Are You Helping Bullies Target Your Child?

Whether you are expectantly awaiting your child’s first day of school or their first school event, parents far and wide are wondering how will their child adapt to the social pressures this year.

Social pressure or bullying, at the very least is stressful for children and parents, but at its worst can be stigmatizing and traumatic.  Feeling rejected and isolated from peers leaves children of all ages wishing they could understand what they did wrong and how they can once and for all, finally fit in.  “71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school, 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying, and 1 in 10 students drop out of school because of repeated bullying.” reports www.dosomething.org. Those are just a few facts from their 11 Facts About Bullying.  Bullying  wears away at a child’s sense of self worth and dignity, cutting deep leaving them socially outcast without the skills or will to recover, overcome, and thrive.

Raising Bullyproof Kids, by Paul Coughlin adeptly tackles the many sides of the bullying epidemic to inform and inspire parents to take a more active role in preventing bullying by doing less.  Yes, you heard me correctly, “less”.  The book is called “bullyproofing” and focuses on the “setup” and the parental mis-steps that leave children vulnerable targets in the first place.  This should not of course be mistaken for protecting your child physically and emotionally, or doing nothing in response to an “active bully” but rather, before that, where it counts, with your child and how you parent them.  Less is more when it comes to parental over reacting to the natural stress and conflict our children must learn to navigate to prove themselves and mature.  If at first they don’t succeed, well, they need to “try,  try again” and it’s our job to encourage them to do so but also, require them to do so.

Doing What’s Right, Even If It’s Doing “Less”

Parents that over-function for their children instill in them a sense of incapacity or” victimicity” that they carry with them into school with peers. Doing and saying too much to and for your child paralyzes their natural curiosity and survival instincts leaving them anxious about their ability and inner fortitude.  Weakened, they enter the snake pit of peer to peer society, are detected by the pack, targeted, and made to suffer.   All this may sound archaic but if you have tried to manage your child’s social life only to find yourself banging your head against a wall, not understanding  how to “fix this”,  well, maybe this could be why.

My Child, Myself

First and foremost in his book, Paul Coughlin appeals to the helicopter parents, first with the title and the task of “bully proofing” our children, like scotch-guarding our sofas.  Here we find that we are the beginning of a problem in which our child ultimately picks up the tab.  Just in buying this book, as I did, we long to fix this problem for our child.  Children don’t want us to live their lives for them.  Despite popular belief, they are not seamless extensions of ourselves.  We need to instill in our children a “you can do” attitude instead of a “let me do for you( because that’s really better, faster, easier anyway)” attitude. We as parents need to gauge and fine tune our passive or aggressive approach to our own peers and challenges.  Setting healthy boundaries and modeling proper and balanced assertiveness starts with our own clarity and confidence in the face of adversity and stress.  Yes, you may need to work out your own issues of aggression or conflict avoidance in order to model health and internal strength to your child.

Conflict -Able

Secondly, we are advised to support our children as they face conflict by encouraging them to be assertive, truthful, and even “mean” if that means dealing with the conflict or attacks of others. Protecting oneself is not mean.  Mr. Coughlin writes that “Whether or not we as parents are interested in conflict, conflict is interested in us and our children”.   Standing ones ground and standing strong in the face of another’s cruelty or desire to cause harm and pain, is critically important.  As a skill set it is at the very least undervalued and at most, overlooked completely.  Especially as we socialize girls to be passive consumers of life, waiting to be “chosen” and deemed worthy.   This is also prevalent in Christian culture, as the message of “peacemaker” is twisted into one of passivity.  Coughlin also goes into depth concerning the misgivings and misdirection that teachers of the Bible communicate when steering children to passivity; clipping their wings with messages of worthlessness, self doubt and, timidity.  Raising children to be people pleasers on the path of least resistance.  This disservice is doubled for female Christians as where  the overall message confuses  their worth, strength, and assertiveness with submission and Godliness.

Lines Of Defense

You may think that adults around your child, at school and on the bus, are there to protect your child.  Well, in the world I want to live in, they are.  In reality the adults are failing to step in.   Do something.orgsites, “1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time”.  So we must take the targets off the backs of our kids by giving them  the  room to  become  strong-willed  and self-reliant .

Their first line of defense is our balanced parenting.  That means parents that can balance their ego, anxiety, and own selfish desires. The second line of defense is the assertive, vocal, supported (from a distance) child themselves.  Next are the other children who can change the tide and close ranks around others at school, on teams, or in our own homes.  Maybe your child, when well-equipped, can step in and close that gap.  Unfortunately, the last line of protection may just be the adults around them at school, play, or on sports team.  Sure, adults could more easily root out this problem and protect children but maybe there is an opportunity here for kids to stand up for what’s right and in that effort, build greater confidence  in themselves and their own healthy community.

Raising Bullyproof Kids, is chock full of great insights.  It uncovers then proclaims so many truths, that quite frankly, you would be wise to sort them out for yourself,  as a person and a parent.  I challenge you to put on your thinking cap, dive in, discern, and decide what fits best for you, your family, and school community.

By Kimberly Oakes, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist MA, LMFT

EvokeIndividual, Marriage and Family Therapy