I saw quite a few people recently tweeting about a bullying article.
If you don’t care to click through, the reader’s digest version is: a cadre of bullies picked on a girl (Phoebe), using the usual teenaged-girl-bully tactics of social pressure, name calling and other psychological barbs. These bullies have apparently not been curtailed, and they occasionally get physical with their abuse. Eventually, in the face of the bullying, 15-year-old Phoebe went home and hanged herself.
So of course the call to action in the article, and the subsequent agreements in comments and the tweets that were circulating the article, is to do something about bullying. Stop the bullies.
Which is all fine and well, and bullies are a pox on society for sure. But if one thing has become obvious in the last few years, it’s that there are increased venues and formats for intimidation, and bullies are exceedingly well-versed in how to use them. In fact, bullies can be more effective than ever, because what else to teenagers have to do besides figure out new and exciting ways to do things their parents haven’t caught on to yet?
So while I’m absolutely in favor of anti-bullying campaigns, I think there’s a huge issue that’s not being addressed enough, especially when it comes to girls: why are we not teaching kids how to cope with bullies?
Teaching coping mechanisms and self-worth is far from an endorsement of bullying. But it’s never too early to teach kids a bit of Emotional Intelligence. They may as well learn early that the only person someone can control is him or herself. Sadly, bullies may never stop, no matter what “anti-bullying” programs are put in place. But teaching kids some self-worth, self-awareness and an innate knowledge that there will always be people who don’t like you and are incredibly mean – but it has to do more with them than you – might help kids like Phoebe start to recognize that death isn’t the only alternative to dealing with a bully.
And I say this is extra important for girls, because girls are much more ruthless with psychological abuse when it comes to bullying. All the more reason to equip girls with the mental tools to cope with it.
So to the commenters and criers out for anti-bullying and teaching kids to act with compassion; I’d implore you not to forget to add teaching some coping skills onto that. I’m awfully skeptical about anyone’s ability to stop bullies. But I think we can instill the tools in our daughters to stop another suicide like Phoebe’s.