I know that bullying is a very sensitive topic. I know that it is horrible and senseless and terrifying. I have no doubt about the fact that in many cases the experience of being bullied is life altering and, tragically in a few cases, life ending.
I also realize that an attempt to be moderate on this topic may not be popular or the current trend. But I am going to try. Not because I think real bullying should be treated moderately but because I think it may be time to look at how far the pendulum has swung and see if collectively we need to reevaluate. I believe we must do this in order to really and truly address this problem.
When it comes to this issue I think that we may have cut off our nose to spite our face. I worry that we are labeling too many behaviours “bullying”. I see the waters getting muddied and it is hard to see the situations, the cases of real and dangerous bullying, as clearly or to even be able to differentiate so we see can see them at all. We have created a situation where we can hardly see the forest for all of the trees. This scares me. Kids are dying and our solution is to scramble and continue to add to the pile of blame?
I don’t think so. Not for me. Instead, I think we need to take a step back and get perspective. What is really happening here? What is at the root of it? How can we protect our children? We need to see that we are all responsible and we need to focus on that. We need to focus on empowering our children, not creating a society full of victims and a generation full of fear. We need to give them control instead of taking that away by externalizing through blame so they feel powerless and lack the confidence to stand tall or walk away or slough it off or confront their problems.
We need to be able to vet out the truly serious cases of real bullying to address them immediately and take action. And we need to stop reacting with extremes and understand that there is a whole, huge spectrum of behaviours, some dangerous and extreme but most not.
We need to see the complexities in each individual case and not generalize and lump them all together. For example, I recently saw this article from The Globe and Mail shared over social media channels, doing its time on Facebook and Twitter: My teen doesn’t know the difference between teasing and bullying. I read it and shared it and asked, “what do you think?”
Just to give you some context, the article basically came down to this statement:
“Teasing is bad. It
hurts. The solution is not to be able to take it. The solution is not to
toughen up. The solution is not to tease.”
Hmmm. Really? “Teasing is bad” as an absolute? So therefore, “teasers are bad”? Or worse, “teasers are bullies”? This just doesn’t sit well with me. It is so frighteningly extreme, so very black and white.
I come from a long line of teasers; my grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles. In fact, I am a teaser myself. I love to tease my kids. And they do it to me to. We love to laugh at ourselves and find humour in eachothers’ foibles. Has it ever gone too far? Yup, but most of the time it is in good fun and we laugh and poke fun back.
I look at some of the greatest comedy shows or movies. Just turn on any British show or speak to a Brit and you can’t avoid it. Teasing is funny. We do it to shed light on situations, understand differences, and break the ice. We like to laugh at ourselves and others. Teasing can be great fun.
Can teasing hurt? Absolutely. But what I take issue with in this article and with the argument in general is that it does not consider the most critical and important part of this equation: INTENTION. Can we tease in good fun? I believe 100% yes. Can it be an important part of a relationship, a way to see yourself and your quirks as something cute and funny and curious to someone else? A big “YES” from me.
I have seen my son and his friends tease each other FOREVER. It is part of the dynamic of their relationships. “What was that?!” “Wow. That was a loser move.” “Nice shot.” “You totally have a crush on her!” “You suck at this.” “Nice hair cut.” “What’s with that shirt?” “Your team is going down!” And on, and on, and on. Is the intention to hurt each other? Absolutely not. It is what we used to call “razzing”. I see my husband and his old friends do it all the time. I do it with my sisters and my good friends and my kids.
So, are these kids bullying each other? That, in my opinion and in theirs I am sure, is laughable. Could these comments be misconstrued? Yes and I have seen it happen. But the key is to ask ourselves, “what is the intention?” Is the child being centred out or targeted with the intention to hurt? That is different.
But what if the intention is inclusion and the child is interpreting it as something else? What if the teasing is not meant as anything more than the banter between friends? What if it is simply miscommunication and a subsequent over reaction? And the solution is not for a child or parent to rush in and report these “bullies” but for both parties to better understand the feelings and intention of the other. It should not be about pointing fingers and placing blame, making one child the victim and one the bully. This just makes it more difficult to suss out the serious cases and help those truly at risk.
These situations are a normal part of growing up. They are about life lessons and communication and empathy and it is our job as parents to help our children cope and understand the difference so they can survive and thrive in an adult world where these same situations arise. It is our job to help guide them. To make sure they have the skills and experience to cope when they are all grown up and on their own. I don’t want my children always looking for who to blame. I want them to be confident and strong and kind and happy because they can stand on their own two feet.
To continually overreact and yell “the sky is falling!” every time our child is teased or their feelings are hurt and shout “BULLY!” serves no one. Pointing fingers and placing blame serves no one. It just creates victims and fuels the fires of fear. But worst of all, in my opinion, it makes the kids truly at risk harder to identify and harder to help.