I start this with “our children” because the unprecedented race for the presidency has been widely discussed here in Canada and around the world. I am concerned by the lessons picked up by our children from news reports, during discussions at school about the election, and their parents’ and other adults’ conversations about the latest news reports. It is a grave error to think this election went by without them noticing what was happening.
Our children live in a world where school-yard and internet bullying is a very real concern. Far too many children know of someone who has been bullied, have watched it happen to another child or have themselves been bullied. Some have resorted to bullying other children. And, very sadly, many children have attempted or succeeded in suicide attempts as a result of bullying.
As parents, we struggle with how to raise our children in a world free from bullies. We try to teach them to respect others, even people we don’t like or agree with. We try to teach them that it is wrong, and will always be wrong. We try to instill in them a moral code that by respecting others they are showing respect for themselves.
It is also important to teach our children how to deal with their anger in a healthy manner, and to not hurt others needlessly. Hitting, yelling, name-calling, uttering threats, and harassment are never okay. Teaching them assertiveness and strong communication skills can help them to respond to or escape from an unpleasant or even an abusive situation.
Make no mistake: bullying is abusive. Lessons learned while they are young will help them later on in life. Sadly, little bullies too often grow up to be big bullies, at work – where they will harass others – or at home – where they will use coercive control which can escalate into domestic violence.
Over the last year and especially in the last few months, the name calling, threats, bad-mouthing, character-assassination, false allegations of this election campaign have all clearly shown that adults can and do bully. Other adults are not immune to victimization by bullies. I can almost hear a child saying, “But if a person running for president does it, why can’t I?”
Our answer has to be an unequivocal “Because it is wrong; morally, ethically and legally wrong.”
We might not agree with what a person says. Then you address the issue, not attack the person. “I don’t agree because…” or “I see it a different way because…”
We might not like the person. We don’t have to be around them. And if for some reason we are required to be around them, we never should lower ourselves to their level. Ignore it if possible. Report it when it doesn’t stop. Leave any situation that may turn violent.
As parents, we cannot afford to let our children be the victims of bullies. By not giving them to tools they need to deal with bullies, we are in essence setting them up to be victims in their adult lives: victims of harassment at work or domestic violence at home.
Conversely, if we allow them to be become bullies, they could very easily wind up in a courtroom with charges against them for their bullying tactics.
Bullying is about power, control and violence, even if it is just verbal bullying. It is about undue influence. It is about putting the other person down so the bully feels big and important. It often continues because the people who watch it happen are too afraid to stand up and say: “Enough. Stop”, or fail to report it.
One thing I hope for this election is that it does not send the message that bullying works. The bully might have supporters. However, supporters should be aware that they could be the next target of an attack.
Bullies may be feared. Other people will see the behavior and refuse to work with them. Other governments may refuse to negotiate – or indeed be unable to negotiate – with a bullying leader. There will be no trust, because bullies are notoriously untrustworthy even to the very people who work for them. Ultimately bullies are not respected.
I am afraid for the U.S. There will be long-lasting impacts to the political environment, regardless of who wins. But we cannot allow our children to be the losers in a battle that has been fought in the media for all to witness, including our children.
Teach them that this bullying behavior is never acceptable. Just because other people do it, doesn’t mean that you will ever accept it. And let them know that as they grow, what you want most for them is to grow up to be moral, caring and respectful in their dealings with the world and everyone in it.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about bullying that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!