Why Bullying Is The Result—Not The Problem

sad, young ballerina

And 5 ways YOU can be the solution.

As a kid, I was typically the shortest, skinniest, and youngest in my class. As I grew older, I had very bad acne that made me self-conscious and it probably didn’t help that I was an introverted child—shy and socially awkward.

While my body did not develop when many of my female friends were getting their first bras, my voice was deeper than most of the girls my age.

Living in the Bible Belt South, I was typically one of few African-Americans in my class. Still, I had a few friends and though I wanted to "fit in" with the masses, I was a walking poster child for being bullied.

No one ever physically attacked me, but the verbal and social tormenting made lasting impressions on me. Some people are under the misconception that bullying only involves being hit, kicked, pushed, or called names.

Sure, these are behaviors associated with bullying, but when put in such simple terms, it’s easy to understand why some individuals might use statements like, "Stop being so sensitive", "You need to get tougher skin", or "They're just kids being kids. You'll get over it."

Some kids do get over it. But at what cost?

And the fact of the matter is that we still have too many young people taking their lives to say, “Get over it.” Because some kids…they don’t get over it. They die over it. In more recent news, the New York Daily News and The Good Men Project reported the story of a 12 year old boy who was bullied by peers for being a cheerleader and later found dead.

So, let's define bullying:

Bullying: unwanted, aggressive behavior that is repeated and involves a real or perceived power of imbalance. It can include behavior that is verbal (e.g. teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, or threatening to cause harm), social (e.g. leaving someone out on purpose, telling others not to associate with someone, spreading rumors, or embarrassing someone in public), or physical (e.g. hitting, kicking, pushing, spitting, tripping, pinching, taking or breaking someone's things, or making mean or rude hand gestures).

New York Magazine recently published an article citing the research that suggests that bullying can leave an imprint of unhealthy inflammation on the brains of those victimized.

And the media has made us all more than ever aware of the tragic ending that bullying can have when young people commit suicide due to repeated and relentless taunting and intimidation.

People are typically bullied for a plethora of reasons and there have been numerous organizations and media campaigns developed to address the issue. But, what if I told you that bullying is not the problem? The problem lies in the issue of intolerance and non-affirming attitudes to difference.

Further, the magnitude of the bullying epidemic demonstrates that such attitudes are more problematic than many want to admit and, in the silence, these attitudes have run amok. Bullying and suicide are therefore, not the problems, but the results of a larger problem.

Discovering that their child has been the victim of bullying is one of the worst fears for most parents. Often times parents feel helpless and paralyzed by not knowing how to help their child not be victimized and overcome the trauma typically associated with being bullied. But, the solution starts with parents teaching their children to 1) affirm and accept themselves and 2) affirm and accept others. To facilitate this process, parents might:

1. Affirm your kid.

Accept them for who they are, what they look like, and how they identify so that they begin to learn to accept themselves as the healthy and authentic individual you helped them grow into. Acceptance starts at home.

2. Make sure your kid is heavily involved in activities that accentuate their strengths, self-worth, and self-confidence, giving them an overall healthy sense of who they are.

3. Get involved.

Let your kid know you are on their side. Talk to school administrators. Let them know who you are and enlist their support of you helping and supporting your child.

Helping your child identify different forms of violence (e.g. verbal, nonverbal, physical, direct, indirect, etc.) can also help them become more vigilant about how they are treated and how they treat others.

4. If necessary, get them counseling.

If necessary, get you counseling.

5. Watch for intolerance and lack of acceptance in your own speech and behavior.

They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

So, if your kid observes intolerance to difference in you or sees you engage in behavior unhealthy and resembling bullying, chances are you are sending them a message that it is okay for them to do the same.

And, should they be the victim of bullying, they may feel that you’re not accepting and that you condone bullying those who are different - making them less likely to confide in you.

Some of you might be thinking, "How do I affirm something that I don’t agree with, especially pertaining to my child?” That’s a very good question and as a therapist who helps my clients learn the process of affirming self and others, I get that question a lot. Well, let’s look at the definition of affirm:

Affirm: accepting one and the totality of the uniquenesses of that person and upholding the validity of who they are.

You see, when we affirm ourselves and when we affirm others, we are merely acknowledging and accepting that there are certain qualities that we possess that speak to the innate essence of who we are.

Those qualities are likely to appear differently in different people because—they're unique.

The common definition of affirm does not call for us to "agree" per se as much as it calls us to recognize and accept what is true.  In that regard, one can affirm others without adopting for themselves what is true or valid for someone else.

The problem of intolerance and non-affirming attitudes toward difference may not improve overnight, but parents can help change the imprint of the colossal and collateral damage associated with bullying by empowering their children to develop whole, healthy, and affirming characteristics.

After all, a whole self is a healthy self and a healthy self is a loving self—loving of self, others, and life!

Dr. Dionne Bates is a licensed professional counselor.

For more information about her, please visit www.drdbates.com or follow her on Twitter: @SelfSOULstice.