Bullying is a hot topic. It seems like it is all over the news. It is something terrible that we all have to navigate as parents and teachers. Obviously it is something our kids need to learn about too, as many of them may unfortunately experience it at some point.
I honestly hate the word bullying but its not for the same reason as most people. I feel like it is one of those buzz words that everyone says, but few people actually understand what it really and truly means.
Meriamwebster.com defines bullying as “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc.”. This would be a “bully” taking his/her victim’s lunch money or using their strength or popularity to coerce a child into doing what they want. Violence may or may not be involved. Usually, true bullying is not an isolated incident. It takes place over time and is repeated behavior, whether the victims are the same children or different children.
What I’ve noticed, is that anytime ANYTHING happens between children, it is automatically labeled as bullying. Here is what many people fail to understand: children, especially lower elementary children, are still learning to exist in a bigger world. We would hope that they have been taught at home to use their words and not call people names or say mean things, but some just haven’t. For those that haven’t, it is a lesson that they need to learn at school. We teach it, but if bad habits have been formed over years, it takes a long time to unlearn that. I feel like we aren’t allowing for that normal learning curve in children. They aren’t born problem solvers and they may resort to being mean. We need to teach them to deal with things the correct way rather than labeling them as a bully at a young age.
I have a HUGE issue with my Kindergarteners saying they are being bullied because one time on the playground someone called them a dummy (or something similar) because they disagreed on a game to play, or they were pushed because they wouldn’t move out of someone’s way. I am in no way saying this behavior is ok, it is most definitely NOT ok and should absolutely be addressed in a serious manner, but it is NOT bullying. Kids will say it is because their parents say it is. This stems from fear and lack of understanding.
A perfect example. My son started Kindergarten this week. Yesterday on the playground he scratched another little boy. This is NOT ok and it is not something we tolerate in my home. Frankly, I was taken by surprise. He generally is a loving little boy and we have only had problems with this type of thing once before when his cousin was continually doing it to him and he had had enough. Was this behavior acceptable? Absolutely not. Did I address it in a way that let him know that its not acceptable? Yes. Is he a bully now after this one isolated incident? I would undoubtedly say no.
Whether you believe it or not, we WILL address bullying. Whether your child IS being bullied, may be being bullied, or believes they are being bullied even if they are not, it’ll be addressed. Primarily, we will address it because we love your kids and want them in an environment where they feel safe and confident. If that’s not enough, we HAVE to address it. Our jobs literally depend on it.
Just know this: the law states we have to investigate any claim of bullying, false or not. This leads to kids who do NOT bully others being labeled as a “bully”. This makes kids aware of an incorrect definition of bullying and therefore they claim it happens more and the problem is getting out of control. This is not about kids changing and becoming more mean. Things have always been this way. This is about lack of understanding, access to social media, and kids who have not been taught to appropriately solve problems.
Should we teach our kids what a bully is? Yes. But we should also teach our kids when to try solve their own problems, and when to enlist help. We should teach our kids to use their words in a conflict and to express how they feel to others.
My son knows what a bully is, but I’ve also taught him that “bully” is a powerful word that he shouldn’t label someone with until he is mature enough to know what it truly means. I’ve taught him to use his words and if that doesn’t work, to tell an adult about the actions of the other child and let the adult decide if it is a case of bullying.
I actually was bullied in junior high. It was a hell I would never wish on anyone and some days I was scared to go to school. But I also survived it and came out stronger for it. It does happen. But if people lack understanding of what true bullying is, then we spend all of our time investigating “false bullies” while there really are children out there who need our help.
Everyone is quick to blame schools and teachers. Remember, parents are a child’s most important teacher. The real education starts at home. If everyone understood this, it would do so much.