Fighting the Wrong Battle with Bullies

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.

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3 thoughts on “Fighting the Wrong Battle with Bullies

  1. Derek K. Miller

    Excellent point. By the time I had a super-bullying boss in the 1990s, when I was in my mid-20s, it did bum me out, but my response was to look for a different (and, it turned out, much better) job.

    No doubt bullies are good at homing in on victims who are already a bit fragile, since they’d be the easiest to accost. How to boost their self-confidence is an interesting question.
    .-= Derek K. Miller´s last blog ..Ping-pong to the stars! =-.

  2. Leslie

    Totally agree with you here. In fact, my grade 4 son has been bullied so much this year it’s ridiculous! He was pushed off the top of the slide, hit his head when he landed, was dizzy and seeing black stars and threw up..classic head injury signs. A few days later another kid threw him into a metal bar on the playground equipment and he hit his head…I thought he had a piece of gum in his hair but it turned out to be a scab and dried blood (he didn’t mention any of it to me because he was embarassed he said). Short story..the school did nothing, the principle suggested HE stay inside for the rest of the week and go to the library to read instead. I think a lot is said about bullying in the media etc. but when it happens, the school system is very reluctant to do anything about it. I am in the process of teaching him some coping skills (my husband told him to shove the kid back but I don’t think he has it in him!) but it’s a tough thing.

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