a cryptogram puzzle and do not know who wrote it, but it is a wise one.
Share this post if you think it will aid another. The kindness will circle back to strengthen you even if the person rejects your effort to aid. Sometimes it takes a while for advice to sink in; sometimes others have to add their voice. Life is a journey and we are all on different parts of the path.
Stay strong, I work at it all the time.
Images found on ehow.com, Fox News, and NYork Daily News.