It's that time of year again! No, not the holidays...at least not yet (though retailers might already be trying to convince you otherwise!). It's back to school time and that means a fair amount of prep work ensuring that your kids are on track for a smooth transition back into the swing of the academic year. That preparation certainly includes getting all the "stuff" necessary to position them well for the classroom, but there's also a less tangible element of prep that warrants some conversation by both you and your child. The topic is bullying.
The statistics outlining the prevalence and frequency of bullying in our schools and communities are disturbing. The constant stream of news coverage about individuals and families devastated by bullying can make the issue seem overwhelming and out of control. But bullying isn't just about punches thrown and threats made, it's about the ways our children fundamentally treat each other - little actions that can have large consequences. Little actions that we can all work to change.
Nearly two years ago, we partnered with The Jed Foundation's Love is Louder movement to educate and empower the House Party community as to how you and your family can help prevent bullying and create more inclusive communities - all while having a bit of House Party fun with it, of course! Working with Love is Louder's Courtney Knowles and The Jed Foundation's John MacPhee, we outlined some basic, but extremely helpful practices we can all make as a focus this school year and beyond...
It's more than sticks and stones
Bullying isn't just about violence. The nature of bullying is much more expansive. It can also be verbal and emotional. It can happen face-to-face, through rumors and gossip, and even online. Any of our words and actions can contribute to making someone feel mistreated, not accepted or not good enough. In other words, bullied. That means everyone can make changes and take action to make our schools and communities more inclusive and supportive places for all children.
It doesn't make anyone feel better
It's true that some people may be cruel to others as a way of making themselves feel superior. However, there's no good research that shows inflicting power over others actually makes you feel any better. However, there are reams of research that show doing good and being kind can actually make you feel better and decrease depression or anxiety. So, when we help those in our family use their actions to help instead of hurt, we aren't simply eliminating possible victims, we're improving their emotional health.
It isn't always about what's happening to us
Here's the truth - how bullying or mistreatment affects an individual has as much to do with what's going on inside their head as what's going on around them. If we perceive ourselves as outsiders and feel insecure, any comment or action that validates those feelings is going to have a major impact on our psyches and self-esteem. A mistake we often make is assuming that if we can stop mean behaviors, we can end the pain children feel. Of equal importance, though is the need for us (whether family, friends or acquaintances) to encourage the individual to embrace their unique strengths, be more resilient in the face of adversity and focus on the positive supportive voices in their lives instead of the negative ones. So, while we're working to eliminate the bad happening around us, we can also "turn up" the positive influences within ourselves.
It's not just a kid thing
You probably don't have to think for too long to pinpoint mistreatment or bullying behaviors that happen in your workplace, neighborhood or community. Putting other people down, spreading rumors and letting our anger get the best of us are all things that happen across age ranges and demographics. But, it doesn't have to. One way we can work to prevent bullying in our children's world is to eliminate it in our own adult arena.
Talk about it
Talk about this issue with your children. The best way to start the discussion might be to ask him or her to talk about a time someone made them feel bad with their words or actions. Perhaps your whole family can take an inventory together of things you can do to prevent others from feeling mistreated and helping others in your school or community feel more accepted and supported. It's better to have a positive conversation about how we can use our actions instead of just scolding for hurtful behaviors after-the-fact. Remember, we don't always understand that we have the power to hurt people seriously. Sometimes it takes remembering how words have caused us pain to think more carefully about how our words impact others.
We look forward to these conversations, parent-to-parent and child-to-parent, making our schools and community more supportive and inclusive. Download your Love is Louder than Bullying Parent's Guide for more information on how to talk to your kids and other parents to make a lasting difference.
Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture