Every day I read another tragic news story about a child who has lost their life to suicide as a result of bullying. Pointless, mindless cruelty that the victim can do nothing about. What child is strong enough to stand up to big groups of children ganging up to make them feel worthless?
As an adult I know what it feels like when you don’t fit in. When you walk into a room and nobody speaks to you or there are giggles and cruel comments about the way you look. It’s heartbreaking. I’m a big girl, I deal with it. Ride it out, walk away or just face up to them.
But what about a child who experiences this every day, or a teen who has been made to feel like an outcast for years? They haven’t developed a thick skin, become hardened to the harsh words or learnt coping mechanisms to get them through it.
And that’s where parents come in. I don’t mean parents of the victims, but parents of the bullies.
Could my child be a bully?
The thing that concerns me most about the bullying epidemic we’re facing is that parents are often to blame. We are responsible for teaching our children how to behave. We do what we can to teach them right from wrong. And we think we’re doing a good job because our children are little angels.
We accept that they might be a bit naughty. The odd missed please and thank you, occasional lapses of concentration in class. But they’d never be unkind to another child because we’ve taught them better than that.
The apple of our eye is gentle, loving and kind so they’d never upset another child. Our little angel has been bullied themselves so there’s no way they’d do that to somebody else. We don’t need to check their social media to make sure they’re not being unkind to anyone because they’d never do it.
But we’re wrong. All of us. Bullying doesn’t come naturally to a child. They’re not born with a propensity to be unkind. Something happens along the way. They want to fit in, they don’t want to be bullied themselves and so they go along with it. Your kind, gentle child who would never intentionally upset someone has become a bully. And you’re so busy burying your head in the sand that you don’t even realise.
What can I do?
I’ve read up on this because it has been playing on my mind. I see the way my children speak to each other. Normal sibling banter, repeating things they’ve heard at nursery or school.
You’re not my best friend anymore.
I don’t like you.
You smell of poo.
I know, it’s just siblings being siblings. But what if they’re saying these things to somebody at school? Stomp Out Bullying tell us that the first thing to do is to admit there’s a problem, then you can start to address it. But I think it starts before that.
I think the first step to eliminating bullying comes with all of us being open to the fact that our child could be the perpetrator. At any time. Not just when they’ve been in a fight or someone has complained.
Every time my daughter mentions that she’s fallen out with someone or moved to a new friendship group, I worry that she’s being bullied. I should be just as worried about whether she’s the one doing the bullying.
Why it matters
When I was at school there was a girl who nobody liked. She hadn’t done anything wrong and yet for years she was treated like an outsider. I don’t ever remember her having any real friends.
But we all wanted to fit in so none of us were willing to go against the grain and befriend her. Even now I think about her sometimes. I wonder how she’s doing and whether she’s okay. I wonder whether years of being shunned by her childhood peers effected her as an adult.
Every time I think of her, I wish I’d been a stronger person. I wish I’d had the confidence to be the one that stood up to everyone else and sat next to her in class. I was never actively unkind to her but I didn’t speak up, so I was just as bad.
Years later, I was working in a job that saw me speaking to school children after a classmate had hung himself. He’d been bullied, an outcast who didn’t have any friends. Each child I spoke to told me that when they heard what happened, they knew it would be him. They all knew and still stood by and let it happen. Just like I had all those years before.
And that’s why it matters. My child could be a bully and so could yours. They might not be the ringleader but that doesn’t make it okay. You might think that empowering them to stick up for someone who is struggling will put them at risk of becoming a victim. But if you don’t, your children could end up living with years of guilt. The guilt of knowing that they stood by and let somebody suffer, let somebody die.
When all they needed was a friend.