Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bullies Grow Up

I thanked a PR rep for the opportunity to review a book on bullying, but I declined, seeing as that's not really an issue for either of my girls right now.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized it's an issue for me. And many adults I know.

From the drivers that wouldn't dream of going around the block and think it's better to hold up traffic so they can make their turn to the selfish, noisy "bad apples" that seem to work so hard at ruining your day, some people are just not that easy to be around.

I've heard folks lament plenty about how we parents are messing up our kids and the problems they'll have because of it, but I haven't heard that about what I do think is a very real problem, and that's any policy that includes the words "no tolerance."

Like our war on drugs, I don't think we're getting anywhere on this war on bullies.

Suspending them or removing them from the responsibility of learning to get along in a group is not doing any of us any favors.

To be clear, if someone has physically hurt another, there should absolutely be consequences. But we can't lose sight of the fact that we all have to live with each other eventually.

Ten year olds, fourteen year olds, and even twenty year olds don't have all the resources and tools necessary to cope. Our brains do not stop maturing until we're at least 25, and even then, we still have a lot to learn.

We did have a situation that got out of hand once, and after the school completely fouled it up, I went to our favorite after-school program for help. (Just so you know, it wasn't my child that was the bully, but she was the one who felt ostracized after the school counselor's solution was to tell everyone involved to stay away from each other.)

The after-school director put together a session for all the pre-teen females with therapists from our community program.

The girls separated into groups and talked about what they were each going through. From what I was told about the session, you couldn't really tell the Mean Girls from the Victims in these groups. They were all expressing similar needs: to be heard, to be valued, to be part of the group, and also cherished for their individuality.

Prior to the session, they just all expressed it differently. And, of course, not in a very healthy manner.

After the session, my daughter got sincere apologies from all involved. While they didn't all become best friends after it was over, they knew enough about their similarities to at least give a friendly nod and not give each other a hard time after that.

The next school year went much better for all involved.

There was one girl who wasn't involved in all of this. 2 years later, my child reached out to her to try and at least create a "friendly acquaintance" type of relationship, but the girl would have none of it. My daughter let it go, and wasn't angry or upset. Just a little sad that the girl was still holding onto so many terrible emotions. "Oh, well," she said. "I tried."

I think most bullies don't believe that anyone's genuinely on their side. They need to be heard and understood by someone. My hope is that it's by at least one of their parents, but if not, it's up to the other adults in their life to give that to them.

Because those bullies will grow up. And if we don't want them to become criminals, over-aggressive drivers or otherwise not equipped to work and play well with others, we should be teaching them how to get along in our community.


Anonymous said...

I do believe we have to address the issues that cause children to be bullies. However, your statement of how the school "completely fouled it up" is judgmental and quite one-sided. The schools are being required to teach more, deal with more problems, fix all the ills of the world in a way that parents are not expected to. All of these expectations are in the face of increasing call by the public for decreased funding for schools, decreased respect for teachers, increased pressure to evaluate a teacher's every breath. I'm sure your school did not only what it could AFFORD to do (considering the fact that this situation was probably one of hundreds being dealt with at that time by a minimum of staff) but also what it felt was legally SAFE to do. In a society in which teachers/school staff are routinely brought to court over a hug given to a grieving child or a pat on the back for a job well done, schools are in a no win situation. I would suggest that you become a counselor in a public school yourself. Then you can become part of the solution rather than merely writing about it. jmo

BigLittleWolf said...

You touch on so many issues, April. Cooperation (learning to get along in a group), awareness of others (somewhere on the far end of the spectrum between altruism and narcissism), bullies who grow up and learn nothing about their misbehavior in the process, and those who grow up and somehow along the way change.

I wonder what it takes to change more of these hurt and defensive children and adolescents, so they might become more "whole" and less selfish adults.

April said...

Anonymous: I have responded to your comment in a post: http://formerlyaprildawn.blogspot.com/2012/08/bullies-part-2.html