Recently, my 17-year-old niece came to me requesting for help in a paper she was doing on cyberbullying. Her first draft wasn’t quite Nobel prize material, so as I guided her along the thought process of analyzing this hot topic, it made me wonder if she had been a victim of bullying herself, so I asked.
She replied, “A bit of name calling here and there, in primary and secondary school. In kindergarten there was a boy who would draw on my hand. Super-annoying.”
I said to her, “Aiyoh, your kindergarten one was because the boy liked you lah!”
Her response worried me though. If she wasn’t able to differentiate between bullying and boys trying to get her attention, how would she be able to know if she was even a victim or not? Or if she was a bully herself?
At 17 years old, though, and in a good learning environment where she doesn’t have to think about the threat of bullying except in her class work, does she need to know any more?
Many of us would have gone through our childhood experiencing either side — or even both sides — of the fence, and being parents today, it is important for us to teach our children exactly what bullying is. For those of us that haven’t experienced bullying in either administration or receipt, it’s all the more important you read this to the end, because there’s some things we really need to teach our kids, for their own protection, and for protection against themselves.
Bullying: What You’re Contending With
By their very essence, bullies are a contradictory lot; they feed on the fear of their victims, but at the same time, their actions are dictated by the fear of being found out. At first thought, bullies would be easy to rat out and discipline; it’s why parents and teachers always advocate to their charges, “You must tell us if you are being bullied.” But of course, it’s so much more complicated than that. Overcoming the fear of peer scrutiny, regardless of whether that peer is a bully or part of a child’s social construct, is not something you should expect the child to tackle with gusto.
Cyberbullying, then, takes this already hard-to-tackle problem to a higher level. The Internet grants bullies the gift of anonymity (though if you know your way around, that protection is quite easily broken), and a potentially larger audience.
Preventing the Victimisation
In her first draft, my niece used the Xiaxue vs. Temasek Review incident as an example. For her purposes, this example would have been a double-edged sword; those who know of the story would know she is far from being a victim (and my dear niece would have potentially lost marks on her paper), and those who really know the story know it’s a double whammy of cyberbullies getting cyberbullied (Bully-ception!). As much as the Blogfather hesitates to set Xiaxue’s online persona as a role-model for our children, she did very publicly exemplify two very important characteristics of one who will never fall victim to bullying: confidence, and fearlessness. I also previously mentioned a chapter on Lenore Skenazy’s book, Free-Range Kids, where she lets on about how confident kids that don’t show fear in drawing attention to themselves are effectively best able to keep themselves safe, both in situations of bullying and stranger-danger.
Preventing the Monster
So a solution for bullying victims has presented itself. But for a solution to keeping your child from becoming a bully will take a different form of parental/pastoral education: empathy and compassion.
If you’ve watched or read The Clockwork Orange, you’ll see a very extreme example of a bully turned into a juvenile delinquent’s version of a kitten (albeit by brainwashing). That’s really why empathy does; teach a child to care, and you won’t bring up a bully. Teach a child compassion, and you potentially have a little Gandhi running around the world, and happy to help.
As much as has been said here, what has been shared here is largely pre-emptive advice for parents looking to understand how they mould young children to avoid bullying. I’ve really barely scratched the surface to a dire and still evolving problem; make no mistake, children have died from bullying in all its forms. To be honest, the Blogfather’s seen and done both sides of the fence back before he realised he hit puberty. Now, as a dad, I would never wish upon my own child the travesty of falling victim to bullying, nor becoming a bully. Hopefully, with my own experience, he won’t have to.
Have you ever been bullied? Or have you ever been a bully? How will you help your children to guard against becoming one, or being victimised by one?