Over the last couple of months bullying has been a theme that continues to recur for me. First, we have had the presidential campaign (SMH), then I have had several patients in my clinic that have either been bullied or are the bully, and now our new first lady will be taking up bullying as her primary cause. I’ve been thinking about writing a blog on bullying but couldn’t get motivated until yesterday. I was shooting an episode of UnCharted Territory when I got into a heated discussion with my guest off camera. My daughter, who serves as a camera person for the show, had had enough and said to me “Mom stop being a bully and be a buddy”. This would have caught me off guard but she frequently says this to me especially when my older daughter and I argue. I think the other people in the room were surprised by the comment and one even said, “your Mom’s not a bully, she was just stating the facts”.
This got me to thinking, am I a bully? Of course, I don’t think I am but what bully is willing to admit it. So here is the question, are bullies born or made? The answer is that bullies are made and believe it or not they are made at home. Bullying is a learned behavior. I always like to have a common point of reference when I write about a topic such as this so I typically go to Google and look up the definition. I was surprised that I didn’t like the first definition that popped up. In fact, I searched several definitions before I found one to be appropriate. What’s that about?!? Most of the definitions spoke to bullying specifically with students and children but adults get bullied, people can be bullied outside of school and even at the workplace. I really thought these definitions to be short sighted.
The definition that I found to be most helpful was from Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. They defined bullying as “an intentional behavior that hurts, harms, or humiliates a student, either physically or emotionally, and can happen while at school, in the community, or online. Those bullying often have more social or physical ‘power’, while those targeted have difficulty stopping the behavior. The behavior is typically repeated, though it can be a one-time incident”. This website also stated the difference between Conflict and Bullying. “Conflict is a disagreement or argument in which both sides express their views. Bullying is negative behavior directed by someone exerting power and control over another person.” For the record, I am NOT a bully but I will strongly exert my views and opinions when challenged. I must make sure my daughter gets this right and stops mischaracterizing me (l0l). Anyway . . .
Back to my point, where do bullies learn to be bullies. After spending years taking care of special needs individuals, I really believe that bullying starts at home. Parents don’t see themselves as bullying (much like I don’t see myself as a bully) since their actions are not intentional but I’m wondering if their children perceive them as a bully. Let me break this down for you. Let’s say you have a child who has ADHD and has difficulty completing a multiple step task like “come down stairs, pick up your shoes and put them in the closet”. As a parent, we will ask our ADHD child over and over to do this and when they can’t get it accomplished what happens next? We get mad. We’re mad on several levels; one because we keep repeating ourselves, two because the task is not getting accomplished and three because we believe that they are blatantly disregarding us.Eventually this will lead to some form of punishment. We’ll turn off the TV (which is always the distraction), take away their favorite toy or banish them to their room. If they are lucky, we’ll just yell at them. For the child with ADHD, this cycle repeats frequently maybe to the point of them not believing that they can do anything correctly. As parents, we often don’t realize that we have asked too much of our ADHD child by putting more than one simple task together. Maybe we set them up for failure and didn’t realize it. In any event, over time are we not bullying our kids? Again, that is not our intention but is it the result?
It’s not just the ADHD child that gets bullied (unintentionally) at home. It’s the child with Autism and even the child with a learning disability who may not fully understand what is being asked of him or her simply because of how we have presented the task to them. A child with auditory processing may not quickly understand a task that is presented to them verbally because their brain may struggle with processing verbal cues.
What we have done is demonstrated bullying for our children. They have experienced firsthand what it feels like to be humiliated and to be powerless. Now they have a choice to either remain powerless and become the victim of continued bullying by classmates; find someone who they can exert their power over and bully; or because they know what bullying looks like they can choose to avoid it all together. What choice will your child make?
I hope I have given you something to think about. Don’t be a bully, be a buddy as my daughter says.