Communicating with “Bully Kids”…John Page Burton

Last week I watched as a national news story unfolded involving two 12 year old Florida girls who were arrested and charged with “stalking” another girl who subsequently died of injuries sustained from jumping off of a construction tower. The 12 year old that chose to end her life was a victim of intense bullying. The arresting officers characterized one of the “stalkers” as being “unfeeling and cold”. Labeling this dysfunctional behavior as “stalking” or “bullying” is a matter of semantics as we are seeing more deaths that are the direct result of bullying. A new tactic, “Cyber Bullying”, takes the act of bullying from the school playground to a potential world wide audience. The more heinous the bullying becomes, the greater the odds are that the act will go viral. Understandably, this type of exposure is far more than most young adults are equipped to handle and many choose to take their own lives.

Bullying has always been an integral part of the childhood experience. Most of us were either a perpetrator or the victim. Growing up as the son of a school principal, I experienced my fair share of bullying. To this day I have¬† a “no tolerance policy” toward bullies. In many cases “bully behavior” transcends into adulthood. I recently experienced an incident of “adult bullying” that came in the form of road rage. I am a firm believer that bullying is a learned behavior. Bullying is a fear based emotion whereby the bully adheres to the tenet “I will inflict pain on you in order to deflect the emotional pain I am feeling”. Bullies tend to align themselves with and seek approval from other wounded people. Together, they form a type of “pack” and set out to inflict emotional and physical pain on the perceived weaker members of the community . Adult bullying is not as “public” in nature but is equally destructive. It shows up in relationships, marriage, the workplace and as stated earlier, even on the open roads! As long as the bully believes they are getting the results they desire, their behavior will continue. As parents it is important to be mindful of “bullying” traits in our children and not be afraid to address the behavior when it presents itself. Remember, there is a distinct difference between “kids just being kids” and children who are using bully tactics in a cruel, insensitive or life threatening manner. We should be grooming our next generation to be compassionate people who recognize and accept the differences in others.

The definition of bullying…”Bullying is the use of force, threat or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively impose domination over others”.¬† Sounds quite Mafioso to me!

Let’s take a closer look at the word “bully” and begin seeking ways that parents, teachers and other people of influence can interrupt this dysfunctional behavior pattern before it becomes problematic for the children involved. *It is important to remember that bullying is an often repeated behavior that quickly becomes a habit. We must also be willing to examine the areas in our lives where we may be employing bully tactics. They can be quite subtle yet destructive. When adults employ bully tactics, we effectively teach our kids that bullying is an acceptable form of behavior.

B-Belief. Bullies believe they hold power over and have gained the respect of their victims. This is a false illusion. The bully is getting an emotional fix and the victim has nothing but contempt for the bully. Similar to other addictive behaviors, as long as the bully is able to satisfy their craving for approval and attention, their behavior will continue. This is precisely why bullies rarely “work alone”. Once we have identified bullying behavior in our children we must encourage them to re-direct their energy into a more productive activity such as sports or the performing arts. This will also allow them to continue to get the approval and attention they desire without causing emotional or physical harm to others. This is a win-win. The most effective way to learn what is driving a bullies behavior is to open a dialogue, ask questions and listen to the answers from a non-judgmental place. Remember, bullying is a fear based action.

U-Unhealed. Bullies are wounded! They are acting out on their emotional pain. Having never healed emotionally or mentally we may carry our “bully behavior” into adulthood. As a parent when we sense that something doesn’t seem right, the time to act is NOW. As parents it can be easy for us to dismiss certain behaviors as “part of growing up” or even worse, tuning out certain behavior in the hope that it will go away. The emotional pain a child is experiencing may have nothing to do with their home life but rather something that is going on outside the home. For example, they may be a victim of bullying. As parents, we must pay attention to our children’s behavior and not be afraid to ask questions. We are the parent, not the child’s best friend. Emotionally healthy children don’t bully others. Unresolved emotional pain carries into adulthood and is passed on to the next generation.

L-Love. When we don’t love ourselves it is difficult to show compassion and love for others. When we encourage our children to express unconditional love toward others we are taking the important first steps toward preventing bully behavior in our children. When we teach our children that everyone is born under different circumstances and many will experience extreme challenges, we are effectively teaching compassion. In order to share this message we must engage in an active, on going dialogue with our kids. When bullying behavior surfaces, we can calmly open a dialogue that teaches the tenets of love and compassion.

L-Limiting. Bullying is a limiting behavior. Nobody enjoys being bullied and most of us will do just about anything to stay clear of those who employ bully tactics. When we teach our children that bullying is not the way to win friends and influence people and that attempting to get our way through bully tactics will never contribute to producing any meaningful results in our lives, we are planting the seeds for an expanded, healthy, world view. Introducing and enrolling our children into empowering activities is also a great counter balance to what I commonly refer to as the “cyber socialization” of our children.

Y-Yellow. The informal definition of yellow is to be cowardly in ones nature. The bully is afraid in a manner that keeps them from doing the right thing. When we teach our children that being a bully is not a courageous act but rather an act of cowardice we are planting seeds of disapproval for this type of behavior. Starting at an early age, we must routinely share examples of what it means to be a truly courageous person and encourage our children to strive to become this. When we teach and reward courage we are effectively planting seeds of approval for this type of behavior.

In summation, it is important to recognize that posturing for position is an important part of the childhood experience. There will be children that are more popular, more athletically gifted, more academically gifted and more socially gifted than others and there will be kids who will employ bullying and intimidation tactics to secure their corner of the playground. It is our job as parents to make sure that our children have a deeper understanding of what it really means to be a bully. The only way this will happen is through awareness and communication. I don’t want to see anymore kids end their life because someone who is seeking approval chooses to disapprove of them. It makes no sense to me.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.