My brother Shane was often teased for being fat. As a kid and as an adult.
Why do we tease fat kids?
Why do we make fun of those who don’t fit in?
Why do we bully those who are different than we are, be it their race, religion, sexuality, ability level, income, politics, language, or any other area?
BUT THAT’S NOT ME!
But, wait you say, you wouldn’t tease, shame, or bully a fat kid. Or anyone else for that matter. You love all people regardless of their (fill in the blank).
If that is true — and I believe collectively it is — why do we collectively tolerate it when others tease or bully?
Like you, I wish I had the answers. And though I don’t have the answers, I do have a few thoughts I would like to share.
WHERE DOES IT START?
It’s easy to think of bullying in high school. We see and hear about it frequently. I’ve written about it before, including my review of “13 Reasons Why,” the controversial Netflix series on teenage bullying and suicide.
Teasing, bullying, and shaming seems to find its ugly start much earlier, like on the playground in elementary school where it started with Shane.
Tommy laughs when Billy trips and falls. Johnny makes Sally cry when he pulls her piggy tails. Ashley calls Sara stupid because she drew scribbles on her homework.
“But, don’t worry,” we say. “It’s just kids being kids.”
But if that is true, why is not every kid doing it?
I believe children are largely following the examples they see most consistently around them. Consider this insight from The Education Development Center as shared on their website Preventing Bullying:
“As young children enter early childhood settings, they bring with them a history of experiences with family, media, and other children. These experiences prepare children to be more or less likely to engage in bullying-related behavior.”
Family, media, and other children. They each have an impact.
“In some families, children experience or observe family violence, physical punishment, or the use of verbal or physical aggression to control others. These family experiences may lead children to initiate aggressive behaviors and become involved in bullying in early childhood settings.”
There is hope.
“In contrast, when children grow up in less punitive and more caring families and learn positive social skills, they are less likely to initiate bullying in early childhood settings.”
SPEAKING OF BEING CONTAGIOUS!
Currently, we are in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Worldwide we are practicing, at least to some degree, the concept of “social distancing” to minimize and stop the spread of the virus. Schools are canceled. Many non-essential businesses are closed. People are working from home and wearing masks in public.
When we see many others doing something we are more inclined to do so as well. This can be good or bad. In the base of bullying, it’s bad as we continue to learn.
“When other children in the classroom observe a bullying child’s “successful” display of power and dominance over a victimized child, they may join in–dominating the same victim repeatedly or using similar tactics to target and dominate victims of their own. If these early forms of direct bullying are allowed to continue over several months, power hierarchies may form, with groups of dominant children regularly bullying others who give in to their demands by crying and yielding. As bullying further develops, it can take more varied and sophisticated forms.”
WHAT WE CAN DO
If children model the negative yet “successful” bullying behavior they see consistently around them, isn’t it also true they will model consistent healthy behaviors if they can also see such behaviors being successful?
Healthy modeling has shown to be effective in helping children develop their own level of self-confidence, healthy eating habits, and their personal morals and values. Each of these, just for starters, begins with the family in the home.
If we want to stop negative behaviors that begin on the school playgrounds and carry into adulthood, let us begin with our own language, attitudes, actions, and behaviors.
We have a major influence, as writes Susan H. Landry, PhD, of the Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center.
“The child-parent relationship has a major influence on most aspects of child development. When optimal, parenting skills and behaviours have a positive impact on children’s self-esteem, school achievement, cognitive development and behaviour.”
We can make a difference!
Let us be the models of healthier behavior, positive language, and hopeful attitudes. Let us promote greatness in our children and those we influence. Let us not tolerate teasing, shaming, or bullying to any degree.
This is the week in 2016 when Shane went missing and was found, killed by suicide. Shane was the fat kid who was teased, shamed, and bullied. “Boys Will Be Boys” was too often the weak excuse used for justifying that teasing and bullying.
I have turned to poetry to attempt to express some of what I knew Shane felt throughout his life. While it’s impossible to know what any other person truly feels, I hope in a small way I have done his feelings justice.
BOYS JUST BEING BOYS
By Les Patterson
I feel hurt at times
Sometimes even pain
When words meant to be
Boys just being boys
Cut me to the core
Every time a little deeper
But that shouldn’t be
You easily rationalize
As observed wisdom
Shows me always strong
Full of understanding
Laughing at the joke
I am just like you
With real feelings
Sometimes crying inside
Wanting not to feel hurt
But to laugh in real joy
Not as a mask for pain
But you don’t know that
Your ignorance is not
Of my feeble efforts
To feel a degree of
Hope in humanity
I know it will never change
As battering words
Finally crack my tough facade
Leaving me only one choice
To take my final exit
Though I don’t really want to
But it may be my only escape
If you know a child, teen, or adult struggling with feelings of being teased, shamed, or bullied, please know you can make a difference. Raise your voice, share your love, give a hug.
You will find these resources helpful.
Have a good Monday. Thanks for letting me share.
p.s. Take 13 minutes today to discover how you can be an UPSTANDER and help prevent bullying.
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