All week, I have been talking to colleagues and friends about bullying. Bullying is not a new concern, but it is getting more and more visibility in our society, a kind of “in everyone’s face” phenomenon. Maybe because too quickly, too often, we hear of an adolescent who has committed suicide after being the brunt of a vicious cyberspace campaign orchestrated by another student, who characteristically is insecure and aggressive.
Perhaps as parents, many of us are too passive, permissive, and civil. My 23-year-old son reminded me recently that I stopped him from being bullied in elementary school because I contacted the parent of the other child and directed the parent to “fix it.” I don’t remember this well, but I was astonished that he recalled the details. I guess I showed my fangs as a mother, akin to a protective lioness with a cub. I followed my instinct, but I also knew what was happening to my son. I was paying attention. I was fearless. I was determined. I simply would not tolerate anyone bullying my child.
Societal messages powerfully perpetuate beliefs that if you are smart, big, beautiful, or rich, you are entitled to dominate others. I believe parents are responsible for teaching moral reasoning to their children, and mostly by demonstration. (For example, they should not bully their spouses or children.) But even with good intent, this is hard work because we really cannot allow our children to have secret, dualistic lives. It is perfectly normal for youth, as they get older, to become more invested in their peers, pushing off from their family. However, when the peer group attempts to hijack a child and insists on family separation and secrets as the price of acceptance, that’s when the fangs should come out. Children benefit when they are taught not to feel superior to others because of differences, and that it is wrong to bully others. It also is not okay to allow others to bully you, and I think it is our job as parents to ensure that our children understand that. I learned as a child that bullies wilt when there is one-on-one confrontation and no peer support in the audience.
Too many parents do not know what is happening to their children, and now, with the internet, too many children have no safe place at all. This creates desperation. I had two major
rules for myself as I raised my children to adulthood: I will determine the level of privacy my children have, which was never a lot when they were minors. And no matter how tough the situation, I will ask them about it and work through it with them, because that is the only path to a positive solution. I truly wanted to know how each day went. Kids have parents because they need them, and as the parent, I have the full responsibility for keeping my child safe at all times, physically and psychologically. When anyone forgets that, my fangs come out!