A nine-year-old boy recently told me about some gruesome facts he'd learned from school of what had happened to some kids his age who'd been bullied: one hurt himself and one "ended up dead." The conversation was very candid and very organic, but at first I was taken aback. I wasn't sure how to respond, partly because I didn't like that such a young person knew such horrible things. Eventually, I said something about the serious consequences of bullying and the conversation turned to something else. I couldn't forget it, though. For some time, I've wanted to write about bullying and it's effect on me as a person and as a mother, but I've been too afraid, or nervous, and unsure of exactly what to say. Thanks to this boy, I've realized that if a little 9-year-old can talk about, why the heck can't I?
According to StopABully.com, a study on bullying was conducted by the University of British Columbia in 1999 based on 490 students (half male, half female) in grades 8-10. This study showed that 64% of kids had been bullied at school, 12% were bullied regularly (once or more a week), 13% bullied others regularly (once or more a week), and 40% tried to intervene. The question I ask myself, and I ask you, is what would I do if my child was being bullied? What would I do if my child was the bully?
My children are age 5 and under and we've experienced bullying already, some at school and some not. Some has been with friends and family, and some not. It seems like it would be cut and dry when it comes to addressing it, but it's not. For some reason, I tend to think that I should teach my kids to be tough, to "shrug it off", that I shouldn't offend the mother by saying something isn't acceptable, and yet these things don't even make sense. I should be the one offended that my friend has let his/her child hurt mine, not him/her because I've said something about it. Kids should never have to "take" someone's aggression, nor should they just be expected to "shrug it off." There is a line, and the key is to address it.
I have recognised that in trying to teach them that some things just aren't a big deal, I've totally confused them, and myself, about what IS a big deal. I've seen many, many kids being bullied and parents of the bullied, including myself, trying to address it, but totally unsure what to do about it. But, I now see that the answer is so very clear: When it comes to bullying, we don't take it. We make a stand. If I don't, what kind of message am I sending my kids?
Children need to learn and be taught to stand up straight, use loud firm voices, and tell people to stop. And if the aggressor doesn't respond, find an adult. Children must learn to stand up for themselves, but there are times when it's just too much for a child and then it becomes the parents' job to intervene. And parents, I fully believe that stepping in and demanding responsibility and action from the other parents, teachers etc is required. Address the situation because if you don't, it could grow into something with dire consequences.
And the same goes for parents of the bullies. If your child is a bully, address the situation. Sometimes parents aren't even aware, but if it is brought to your attention, do something about it. If my child was a bully, I would be so incredibly embarrassed and disappointed, but I sincerely hope I would use that embarassment as motivation to fix the problem instead of excuse it. I actually have no idea exactly what I would do. I've even talked to my husband about what we do, hypothetically, and we both don't have an answer. I do know that either way, bullied or bully, I am or would take a stand. It is never okay to be bullied, to bully someone else, or to sit back and watch it happen without stepping in. No one ever deserves to be treated cruelly.
For more information on bullying in Canada, visit The Canadian Safe School Network.