THE BULLY FREE ZONE

bully free zone

Sometimes I mentally rehearse how I would respond if my family were in danger.  If an intruder broke into my home what would I do?  If we were attacked on the street would I be courageous enough to protect them?  I am not sure what gets me thinking about these things, and many times I try to put them out of my mind.  Today however, I watched the documentary Bully directed by Lee Hirsch, this film has got me stirred up again, but this time it is more disturbing.

In my fantasies of family danger I am powerful, swift to action, and able to put myself in the place of my children when they are in danger.  Bullying is a much different beast.  Those who bully tend to be more covert, they have practiced and honed their skills, and many times they are bullied themselves.  The problem with bullying is how powerless adults seem to be in protecting those who are bullied.

Bullying usually does not occur when adults are around, adults cannot sweep in and meet might with might.  In many cases, as depicted in the film all adults can do is talk with the one who is bullying.  They sit in an office and rationalize about kindness, respect, friendship, and permanent school behavioral records.  It all just seems very weak and vividly demonstrates a universal principle that adults hate to admit.

“ADULTS CANNOT CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF CHILDREN”

            I think we hate to admit it because of how scary it is.  Aside from physical coercion we have absolutely no control over the behavior of children.  I cannot make my son clean his room, do his homework, be kind to the neighbor, or apologize to his brother.  Children tend to behave based on what they perceive will get them the thing that they want.  Many times we adults do not understand the pay off for a child’s behavior and therefore fail to find a way to change it.

            I think one solution to this problem is to stop trying to control something that we cannot.  We cannot control a child’s behavior so let’s give it a rest.  Let’s be real and honest with our kids.  Let’s end the charade we have been perpetrating all these years and tell them the truth.

“SON, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN CONTROL YOUR ACTIONS”

            I believe that when we let go of attempting to control our children they will become better citizens.  Please do not misunderstand me I do not think children should be allowed to do whatever they want, have no rules, and no responsibility.  I believe that adults should set the structure and expectations for behavior so that WHEN the child crosses the line appropriate and logical consequences follow.  Adults have fallen into the trap (myself included) of wanting to control a child’s behavior in order to get a certain outcome.  This outcome based parenting sends the message that adults control the child’s behavior; I want to send the message that kids are in charge of their behavior.  They are able to choose their actions and the consequences that follow are part of their choosing.  When adults control behavior, children can blame the adults for the following consequences both good and bad.  When children control behavior the consequences are theirs, they own them.  These owned consequences are the powerful payoff that reinforces or discourages certain behavior.   This is how children learn that they can make life what they want it to be.  In the long run children that know they are in control of themselves are children that step up to stop bullying.  These type of children will “Be More Than Bystanders” by engaging in the following activities

  • Be Their Friend
  • Tell a Trusted Adult
  • Help Them Get Away
  • Don’t Give Bullying an Audience
  • Set a Good Example

Bullying is a very difficult problem.  Solutions must be long term rather than short term.  All adults must play a role in protecting and empowering children at school and in neighborhoods.  A first line defense is to remember that children are in charge of their own behavior.  We want them to be in charge of their actions because when they are in charge they are actively choosing what they want life to be.

For Further reading on how to empower children to stop bullying visit stopbullying.gov

 Have you or your kids ever been bullied, how did you respond?

Can Tolerance Cause More Bullying?

Tolerance

I took my son to the public pool last week.  We had a wonderful time and learned a lesson to last a lifetime.  He was standing in line at the diving board as I was watching from a few feet away.  I noticed that he was talking with a slightly older boy and it appeared the conversation was becoming quite animated.  I resisted my desire to intervene and waited to see what would happen.  After a few more moments my son turned to me and said, “dad he says that I cannot wear a swim shirt on the diving board.”  In uncharacteristic fashion I quickly shot back my response, “it doesn’t matter what he says, it matters what the lifeguard says!”  Just at that moment a lifeguard walked by and I boldly asked, “Is it ok if he wears a swim shirt on the diving board?”  The lifeguard said, “yes!” and walked on without giving it a second thought.  The boys accepted the lifeguard’s answer and continued practicing their cannon balls.

As I reflected on this very brief interaction I began to wonder what it was about this lifeguard (a teenager) that caused the boys to move on so quickly from their disagreement.  Was it his confidence or age?  Maybe it was his gender or personality?  I don’t think so!  I think they accepted his answer because he was viewed as an expert on this topic.  He knows this pool, he is there everyday, he is in charge of safety, and it is his responsibility to enforce the posted rules.

The boys knew that this person’s opinion was important.  It did not matter what anyone else had to say on the subject.  This guy in the red swim trunks and way too dark tan was the final authority.

I am afraid that the art of discerning whose opinion matters has been stripped away from our school age children.  I wonder if in our rush to teach tolerance and acceptance we have inadvertently made our children targets for loud-mouthed bullies?

The Cambridge online dictionary defines tolerance as “willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree with or disapprove of them.”  It also lists acceptance as a synonym for tolerance.

Please do not get me wrong, I strongly believe in the inherent value of all people.  Each person is wonderfully valuable and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect.  I do suggest however that not all opinions or beliefs are of equal value.  The opinion of the young boy trying to tell my son what he could and could not wear was of very little value.  He was wrong, misguided, and unreliable.  This is not to say that the boy himself was of little value just his opinion.

What does this have to do with bullying?  Well in my experience as a school counselor and therapist I find that those children that are most susceptible to verbal and emotional bullying are those who accept all opinions equally.  Somehow they have learned to accept all opinions and beliefs as truth no matter the source.  Unfortunately, many times this includes all opinions and beliefs that others have about them.  So, It appears that they accept the opinion of the kid who calls them stupid, weak, or ugly as equally valid to the adult who refers to them as kind, intelligent, or strong.  This in my opinion is a horrible mistake and we as parents make an even bigger mistake when we teach our kids that all opinions and beliefs are to be equally accepted.

Simply, it is not true.  My opinion regarding politics for instance is of significantly less value than that of the President of the United States.  It does not mean that I cannot express my opinion loudly and vehemently, but loud and passionate does not make true and accurate.   In the same way a fellow classmates opinion about my child’s level of strength, intelligence, or athletic ability is of much less value than my child’s opinions about himself.

I am regularly asked to referee disagreements about the value of playground opinions.  I have come up with a standard response that I find pretty effective.  When Jimmy runs up to me and says, “Mr. Vander Ley Billy called me a douche bag!” (or some other derogatory name)  Jimmy expects that I will get upset with Billy.  He anticipates consequences and passionate pleas for Billy to be kind and friendly.  I take Jimmy off guard however, when I ask a simple and pointed question.  “Are you a douche bag Jimmy?” “Uh, no” Is the usual response.  “Good, I didn’t think you were, it doesn’t matter what Billy says.”  Off they run to complete their game of girls chase boys (if it hasn’t been banned at their school)

Rather than teaching our children to value all opinions and beliefs equally let’s teach them to discern opinions and beliefs based on sources.  Who are the experts in the field?  Who has put in the time to know this topic?  Who is safe and who is reliable?  If we teach our children to be discerning about truth I think they will come to realize that they are the experts in the field of me.  Their parents and trusted teachers hold reliable information about who they are and what they are good at.  The verbally aggressive playground bully does not know them and is not a trusted source of information.  More importantly this playground bully’s opinion does not create truth regarding their person.  The truth about a child is based in their inherent personal value.  They can sense this value from loving adults who are passionately engaged in the wonder of becoming an expert in the field of them.  Go now you passionate parents and uncover the infinite mystery that is your child!