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Cyber Bullying and Bullying At School – Is It Really Wrong?
There is so much in the media lately about school bullying – both face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying.
In fact, research shows that one in four Australian children are bullied at school, and most Australian schools have adopted ‘zero tolerance to bullying policies’, as the research also shows:
1. Children who are bullied are three times more likely to suffer from depression;
2. Children who are bullied are up to nine times more likely to have suicidal thoughts;
3. Girls who are bullied in their early primary school years are more likely to remain victims as they grow older and experience abuse and violence;
4. Children who bully have a one in four chance of having a criminal record before they turn 30.
While these potential consequences are alarming, I believe they are caused by the fact that we are now teaching bullied children to develop a ‘poor me’ attitude and view themselves as victims rather than looking at why they are being bullied and sometimes accept some responsibility for their situation.
Unlike most counselors, I have many reservations about the benefits of zero bullying. Arguably, these policies make life a little more comfortable for those on the ‘outskirts’ of the school because they cannot be overtly targeted. However, the reality is that they will still be excluded from the ‘in’ group and stared at and whispered about, and they will still not be happy at school. It will just be harder for them to speak out about what is wrong and no one can be punished for what they suffer.
To some extent, I think trying to create a perfect school environment sets kids up with false expectations for real life at university, at work and even at home, where things are far from perfect and adults have to solve their own problems. Schools are a microorganism in the real world, and in life there are weak and strong people, and the strong tend to survive better than the weak. If children do not learn to deal with this reality, they will not cope later in life and will be a victim forever.
There is a lot of talk about kids not being able to get away from their bullies because of technology like cell phones and Facebook. This is true if they read their text messages and Facebook pages.
However, there is a simple solution here, and that is for parents to make their children put their cell phones in a box when they get home (if they need a phone at all) and to close their Facebook accounts. The possibility of cyberbullying is so much reduced.
If the parent does not have the strength to impose such rules, cyberbullying should be treated in the same way as face-to-face bullying, which is to teach the child to stop seeing themselves as a victim and to understand and take responsibility for their situation.
Children are bullied for many reasons, including:
1. They may look different;
2. They may sound different;
3. They may be overweight;
4. Other children may be jealous of them;
5. They may not be good at sports or other activities;
6. Their family may not be socially acceptable.
The list is endless.
Sometimes the bullied child cannot do anything to change the problem that is causing the bullying. For example, a child with an English accent cannot develop an Australian accent overnight, a colored child cannot become white, a child from a housing commission family cannot change the family’s fortunes, a beautiful child cannot make himself unattractive, etc. What can happen, however, is for the child to talk to a counselor who helps him or her understand why the bullying occurs. They can work together on witty comebacks and how to meet kids who won’t worry about the case so the kid makes some friends. This removes the victim mentality and gives the child some power back.
Sometimes the bullied child can do something about the problem that is causing the bullying. For example, an overweight child has the power to start exercising and lose weight, an uncoordinated child can take lessons to become more coordinated IF they want to. The key is, what will they do? As soon as a child realizes that they have choices, they regain their power and are no longer a victim. If the child decides that he or she does not want to make an effort to lose weight, they have made a choice. They had the power to make another choice, but decided which choice suited them best. They may not like the bullying from other kids, but they know they can end it by making a different choice. This is comforting.
This type of knowledge teaches strategies for life, which the child knows:
1. How to find out what is causing a certain situation and how to stop blaming yourself;
2. How to find possible solutions;
3. How to measure the pros and cons of each solution; and
4. How to understand that every choice they make will have a consequence.
I believe we need to stop protecting children from being bullied. Bullying is a fact, as is the doctrine of ‘survival of the fittest’ in the jungle.
We should be aware of what is happening with our children and give them strategies to deal with each situation. We should teach them to make choices and understand the consequences. Most importantly, we should teach them how to take responsibility when warranted and to refuse to see themselves as victims.
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