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Bullies and Buddies

Psychology has a vast number of different theories, many of which make basic assumptions about human tendencies. Are humans inherently bad and work to make good choices? Are humans inherently good and get lured into difficult situations? Do we have control over our own thoughts and actions? These psychological and philosophical questions have been debated through the years but, as I see it, the most important outcome of these philosophies is belief in the ability to make an intrinsic change. Bullying has been a hot topic in the growth and development of this current generation and has resultingly become the most detrimental label that we give to children. In our quest to empower those who are being bullied (which is clearly a necessary effort), we have made bullies the outcasts, called them names, and truly bullied them.


One of the most heartbreaking and truly difficult lessons I've learned in the immersive classroom of "parenting" has been to not go all "crazy mom" (as I deeply, at my core, want to do) when my kids get bullied. I use the word "when" because we'd be hard-pressed to find a child out in this world that hasn't experienced any form of bullying. Children bully children, adults bully adults, and (warning - controversial statement here) adults bully children. When this happens it is hard to not label the offender as a bully. Truth is, there is a person under that offensive exterior, one with deep feelings, insecurities, and maybe even some social skill deficits. And.....that person can grow and change, even as an adult.


Years ago, I watched my own child make a classic social error - he literally got in a disagreement over the rules of a game, picked up his ball, and stormed off. As a tween entering middle school, this was an awkward time, to begin with, coupled with this child-like action in an emerging teenager's body, it didn't go well for him socially for a while after that. His two best buddies wrote him off and engaged in some less-than-kind behaviors. Years later, they are all well past that luckily. What if we labeled any of these kids (mine included) as bullies? What if we decided they are "bad kids"? How will they learn and grow without making mistakes?


Bullying really should be broken into two categories these days, and maybe even two separate words to label these categories. There are behaviors that constitute bullying - relentlessly picking on someone, interacting with someone physically repeatedly, using social hierarchy to influence someone's behavior, online shaming. These need true specific adult intervention. On the other side, there are also a lot of social developmental behaviors that look like bullying as a one-off but don't warrant that same label. Instead, these behaviors may be corrected with natural consequences (as in the example above - you bet my kid learned really quickly that his behavior was not well received). These behaviors may also be corrected in the course of typical school education with social-emotional components, from conversations between teacher and student, or from conversations between student and parent. Kids are pretty insightful today and will call each other out on their behavior.


Next time you hear someone call another person a "bully", consider what that label does, all the weight it carries, and all that it takes from the individual. Instead, identify the behavior separate from the person. That person is likely not a bully, They are a person who made a bad decision that hurt someone. Now they need to own it, learn from it, and repair what they can.


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