How to Talk to Your Kids About NOT Becoming The Bully

While California has the reputation of being very liberal, there have always been pockets of conservatism which are mostly fueled by those who have a faith-based world view.  I remember being at my son’s home school tutorial, in his algebra class on a bright fall day last year, right before the California gubernatorial elections.  The teacher, who was a man in his 70’s, decided that he’d open the class with a discussion on this impending election and the two main candidates.  The kids were all about 13 -14 years old, and for the most part the class shared a very conservative view of politics, which meant that they shared similar feelings about the candidates running for office.  There was, however, a boy who had a differing political viewpoint than 99% of his classmates.  His parents were voting for the liberal candidate, and he shared their political views.

When you’re 13, blending into the crowd is a lot more comfortable than standing out.  As parents we try to instill an individuality into our children, only to find that throughout adolescence they gravitate to those who are just like them in order to blend in better.  No, standing out is not what most young teens want to do.  But this young man did just that.  He stood out and spoke about his personal convictions with a maturity that I admired from my vantage point in the back corner of the classroom.  His classmates, however, did not welcome his opposing view.  It was observed (and stated) that since he disagreed with them and their “values based” choice in candidates, he must not share in their conservative Christian values.  What should have been a lesson in listening to other’s viewpoint with respect, turned into a heated debate. These Christian, home schooled kids showed little respect to a fellow classmate, simply because they devalued this boy’s integrity based on his politics.

The reason I chose to write about this example is because sometimes bullying takes on different forms from the classic school yard examples, with which we are all too familiar.   Bullying in the suburbs is sometimes harder to distinguish because many times it is in the language used, not the physical violence that is displayed.

Back in the day, bullies were thought to be social pariahs plagued by low self-esteem who needed to pick on others to make themselves feel good. However, researchers around the world are discovering that just isn’t the case.

Dan Olweus, Ph.D, of the Research Centre for Health Promotion, University of Bergen, Norway, is considered the “founding father” of research on bullying. In his 1993 book, “Bullying At School: What We Know and What We Can Do,” Dr. Olweus identifies the common characteristics of a bully.

His research shows bullies:

–Have a strong need to dominate and subdue other students and to get their own way

— Are impulsive and are easily angered

–Are often defiant and aggressive toward adults, including parents and teachers

–Show little empathy toward students who are victimized / or who have differing viewpoints.

–Are physically stronger (this applies to boys)

Dr. Dorothy L. Espelage, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is another noted authority on bullying. In a March 2006 article titled, “Bullied…to Death? How to Spot and Prevent Childhood Violence on the Internet,” published in the Ladies Home Journal, Dr. Espelage was quoted as making the following observation: “We used to think that bullies were social outcasts with such low self-esteem that they needed to pick on others to feel good about themselves. But in fact bullies are just as likely to be the popular kids, admired by peers and teachers, especially if they’re attractive and athletic.”

Parents can spot a child who is becoming a bully because they manifest certain specific behaviors:

–They tend not to feel empathy

–They feel their actions are justified

–They use aggressive behavior with siblings and peers

Nancy Mullins describes these kids as, “having to be the boss of everything.”

If your child exhibits these kinds of attitudes, you need to set guidelines as to what is acceptable behavior. Teach them to be kind and empathic, as well as what the repercussions are to their inappropriate behavior.

Since we are people who chose to live our lives through a Biblical world view, we can put a “Because God’s Word says…” into our discussions with our kids.  It holds a lot more weight teaching standards that are Biblically based than simply telling kids that they should play nice and then not give them a reason why.  We need to remind them that we ALL answer to a higher authority. But if you sense that your child is already heading down this slippery slope of anti-social behavior, remember that  it has to go beyond telling them that someone’s feelings get hurt, because for a bully, that’s exactly the outcome they are hoping to achieve. Perhaps setting negative consequences. Since bullying takes place in a social situation, take away the child’s social privileges until the behavior stops.

Mom and dad, you need to practice what you preach. If the kids hear you talking about people who are different than you in a hateful manner…a manner that sounds very un-like Christ, you’re modeling the very behavior you’re trying to stop in your child.  We are always in teaching mode, even in those fleeting moments when do or say the most careless things about our fellow brothers and sisters.  Our motto can no longer be “Do and I say not as I do”.  We must be examples of Jesus to our children on a daily basis.

If you’d like to read more about preventing bullying, here’s a link to an article recently shared by one of our readers.

Lisa Strnad is a home schooling mom, who works in Christian media as a writer, marketer and in PR.  She is a contributing writer / blogger on What’s in the Bible? and Jelly Telly several times a month.  Follow her on her personal blog

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