Replace Bullying to Erase Bullying
For many of us, our memories of childhood are littered with instances of kids being unkind. I, for one, recall swinging across the monkey bars in preschool and breaking my arm because a villain in pigtails refused to make room for me on the jungle gym platform. While the little girl was cruel in that particular situation, I wasn’t a victim of bullying, which can be far more damaging.
Today, “bullying” is often used as a catch-all term to describe unkind actions. True bullying, however, is more than an isolated incident of a child being mean. It’s aggressive behavior intended to hurt or harm someone – and here’s the differentiator – that is repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power. Teaching kids empathy is imperative, particularly for positive outcomes from social situations where power struggles naturally ensue.
Baby boomers, Generation X’ers and even “Senior” Millennials can attest to the fact that “bullying” wasn’t a word often used before the turn of the century. According to the scholarly article, “Four Decades of Research on Bullying,” public concern about school bullying increased dramatically in the late 1990s, largely due to the tragic deaths of our youth by suicide and murder, with the Columbine massacre in 1998 being an egregious example. I would also argue that the commercialization of the internet around this time facilitated an increase in bullying, with keyboards and screens giving kids shields to hide behind when launching their attacks.
This new world that we’re living in requires not only reactive, but proactive measures to fight bullying.
Educational materials on bullying often focus either on encouraging bystanders to stand up for other kids being targeted or on giving bullying victims hope. Both are key messages, but there’s an overlooked part of the equation that can make a big impact on outcomes.
Kids who are revered because they’re athletic, smart, attractive, talented, or just confident typically have the choice to use their social standing to be leaders or to abuse their positions of power and be jerks. The same goes for superheroes, who choose whether to use their superpowers for good or evil. Highlighting kids, community leaders, professional athletes and other everyday heroes who choose to do the right thing, the kind thing, despite being able to abuse their power through bullying, is an impactful way to impress the value of kindness upon young minds.
Parents and educators need to team up and show kids that earning respect from peers is better than creating fear among them. We need to give children confidence that exuding empathy and kindness will not only make those around them feel happier, but they’ll feel happier, too. In fact, treating others well will make them liked and admired, while winning friends. Driving home this important life lesson at an early age takes oxygen away from bullying by promoting the positive alternative.
In my book It’s Good to Be Kind, children learn that they can’t lift themselves up by putting others down, and kindness, courage and respect are what will make them shine socially. It reminds kids to STOP and THINK whether their choices will HELP or HURT. The story of Leonard the Lion, who is King of the Jungle (the animal kingdom equivalent of a Big Man on Campus), assists kids with making connections to their own lives, practicing social skills and learning strategies needed to be a positive force in their communities. Young readers gather that they can reinforce their self-worth on a daily basis by being BETTER THAN THAT™, better than bad choices including bullying.
While kids being mean to one another is behavior that needs to be addressed, “bullying” is a more deeply rooted pattern. To effectively combat it, children’s worldviews must be shaped from an early age, before the vulnerable preteen and teen years when the often-tragic results from this abuse of social power are most commonly seen.
Prevention can stop bullying before it starts. Let’s work together to ensure that our little ones’ memories of childhood aren’t littered with instances of kids being unkind, but instead are brightened with kindness.
Lauren DuBois Rosemond is the author of It’s Good to Be Kin
gd, a book for young kids that tells the story of Leonard the Lion who learns the value of using his power and status to make a positive impact on those around him.