Why we need to teach kids not to bully

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking inspired by this post by the awesome Captain Awkward about dealing with bullies in school. From what I’ve seen, people tend to think of bullying as mostly something that happens from kindergarten to grade 12. To a large extent, that might be true. People generally have a kind of independence after they leave high school that they didn’t have when they were in it. They might have more control over who they spend time with since they’re less likely to have teachers or parents telling them to just get along and work together, and if bullies find that every time they pick on someone, that person peaces out, they might stop picking on people. Plus, it seems that most people get better at dealing with bullies as they get older, likely because they have more life experience and that just makes you better at dealing with that kind of stuff. Or so I have found. I think it’s true that, in general, it does get better, or at least different.

But that doesn’t mean that bullying just goes away. Grown ups bully. I wouldn’t say they do it all the time, but they definitely do it, and I find it really awkward to deal with because how do you tell people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, or whatever to stop being mean? They should know by now that their behaviour is inappropriate. And what’s even worse is that when some adults bully, people call it doing their jobs. When I watched coverage of the New York State Senate’s vote on marriage equality, I kept thinking of the mean kids in the playground who somehow end up in charge of other kids, the ones who say things like, “You’re only allowed to play on the slide if I say you are,” not because they’re using the slide, but because it’s fun to tell other people that they can’t. It’s great that the senate voted for marriage equality, but in many ways it looked to me like a group of people saying, “Gay people can only marry the people they want to marry if we say they can.” It looked like bullying. When police officers abuse their power over people who annoy them or people who disagree with them, it’s bullying. Any time a person behaves in a way that serves no purpose other than to intimidate people or make them feel like crap, it’s bullying. And it’s definitely something that adults do.

It’s important to teach kids not to bully, for a few reasons. It’s important because kids are still learning to advocate for themselves, and they sometimes need help. They need to see grown ups sticking up for them so that they know it’s okay to stick up for themselves. But we also need to teach kids not to bully so that they know that bullying is not okay. So that they don’t grow up to be adults who bully. We need to tell them what all kinds bullying looks like, so that they can see it for what it is, and not do it. We need to make sure we don’t bully them, so that they don’t learn that it’s okay to bully people as long you have more power than them. We need to teach kids not to bully, because by the time they turn into grown ups, it might be a little too late.

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