Bullying in our schools appears to have reached almost epidemic levels. In spite of the many anti-bullying programs, websites, slogans, policies, and rules, bullying persists in our schools. There is even a National Bullying Prevention Center complete with videos and community resources. Yet, the bully unabatedly persists.
How do teens learn the exact words that will sting and wound their peers so deeply? How do they become so adept at observing the body language of their victim so as to know when a “verbal zinger” will sear through an unhealed hurt? How do they so effectively seek out other teens vulnerable enough to wrap in their web of intimidation? It may not take a research study to conclude that our teens may be learning from us – their loving parents and caring community members.
Our teenagers have been observing us for years. They have been listening to the words we use in the home and watching how we interact with friends and family members. They have been observing how we treat the neighbors. They scrutinize our actions in the store check-out line when we get upset. They observe our reaction when we are offended although the offender may say sorry. They hear us talking about who we put in their place on the job. They hear us brag about who we plotted to keep out or planned to let in at board, commission and association meetings. They are well aware of how we ostracize fellow members of councils, committees and community organizations.
Dare I mention some of the names our teens hear us use to label people — many of whom we don’t know personally? By the time our kids reach the teen years they have been taught, programmed, and hardwired to do some serious bullying — unless we intervene.
Bullying in educational settings is never acceptable and should be unquestionably dealt with. The first tools of defense against bullying are parents and community members. As parents, and members of a caring community, we have a responsibility to model the behavior we want to see in our teens. They are watching, listening, and practicing what they see and hear.
As we come to the end of October, which marks National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and move into November which marks a month of thanksgiving, we can connect the two with our words and actions. We can be thankful that as loving parents and caring community members, we have the power through our words and actions to show our teens how to treat others.