I heard this story of a mother telling her son to wait for her at the corner. Instantly, the son runs past the corner. The mother was frazzled. When she caught up to the boy she was angry that he didn’t follow her instructions. She asked her young son, “Why didn’t you wait for me at the corner?!” The boy, in perfect innocence, says, “Mom what is a corner?”
The kid wasn’t trying to disobey, he just didn’t understand the words his mom was using. We say a lot of thing to each other and to kids, but do they really understand what we are saying?
Just like bullying; we hear that word a lot in a world of the faceless social media. It’s easy to hurl insults and not see or think of the hurt we are inflicting. Words just typed can be very easy to misunderstand as they have no inflection, no body language and no facial expressions to clarify their meaning. Words in of themselves yield immense power but we are not always able to control the direction.
What does the word bullying mean?
To single out someone.
To make fun of them with words or physically harm them.
Purposely verbally or in writing attack someone.
Bullying isolates and creates fear.
Children often don’t know what the word “bullying” means. Yet they probably hear it everyday at school. When I have asked young children if they have been bullied they say ‘yes’. I get down, look them in the eye and ask them what happened and I hear stories like ‘a kid butted in line in front of me’ or ‘they didn’t play with me’. Do we have a definition problem here? I have also heard stories that fit my definition of what bullying, kids being made fun of for something that is different about them. I believe that when we choose to see our differences as a strength then we are more confident and can thwart the would be bully. Bullies are really just insecure and are seeking to put others down to feel more powerful, popular, liked and above all to not be a target themselves. As children are experimenting with cause and reaction, developing their sense of who they are bullying can happen and if not discussed can lead to even more. Like not being played with one day to not being played with at all or physical attacks. The bully will attack when they feel they can get away with it. The confident child isn’t as easy a target.. that is if they are not different.
Studies show that when rapists were interviewed and asked what makes a woman a target the results were startling. They talked about a woman who was alone, perhaps already exhibiting fear or discomfort or maybe distracted. The least likely ones they would attack were women who would look them in the eye when she passed. women who seemed confident. This really struck me. What makes us a target as an adult could also be what contributes to making us targets when we are young. The problem being, children haven’t had the years to work on their confidence. Confidence pops up as a deterrent to both adult attacks and childhood ones too.
Who among us doesn’t have holes in their confidence? Places, situations, people that make us feel vulnerable—we all have those. If you say you don’t, be real. Or I guess you live too much in your comfort zone. A dose of confidence is needed for young or the more mature when we face the playgrounds of our lives.
My son is a confident child, perhaps too much, which I have encouraged. I think my children are pretty stinking fabulous. I don’t think they are better than your child, I just think that my kids are amazing. I love being their mom and I love their personalities. Though I do hate whining. But when my kids are not whining then I couldn’t be a bigger fan. Last year my thoughtful, fun, confident, handsome, smart son started coming home with reports of a kid he was having misunderstandings with. Soon it was clear that my son was being targeted. I couldn’t figure it out. I tried coaching him on ways to deal with it. Why was my son being teased? One of the boys had even been over to play and was a nice kid with good parents, teaching him right. The ring leader was from a home that had problems. I talked to my son about what this boys home must be like so he could be understanding. We talked about what friendship means and we talked about compassion. I volunteer weekly in my kid’s class and I could see that the one boy didn’t have, as I put it, “control of himself”. I saw my son being kind, even playing well with these boys, but then at least three times a week the efforts seemed of naught and their would be incidents. I talked to the teacher but she had her hands full with other in classroom situations.
When it turned physical and my son was being pushed to the ground and kicked I talked to the other one of the moms. The one child was moving, much to my relief, but still I wonder how that boy is managing with all the upheaval in his life. The other boy, with his mother looking on, I lectured him firmly. He was encouraged strongly to apologize, his mother was mortified, as I am sure I would be if the situation was reversed. My son, in one of my proudest moments as a parent, looked thoughtfully at the other boy and said “I forgive you.” Later as the boys were back in class and the mother and I walked to our cars we were doing what women do, verbally processing the events. She said to me that her son really couldn’t be fully blamed as my son did funny things with his body.
Okay, this is when I was dumbfounded. It seemed to me that she was trying to justify her son’s actions because my son was different! That I was almost blinded to what was causing my son to get bullied.
I wasn’t blinded and I don’t have a problem with what makes him “different”. My son has Tourettes. Tourettes is not spontaneously swearing as Hollywood has chosen to focus on. it is a tick disorder with 3 or more verbal and/or physical ticks. This mother’s comment shocked me deeply coming from someone that seemed so sane.
So I ask, do we as a society think it is okay to hurt, belittle or bully someone simply because they are different? We are all different. Every single one of us is not the same. Why do we strive for sameness? Why not embrace what makes us unique? It goes back to being insecure, we want others to validate us because as a society we have a hole in us. (I even have a whole book coming out on this topic). The bottom line is that after a certain age it is not others responsibility to make us like ourselves. As a mom, it is my job to guide my children into being amazing people that give back more than take. I teach my children to feel good about what makes them different. Noticing differences are not the problem, what we do with that information is. I think that we all have a super power—mine is I can talk a lot and really well. I also have ADD and as a young girl I had to learn how to focus my super power. People close to me were not always kind. My son has already in his short life experienced that others may not always be kind. That is part of being a superhero you, get forces against you. My son has a super power too, he has an active mind, he is inquisitive, orderly and an active body too. He has a lot to do and just like his Dad, watch out world because Nathaniel will take on the challenges and face them with character, strength and determination!
Forces combine against the hero in any story. Would it not be better to teach our children that what makes them different is a superpower in development than something to be hid behind a wall of sameness?
Evidently I am not the only parent that thinks Tourettes is a superpower. Local author, Richard Paul Evans, has written a book in honor of his son’s Tourettes. Michael Vey, the main character, has superpowers. I am excited to go read this with my own super hero.
Bullying is not going to be removed by slogans and logos, it will be removed when we as a people accept ourselves first for what makes us different and when we really like ourselves we wont have a need to hurt, belittle or hit others. Bullies, regardless of their age, are just people who don’t like themselves. That is what I tell kids when I do school assemblies. We need to teach our children not to bully themselves but also to see themselves as the superheroes of their own life, responsible for how they yield their own power. I think most bullies don’t realize the hurt they really are causing. That they rationalize it as the other person is different, or they asked for it. Instead we should be teaching our children that they are powerful and that they can impact others. That they are responsible for themselves. That being an adult means there is no one to blame for their actions or thoughts but themselves. Teaching them that differences are strengths to learn from and about discovering what makes us unique guides us to seeing what our gifts will be in life.
Why do we label, shame and categorize people?
Because we do it to ourselves, stop being a bully to you—after all you are a superhero too.