Bullying isn’t just for kids. We like to think that it takes place on school playgrounds (which it does) and that it’s an unfortunate part of adolescence (which it is). But there’s more to it.
I had my own experiences with bullying as a child. There were times when I was the bully and times when I was bullied. (Which do I regret more? Being the bully.)
Like most people, I eventually grew out of this behavior. I am no longer a bully. I am rarely bullied.
As the parent of two elementary school students, I still have to deal with childhood bullying. My daughters and I have conversations on the difference between bullying and old-fashioned conflict. We talk about what to do when bullied, appropriate action to take when witnessing bullying, and how to make sure we’re not bullies ourselves.
When one of my daughter’s fellow 5th graders, an eleven-year-old girl, recently tried to commit suicide, we had to revisit all of these.
Why is bullying such a problem with kids? Maybe because it’s such a problem with adults. I’m not just talking about the dysfunctional household that breeds generations of bullies. That’s where we usually like to point the finger. “They learn it at home,” we say. (It’s a lot easier for us to deal with when we can place the blame on a vague they.)
Sure, this is true. These are learned behaviors. But they don’t always take place in the home. What about our behavior, our society in general? The internet is a bully’s paradise. Bullying is there in the daily commute. Let’s not forget about politics. (World leaders, anyone?)
An accomplished bully will go so far as to claim that he’s the victim of bullying himself when called out for his actions.
I’m not claiming that peace and love will solve all of our problems (but okay, I really think they would). But I do think that there is value in learning how to rationally, thoughtfully, and respectfully negotiate conflict. That should be the go-to, not viciously attacking another to prop ourselves up.
So here’s to the art of conflict. Here’s to conflicting well.
The 5th graders are watching.
For more on parenting, check out Destination: Puberty.