After all, children only do what adults allow.
by Sarah Fisher and Trish Morille, Co-founders of +Works, a non-profit organization dedicated to getting ahead of America’s bullying epidemic with positive talk and action.
The bullying “blame game” between parents and schools is long-standing. Parents blame schools for inaction when their children are harassed in — and now out of — school. At the same time, parents drop their children and frequently their parental obligations on the school steps, leaving educators holding the bag. That said, many schools deny the existence of bullying on their campuses — and parents in their own children and in themselves — all either turning a blind eye or chalking “all this bullying chatter” up to the latest fad.
Let’s be honest. Bullying is a very real, very human problem trending in the wrong direction. A late September CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll indicated “slightly more than a third of teens have been subjected to bullying behavior (and) more than two-thirds of teens also said their friends had been bullied.” Bullying transcends gender, race, age, geography and economic status and occurs everywhere humans interact. To get ahead of this issue, families and schools must understand that bullying is a process — not a person; that this process generally involves a bully, a target and a bystander; and that, as co-authors Dr. Stuart Twemlow and Dr. Frank Sacco write in their book Why School Antibullying Programs Don’t Work: “Bullies only do what bystanders allow.”
We are not born bullies. Bullying is learned behavior from our earliest days. For parents and educators, this is powerful and empowering; because just as bullying behaviors are learned, so can empathy, compassion and courage to take action be learned, beginning as early as age 4. And just as bullying is enabled by adult nonaction, so can positive change take root when adults find their voices and speak up against the scourge of bullying from home to homeroom.
We are hopeful for progress, but know what we’re up against: younger and younger children outfitted with the latest technology and unsupervised Internet access; an increasingly slippery slope of reduced behavior expectations; and negative entertainment offerings that are progressively more provocative. We need to lock arms, look in the mirror as a society and recognize that we are serving our children a cultural cocktail packed with a power we cannot possibly understand. And that the hangover is going to be a doozy.
Let’s ask ourselves if are we are really surprised by the suicides last fall of Asher Brown, Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi? Their common denominator was their homosexuality and inability to cope with the harassment heaped upon them by their peers. But every day, tens of thousands more children are bullied for being small, new, tall, short, thin, heavy, for having learning disabilities, for not wearing cool clothes, for not playing “the cool sport,” for being smart, artsy, for being disabled, poor, rich, Asian, Hispanic or African-American — in short, for being different. Why? Simply because children do what adults allow.
How did we arrive at this unacceptable destination? How do we find the courage to ensure that EVERY child is free to be who they are and to feel safe?
We believe the solution lies is cognizance, courage — and connectedness. As parents, we must lock arms and demand that our schools own that bullying is a problem in every school. Schools willing to work on this issue and face the reality of today’s societal challenges will have an increased chance for authentic school climate change — and for lives saved over time. Likewise, schools that are less proactive run the risk of being left behind in what appears to be a growing demand for positive progress.
Parents who choose mindfulness and positive action for their families will also be part of the solution. We have to recognize the roles our children tend to play and steer them toward resilience, empathy and action when faced with bullying and other negative behaviors. And we have to model positive behaviors ourselves by saying no to gossip and yes to positive talk and action in our homes.
To do this, we must be strong, recognizing that many of our generation, sadly, appear to have lost the will to parent. Many of our generation find being “friends” with their children more important than guiding them with adult objectivity down life’s inevitable rocky road. And many of our schools defer to us and our lack of parenting spine — instead of telling us straight-out that we are often not doing our jobs and that we need to get a grip. They should be saying to our faces what they say behind closed doors: that trading our children’s long-term mental health for their short-term popularity is a huge mistake.
To this end, we issue the following challenge: Are we going to stay this course and inevitably go down in history as The Abdication Generation? Or are we going to realize the serious responsibility we have to raise good kids with solid morals, a deep respect for themselves and others, and the guts to speak up with courage when necessary?
The choice is ours. What are we waiting for?