Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is There a Bully in Your Home?

      “Of course not!  We don’t condone that kind of behavior in our children.”  I am guessing that would be the response of a vast majority of parents all across the nation, as well as in Dover-Eyota.  It is certainly reasonable to accept the premise that rare would be the family that would purposely condone acts of bullying by their children.  We would all like to think we are raising some pretty decent kids; kids who would not be seen as a “bully” by other children.

     Yet, if that is the case, then where are all these bullies coming from?  Countless reports are suggesting that the behavior known as “bullying” is on the rise in our nation, and if that is the case, someone’s children are being bullies.  It can’t always be “somebody else’s kid.”  The fact of the matter is, whether it be the children, the parents, or both, more homes have bullies in them than we care to admit.  But why is that?  I can’t say I have the answer to that question, but let me share something I know about the brain of a child, and a significant source of their behavior.

     Even by the time children reach high school, we now know that the brain is still not fully developed.  That portion of the brain which tells a child how to behave in certain situations is the slowest and final portion to fully develop.  As a result, children learn many of their behaviors from others.  Among the most prominent “others” in their lives are their parents, people they have heard and watched all the days of their lives.  They are also taking cues from the media, sports and entertainment stars, relatives, friends, teachers, etc.  Their behaviors are a composite of what they are taking in from these sources.  Conversations in the living room, TV programs, interviews of their favorite stars, articles they read, and many other experiences are combining to guide them as they wait for that behavior section of their brain to develop.

     So what direction is your child getting at home during these years?  Are they hearing conversations that mock other human beings, belittling and degrading certain types of people?  Are other individuals or families being criticized in your home for any reason?  Are your children hearing themselves being mocked and belittled by comments like, “What’s wrong with you?”, “Why are you so dumb?”, or “I’ve had it with you!”?  When they hear critical comments in person or on TV, is someone stepping in to comment on the inappropriateness of those comments?  Is someone willing to say, “You know, that is not an attitude we condone in our family, and I hope you would never speak to or about someone that way.”? 

     Let me be clear about two things here:  First, no home is perfect, and I am not talking about trying to create the perfect environment for our children.  That is not an expectation that any parent should have of themselves.  We are all human, and there will be some bad times mixed in with the good.  It is important that children see our “humanness” from time to time so that they don’t have expectations of perfectness in their own lives.  What I am talking about, however, is a pattern, and a consistent way of life.  Constant criticism of a child and/or others by their parents and others in their life will lead a child to believe that it’s OK for them to emulate that behavior with others their own age.  I once heard it said that “people who are hurt tend to hurt other people.”

     Second, I believe every parent has to accept the fact that their child might be engaging in bullying behavior against other children.  For reasons probably tied to a combination of environment, brain development, and individual personality, it seems nearly every child has some potential to be a bully at some level.  If that is happening to your child, it doesn’t mean you are failing as a parent...unless you refuse to acknowledge the possibility and deal with it promptly and properly.  The good parent will use this as a learning experience to make their child a better person.  Support the consequences they must face for their actions, and make them understand how the victim felt as a result of what they said or did.  Remember, this part of the brain is still developing, and you can play a role in speeding up that development.  If, however, your course is one of denial and resistance to these behaviors and their consequences, then your child will miss out on the chance to positively affect that development.

     So… is there a bully in your home?  I hope you are willing to accept the fact that maybe there is.  Is it possible that you or your spouse might be a bit of a bully?  Is it possible that your child is taking some of what they are hearing or seeing to school with them?  If there is a bully in your home, it’s not the end of the world, but if left unchecked, it could mean almost that much in some cases.  Remember the old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  It’s a bit corny, but it’s true.  If we each agree to take this thing on in our own homes, that will do far more good than any state law or school policy can ever do.

     What are your thoughts?  I’d like to hear them. 

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