Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bullying And Family Life

Yesterday, I spoke about the need for kids to be allowed to stand up for themselves against bullies.  Today, I would like to speak of how our homes and family lives can be used to shield our children from bullying and its negative effects.

Young people, common wisdom holds, are very peer-oriented.  It is quite important to them to feel accepted by their confreres, to "fit in."  And this makes them especially vulnerable to bullying.  Bullies can make their targets virtual outcasts at school and in other social situations, as most kids -- even those who aren't doing the bullying -- feel unable to stand up to these mean people.  So, the victims of bullies are often victimized twice over -- by the bullies themselves, and by the otherwise nice kids who don't befriend or stick up for them out of their own fear of the bullies.  I had this experience myself in school. When I was bullied, the kids who actually liked me would often avoid me because they were afraid to become targets themselves.  So, not only did I feel abused by the mean kids, I also felt very alone.

And this is where a positive home and family life are so important for young people who are victims of  bullies.  Now, I realize that for some kids, a good home life is a near impossibility.  And that is an issue to be addressed separately.  For now, I am speaking to parents -- married, single, straight, or gay  -- who have the ability to create a haven in their homes for their kids.  Who can make their relationships with their kids into safe harbors against the storms of life, including bullying.  And I believe this to be a grave parental responsibility.  I know that we as parents have plenty of our own problems, and it can be tempting to play down the problems that our sometimes difficult teens are having.  Really, though, in the long run, if we can reach inside and dig out of ourselves whatever is necessary to help our kids, we are not only helping them -- we are helping ourselves.  I mean, let's face it.  Nothing makes your life more miserable than a miserable kid. (Yes. I guess I am appealing a little bit to our own adult selfishness here.  Please forgive.)

I know that in my own experience of growing up, nothing comforted me more in the face of the bullies at school than looking forward to Sunday dinner at my grandparents' house, where my cousin would be over.  We used to play "The Flying Nun" and my cousin always got to be the Mother Superior.  We would attempt to "fly" by jumping off of my nana and grandpa's front porch.  And if you don't know what "The Flying Nun" is, then Google it. #generationgap ;-)

And after a tough day in the presence of bullies, what could be lovelier than a meal with a dad who will truly listen - or - having your mom read aloud from that ridiculous hippie-era book, "Flowers for Algernon," that your stuck-in-the-60's English teacher insists upon assigning - or - sitting on the couch watching a movie with your siblings, while your parents make you popcorn?

You, as parents, may say to me, "My kids just aren't interested in doing these kinds of things with us." Well, I beg to differ. With a little finesse on your part, dear parents, most of your kids would be happy to hang with you, to accept this kind of comfort from you.  You just have to be a little bit clever about it. Ask yourselves what would have made you want to hang out with your own parents when you were young.

After all, isn't it really in the home, with our families, where we are truly meant to find our comfort and sense of belonging in this life?  I think so.  And it is our job as parents to teach our children this, to give them this gift.  For if our kids know that they actually do have a place in this world, a place that is secure, then it will be much easier for them to say -- "Who gives a flying f**k about these bullies, anyway?"

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