If you are asking the question of how to stop bullying, the first thing to understand is that bullies are made not born. I’m probably going to shock you by saying they are created by how you parent. Like most people, I hate bullying. I don’t just dislike it, I have an utter distaste for it and I’ll let you in to a little secret why. It’s not just because I feel for the victims from the bottom of my heart, which I do. No, it’s because I was bullied badly as a child myself.
I could go in to all the reasons why, how even now when I approach the town where I went to school, I start to choke up. How I stayed locked in a cold stone washroom for hours because I was too terrified to go back to bed until everyone was asleep. How I was overwhelmed with panic when the phone cut out and the weekly lifeline to my mom was cut off because I had run out of ten pence pieces to shove in the gaping jaws of the pay phone. I could tell you how it happened and why I was singled out, but in the end none of it matters because focusing on what happened to me and victims like me, is not what’s needed.
What makes one person bully another?
We have to focus on the bullies themselves, not by sitting them down in front of some psychoanalyst and trying to prize the ‘why’s’ out of them. Instead we have to ask the bigger question of what makes people bully? What makes someone purposely go out to hurt someone else? To cause pain? To take joy from someone else’s suffering? Above all, we have to stop lying to ourselves that we can fix this by any of the methods currently on the table.
Right now, we focus on the problem of bullying as though if we introduce some class, if we show bullies what it feels like; if they can learn to see another’s point of view, they will stop. We expect with such interventions, that they will suddenly see the light and realize what they’ve done and the horrible impact they’ve had. We think that if we have no tolerance for bullying and declare ‘bully-free areas,’ that bullying will go away and disappear in to the myths of other wayward human behaviours, over which society thinks it has triumphed.
We’re fighting dysfunction with politically correct words
We can do all those things but for any of the bullying to stop we have to get real. To come out and say what causes people to bully, identify it and stop it in it’s tracks. So what does cause it and what qualifies me to say anything? I’m not a psychologist and I have not studied bullying but I have been bullied and when there is a bully in the room, I can see it, often before they even open their mouth.
Bullies are made from the ground up. Yes, there might be a small number that have some psychopathic tendencies but most bullies are made not born. That means how you parent your child not only has ramifications for your child but for everyone else they come in to contact with.
Leadership is one of the most important concepts in parenting to get right
As I’ve said many times before, children need two things to thrive, love and leadership. I use the word leadership, because it encompasses two very important concepts, one being that the authority for what happens in your family has to lie with you and that secondly, by leading your children, you make them feel secure.
So why do children feel secure when they are led and develop serious problems when they are not? Well, because, when you lead you know where you are going. You approach a task with confidence and even more importantly, you show through your actions that you can be relied on. You are your child’s rock. You are what gives them stability and it’s that stability that helps provide the basis for your child’s healthy growth. Add love and cuddles to the leadership and you illuminate the future for them from a safe place. By your leadership, you prevent your child from facing a scary world, one which they are not yet ready to navigate without help.
Angry feelings cannot be repressed so they show up later
Fail in either of those areas and problems start to creep in. Allow them to remain unresolved and the insecurity your child feels when you look to them to run the family, will make so angry inside that those feelings are guaranteed to show up later down the road, no matter how much you love them. It is a trauma and that will manifest itself as bullying and any number of other challenging and attention seeking behaviours. Children who fail to receive either one of these critical inputs, miss one of the fundamental building blocks of life. They may have love but lack leadership or have leadership but lack love. Both are equally devastating.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld in his recent book ‘Hold on to your kids,’ explains that children need the right amount of nurturing and dominance and that too much of one or the other, leads to children who feel it necessary to dominate their peers. While it isn’t possible to love too much, it certainly is possible to nurture too much and I appreciate his clarification. His description of nurturing is what I see as love. Nurturing too much is often expressed in the real world by a parent who wants to be their child’s friend and is therefore deficient in leadership. Parents can also be so smothering, that they fail to allow their child to test their competence without them in tow, but that’s a whole other story. The repercussions of too much dominance is self-evident.
Check out what happened to the rhinos
Mr. Neufeld goes on to explain, the repercussions of a lack of dominance by using what happened at a wildlife reserve in South Africa as an example. The reserve needed to relocate some young African elephants in the 1980’s as they were running out of room. Younger elephants had been chosen over adult males because the adult males were already too large to transport. By the 1990’s, rare white rhinos started showing up dead. They hadn’t just been killed but had been gored and stamped on. Initially it was thought that the cause might be poachers but the tusks remained intact, so that was ruled out. Eventually, it turned out that some of the adolescent males had turned in to bullies who has tossed sticks at, mounted and in some cases, knocked the rhinos over, kneeling on them and crushing them to death. A case of ‘Lord of the flies’ if ever there was one. In 1998, some adult males were introduced to the group who re-established a hierarchy, kept the young males in check and as a result, the killings promptly stopped.
Bullying causes long lasting scars
To add fuel to the fire, a new U.S. study out this week shows that children, regardless of sex, risk long lasting psychological scars as a result of bullying. In my case, tell me something I don’t know. Those scars don’t make me want to hurl myself out of a window nor have they ever, but they remain nevertheless.
We can continue to try and mitigate the effects of bullying or we can deal with the underlying issues. If we really want to know how to stop bullying we know what we have to do. We can have and should have an open dialogue about what creates it ( thank you Mr. Neufeld). We should make what happens as a result of a lack of leadership, front page news and keep it there and of course, you should read my book when it comes out. Apologies for my blatant self-promotion. The bottom line is that we may or may not be able to help today’s bullies and their victims but we can certainly help tomorrows Let’s put our effort in the right place and keep the conversation going. Find out more about my parenting services here.
‘Parents – even in wild – are key to who will pick on peers’ by Kate Hammer. Globe & Mail. November 15th, 2012.
Is this the most powerful anti-bullying message you’ve ever seen.’ Andrew Ryan
The Globe and Mail
February 21st, 2013.