Bullying or "Just Kid Stuff": What's the Difference

Cheryl's BlogCheryl's Blog

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bullying or "Just Kid Stuff": What's the Difference

I received a request recently from a private school administrator for information about bullying. In case you haven't noticed, bullying (or relational aggression, if it's between girls) is a very hot topic these days. Nevada is considering legislation that addresses bullying: New Jersey has already passed the toughest law in the nation, although people there will tell you that it has created massive headaches for schools. My administrator friend wasn't entirely sure whether her students were bullying each other or not. Certainly, mean things were said and some children were left out of activities. But no one had been hurt--or had they? What is bullying, anyway?

Let me say that I am an idealist when it comes to relationships of any sort: I believe in mutual respect and dignity, in compassion and generosity. I am continually stunned by a world where untruths can be shouted on public media, where rudeness and cruelty are staples of reality "entertainment", and where children and teens practice meanness of all sorts. Even worse, my heart breaks for those young people who are ostracized and outcast, tormented because they look or act differently than their more "popular" peers. Lives are lost and lights extinguished because of deliberate cruelty and that is never justified.

But I also understand that children are not born with a full set of social skills. They need to be taught--and they need to practice. Emotional bumps and bruises have always been part of childhood and adolescence (and adulthood too, for that matter). When little Johnny isn't invited to a birthday party or little Susie is left out of a soccer game, is that bullying? My administrator friend was looking for resources because her students' parents were up in arms about bullying. Is there a difference between bullying, meanness, and the unintentional hurts that come from lack of skill? Or do we adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to meanness in general?

I sort of wish we would, starting with television and talk radio, but I suspect it's an unworkable proposition. And here's another problem: When parents step in to manage their children's social lives and relationships, when they interfere in the name of protecting their children from emotional hurt, are they really being helpful? 

Let me say it clearly: intentionally causing pain to another because of looks, speech, skin color, or sexual orientation is just wrong. Period. We need to teach compassion and empathy--and we need to model it ourselves. But the hurts that happen when kids are unskilled are a bit different. When your child is left out or not picked and comes to you in tears, you have a choice. You can rush to the school to chastise the teacher; you can call another parent and offer him or her a piece of your mind. You can fight your children's battles--and maybe you'll be successful, although I doubt it. After all, some schools now have a rule that a child can't invite one child in her class to an activity unless she invites all the children in her class. 

But if you bear the brunt of life's owies for your child, how will she ever learn to manage disappointment, frustration, defeat, or failure? I can guarantee you that no matter how vigilant and loving you are, pain will find your child eventually. You can fight the world, or you can offer empathy and encouragement to your child while helping her learn resilience, compassion, and real strength. 

I agree with Gandhi: we must be the change we want to see in the world. In the meantime, we must teach our children both kindness and resilience, empathy and patience. You will not always be there to fight your children's battles for them. What do you want them to learn for the future?

| Posted by cheryl | Tuesday, October 4, 2011|


Stay connected with Cheryl through your favorite social media Web sites.