It just sounds bad without even having a definition for it. We know it when we see it and we innately know it is bad behavior. We know that bullies are cowards of the worst degree, but when they are bullying someone they can be frightening.
Webster’s says bullying is “a blustering browbeating person; especially one habitually cruel to others who are weaker; a hired ruffian; to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by using force.
Bullying has sadly become a very real part of our society and it seems to have escalated from hurtful words and fists to gangs and guns. Is bullying a child bumping another on the playground? I think not. Children can not stop being children; they will create their own set of rules among their friends and, well, “kids will be kids”.
When my generation was in school there were certainly the kids who bullied others. There were the school yard fights, the verbal intimidations and the ostracism from the “in-crowd”. But, that usually ended at least by the time you reached home.
So how do we discern between bullying and “kids will be kids”?
Today, the verbal and emotional abuse goes to cyber-bullying and kids have difficulty escaping it. Their cell phones are a constant reminder of the taunts, mean comments and, in some cases, suggestions they kill themselves.
This week, in two different instances, “children” have walked into a school and taken lives with all too real guns. In the last several months at least three children have committed suicide because they could not withstand the verbal attacks on social media from their “peers”.
So, what can parents do?
- Start with a conversation. Explain to your children that as their parents you have an interest in their well being and in what they are doing on-line.
- Tell your kids about bullying. Explain about bullies and mean spirited people who are not happy unless they are making others’ lives miserable.
- Be direct. Be straight with your children. Part of your job is to try and protect them from unnecessary abuse from anyone.
- Treat the web like the neighborhood and get details about where your kids go, what sites they frequent, and tell them you intend to monitor the websites if you perceive a problem.
- Demand passwords to their devices and sites. Make it clear you have no intention of using them unless you recognize a problem they are not telling you about.
- Ask to friend or follow your kids on the sites. Do not become an intrusive parent. Don’t participate – be a spectator.
- Assure your kids they have nothing to fear in the way of retribution from you as long as they are honest and straight with you. You have no intention of seizing cell phones or computers.
Parents need to read about social networks and educate themselves about what they offer in terms of contact and connection. Learn enough about the various sites your children frequent so you can have a meaningful conversation about the rules, but also consequences your children should consider:
- How should passwords be chosen and what are the best methods for keeping them secure?
- Suggest to your kids that they “pause before they post”. Once they hit enter, it is usually there forever and often things said emotionally will be regretted.
- Do they really want pictures to be shared with the world? Impress upon them that only “G” rated are acceptable.
- What pictures should be shared? Is a picture of your house a good idea or should that be one of the boundaries?
- What about video?
- How should they choose “friends” and “followers” to their sites?
- What information should be given out publicly and what information should be kept confidential.
- Should vacations not be discussed on-line until after the family returns home in order to prevent against burglaries?
- Above all? Treat others on-line with the same respect, compassion and courtesy as you would want to be treated. If you are posting something about someone else, ask yourself whether you would want the same posted about you to the whole world, forever.
Talk honestly with your kids about bullying in general and the destructive nature of it. There is no person who does not have something about them that could be used to pick on them or persecute them. No one is immune to a bully and encourage them to become people who simply will not accept bullying of any kind. Impress in your kids the positives of kindness and respect over bully behavior.
Visit the sites your children go to and check them out carefully. Don’t miss any of the obvious ones, including:
When you have done all of this?
Cross your fingers; be attentive; and hope for the best.