October is National Bullying Prevention month. We have all heard the phrase bullying, but what does it actually mean? Bullying is defined as unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.
Bullying is unfortunately a reality for far too many in our communities both young and old. Much like any other form of violence, bullying is not isolated to any particular age group, gender or demography. Just about everyone of us can look back in our lives and recall a time where either we were personally bullied or witnessed one of our friends or schoolmates being bullied. It’s hard to believe that with all of the advancements and awareness, this type of behavior still exists, but it does and with the advent of social media, it had actually gotten much worse. This is because unlike in the past, the bully not only impacts your life on the playground or classroom; they now are able to follow you into your personal life due to the constant presence of social media.
There is good news in that we have learned a great deal about what creates these bullies and how to neutralize their ability to isolate and intimidate. The key is for those in authority to respond to reports of bullying immediately to show without question that bullying will not be acceptable. That message needs to follow to our homes with the messages we send our children not only by what we say but by our own actions in how we treat fellow adults. Bullying is without question a learned behavior. It is learned on the playground, in the classroom and follows through to the workplace and social interactions as adults. We need to send a strong message to our own children, a message of empathy and compassion not of ridicule and rumor.
Who are at risk of bullying the most? Typically those who are bullied have one or more of the following risks:
- Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
- Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
- Are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
- Are less popular than others and have few friends
- Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention
However, even if a child has these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that they will be bullied. The important lesson is that we as adults set the tone for how the next generation will interact with each other. Chances are if we show acceptance of others, our children will show acceptance of others. If we engage in demeaning others or spreading rumors, our children will follow suit. So often we as adults underestimate the influence, we have not only on our own children but even those who don’t know us but witness our behavior.
While school or workplace policies are an important component, the only way to truly decrease bullying is by denying the bully their victim. We do this by raising strong, confident, resilient children, and speaking out and supporting those who find themselves on the receiving end of this type of behavior. We are all teachers in life lessons and we teach by our actions. Let’s all be aware of what we teach.