An estimated 13 million American children will be bullied this year. National bullying expert Rosetta Lee explains why this is a topic all parents need to discuss with their children.
Boys and girls experience bullying differently
Much of bullying surrounds society's expectations and stereotypes about girls and boys and what they are supposed to be.
There is so much focus on a girl's looks and relationships, and they are pressured to be nice and polite and not express direct aggression. The focus for boys is on their physical power and strength, and they are expected to be bellicose and physical.
These differences affect how bullying occurs. Girls are targeted around things like not being pretty enough or popular enough, the social collective that can bully are cliques, and the tools of bullying are indirect (eye rolling, rumors, avoiding, etc). Boys are targeted around being not big enough or tough enough, the social collective that can bully are sports teams and gangs, and the tools of bullying are pushing, name calling, and threatening.
This is why it's so important to name all forms of bullying behavior in helping our kids recognize bullying.
Why is gender and sexuality education critical in reducing bullying?
As you might have guessed, our children are policed pretty strictly on gender norms through bullying. The better they understand the difference between biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, how all of these may be related but not necessarily connected, how all of these categories exist in a spectrum rather than in a binary, how people exist in all combinations along the spectrums, and how we should all treat people with dignity and respect, much of the bullying young people experience will be reduced.
I know people will argue that not everyone is ready or willing to be accepting of LGBTQ people. I think we have to be realistic, though, and acknowledge that LGBTQ people do exist, and most of us can get behind treating fellow human beings with kindness and respect. That's all I am asking. It's important to not leave sexual orientation out of the discussion, because research shows that, if levels of anti-gay bullying goes down in a school environment, levels of ALL forms of bullying go down.
It's in all of our kids' interest, even the straight ones, to reduce anti-gay bullying.
How can we stop cyber bullying?
I know there is much focus on cyberbullying, but I think we shouldn't get distracted by it that much. It is just another form of bullying - we can't address cyberbullying without addressing the root causes of why bullying happens in the first place. However, it IS important to teach kids digital citizenship and cyber safety.
We are still in a generational cusp - we are digital immigrants teaching digital natives. You and I learned how to socialize, build relationships, work together, and talk to one other as young people before we got access to the technology. Kids got access to the technology before they had a chance to develop these skills, and we don't do enough mitigation and mediation to make sure they are developing healthy versions of these skills despite the technology or even using the technology.
We also need to teach children the importance of face to face conflict resolution. In person, as you stumble to figure out how to express yourself, you may make slips in judgment and say something awful to someone.You wish we could take it back, apologize for what you said, and try to repair the relationship.You and the other person are the only people who know about the interaction. Online, you say something awful, particularly on platforms like Facebook, and even if you apologize, even if the other person forgives you, even if you remove the post, what you said is permanently online as people quote it, forward it, share it, re-post it, and more.
Here are some golden rules of digital communication:
- If you wouldn't say it in person, don't say it digitally.
- Would you be OK with what you said or a picture/video posted being the headline story in a major newspaper? If not, don't say it or post it.
- If someone Googled you, what kind of digital persona would they find? Are you proud of this persona, and does it match the kind of person you want to be seen as forever?
What can parents do to prevent bullying?
- Teach young people social skills, particularly conflict resolution and communication skills.
- Give young people opportunities to make a difference in the world.
- Help young people develop real self esteem - not narcissistic and delusional view of themselves, but the ability to see clearly all your strengths and faults and still feel good about themselves.
- Teach them diversity and inclusion skills.
You can hear more from Rosetta Lee Tuesday, April 10, 7 - 9 p.m. at McCaw Hall. Her talk, "Beyond Sticks and Stones: Parenting Essentials to Prevent and Address Bullying" is part of the ParentMap Lecture Series. Tickets are still available. Learn more by clicking here.