by Jeremy Dias
I go to a different school to talk about bullying almost every single day of the school year and there is one group of people that sends me a ton of emails. I’m not talking about youth; they Facebook and tweet. I’m talking about parents. And the number one question I get is this: What can I do to prevent my child from being bullied?
Some might say bullying is a fact of life or kids will be kids; however those cliches cannot be further from the truth. Bullying is no longer a student pushing another classmate in the playground; it has become a form of social cruelty that involves the complex relationships in that person’s interpersonal community.
Bullying is a relationship-based behavior. This means there is a relationship-based reason for the behavior. There is also a relationship-based consequence that varies depending on the victim’s relationships with others.
When parents ask me, “What can I do to help my kid?” I always tell them to be honest. The truth is that every person has bullied, has been bullied and has witnessed bullying. You might say, “Jeremy, I was just joking” but the impact of your actions is not in your intentions, it is in their effect.
Bullying is something we learn. It is something we see on TV and in movies. It is something we play out in video games. We claim that we want diplomacy and fairness to solve our problems, but we pay to see Batman and Superman clobber the bad guy, we laugh watching the reality stars fall or fail, and we wait with baited breath to fire a round in the new video game to destroy the enemy.
This might be fiction, but it has an impact, and it shapes our relationships with those around us. We see these celluloid relationships and model them in our community.
The clearest example I see on a daily basis is the relationships of young men. It is better for two men to punch each other in the hall to say hi than to hug each other, because if they hug, they are fags. This rejection of feminine or emotional behavior (hugging) is learned. For instance Batman didn’t cry when his parents died, he got revenge.
From that implicit social learning, violence becomes a daily method of communication. And when you do something daily it becomes acceptable.
While you would never see two young girls hitting each other to say hi, it is common to see them call their friends sexist and degrading names. The Mean Girls phenomenon is also common. It involves gossiping, shunning and spreading rumours. Female celebrities on reality shows do this all the time, and it has become a classic plot in movies: two girls fight over a guy, when really the guy is cheating on both. Shouldn’t they blame him? Young girls use passive aggressive behavior to mimic these relationships they see.
And what about socially motivated bullying, such as Billy not wanting his friends to find out he doesn’t have a lunch so he beats up Mike for one?
While it is important to understand bullying and how a child might learn to be a bully from the influences of daily life, another serious question parents should really ask themselves is this: “How is it that Mike got called a loser and it has no efect, but someone else becomes so deeply effected they take their own life?”
New research indicates some people can be more resilient to bullying. Since bullying is a relationship-based behavior, their existing relationships can mitigate the effects.
For example, for Mike being called a loser doesn’t matter because he is involved in sports, his family is going on vacation and he did well on his science test. However for Alex being called a loser is very hurtful because he is afraid of what his parents might say if they find out he is gay, he is not doing well in school and he doesn’t have very many friends.
Social networks play a significant role. And the most significant network according to research is that of parents.
My top five suggestions for parents are:
• Be a parent. Don’t worry about being your children’s friend; your job is to provide guidance, support and direction.
• Teach them what it means to be part of a community. Volunteer with your children and help them build positive relationships with the network of people around you.
• Build trust. This takes time, and it means turning off phones, tablets, computers, and the TV. Play board games or do activities, including chores, to build a better home.
• Be involved in your children’s lives. Who are their teachers, friends, friends’ parents and coaches? What are they watching and reading? And what information are they accessing online? Does this mean a bit of snooping? Maybe. But wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?
• Invest in a healthy child. This means not buying McDonald’s and instead buying and eating veggies. It means going for a run or kicking a ball around. A healthy young person is better equipped to handle challenges.
And finally, don’t be shy to ask questions. Nobody is born a parent. We learn this. So ask for help and reach out. That includes me; here is my email: info@JersVision.org.
As director and founder of International Day of Pink and Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative, Jeremy Dias is a leader in addressing discrimination and bullying.