Could your Child be a Bully?

Angry, sad, and frustrated are the emotions that have disturbed me thrice in recent weeks.  The first experience came when I learned of 7th grade boys who harassed a girl on a Florida school bus.  The story might not have made the news had it not been for the girl’s father, who boarded the school bus to verbally confront the perpetrators.  He felt this was his only option after school administrators opted not to respond to his pleas for help.   I’m not condoning his vigilante type behavior but I honestly can’t blame him for wanting to protect his daughter when others refused to.  The girl, who has cerebral palsy, endured a group of bullies who placed an open condom on her head, smacked her on the back of her head, twisted her ear, and shouted rude comments at her. The second incident came as I heard the media report that two Georgia teens were arrested for beating up an autistic boy.  Again the incident occurred on a school bus and thankfully, the boys have been arrested.  Lastly, I saw a news clip of two teenage girls fighting on school grounds only to be encouraged by peers to “punch harder”.  Not one student stepped in to break up the violence. 

Where do mean children come from?  Could one be growing in my household?  How about yours?  Could your child be a bully?

Now I suspect most parents would never consider their own child as a mildly mean spirited or downright vicious bully.  After all, or intuitive focus is on our kid’s strengths and good character.  But as I heard about the disturbing stories outlined above, I asked myself “where were these kid’s parents?”  “Why weren’t they doing anything to stop the bullying?”  Then it hit me!  Perhaps they didn’t know.

I started to wonder about the parents of the teens currently under prosecution for bullying Phoebe Prince to the breaking point when she committing suicide.  Did these parents know their kids were bullies?  Now that their kids risk juvenile court for “criminal” activity, I bet these parents would give anything for a chance to go back in time and be better aware.  I for one never want to be in their shoes.  I want to take steps to make sure my child doesn’t come close to being a bully. 

When we think of bully, we usually think of the extreme type.  Sometimes, however children can be a mild version of a bully without even knowing it.  For example, name calling, spreading rumors, and hiding another child’s belongings are types of bullying.  Racial, religious, and cultural mocking even if done innocently are qualifiers as well.   A child, who does this anonymously, behind the security blanket of computer screens or phone text messages, might be guilty of cyber bullying.  And “guilty by association” bullying is easy to do by laughing along with a crowd that is poking fun at someone.  The list of minor or extreme offenses can go on and on. 

Parents who play the role of detective by asking open ended questions are able to find out more about their children’s level of involvement in potential bullying.   Here are some questions that help to get dialogue started. 

  • What happens on a typical school bus ride to school and from school?
  • Who are the kids that got in trouble on the bus or at school this week?  Why did they get in trouble?  What kind of association, if any, do you have with these kids? 
  • How can you avoid “guilty by association” bullying?
  • How do you feel when you see someone bullied?  This is an important question in which parents can assess the level of empathy in their child.  Most researchers believe that empathy can be cultivated.  For an excellent poem that can help to do this, refer to “How Parenting With Emotional Intelligence can Weaken Bullying”.
  • What do you do when bullying occurs?  Why?
  • What’s your definition of bullying?  Here, parents have an opportunity to educate their child on types of bullying that the child may not be aware of.
  • If you were a Superhero, what would you do to stop bullying?  How can you implement some of those ideas as just a “regular” kid?

Parents can also help to monitor their child’s behavior by conversing with other parents and being aware of social circles and trends.  Remember the saying “It takes a village”.  Lastly, I believe it is a parent’s responsibility to peruse the social media activity of their children.  It is an excellent way to assess thoughts, language, and behavior patterns of your child and those that he /she interacts with.

Though these questions or ideas may seem basic, they have the potential to save an innocent victim from emotional or physical trauma. They also have the potential to keep your child from partaking in hurtful behavior and the risk of getting into trouble.  Ultimately, constant vigilance from parents in the form of monitoring children, and creating dialogue help.

Reader comments are appreciated.