Randi Kreiss

Bullying: An inevitable rite of passage?

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There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that would tempt me to relive my teenage years. Even if time travel came with my internet connection, hell no, I wouldn’t go. Even if I could relive my delightful 30s and 40s if I started over again at 13, the answer would still, emphatically, be “no.”

Now that my grandkids are in or approaching the teen arena, I’m remembering how painful that life passage can be. For me, the time was rough and emotionally chaotic.

My story isn’t that unusual. I felt like a misfit. When I was 13, I looked like a 9-year-old. My “friends” were more like loose associations of girls whom I alternately loved and hated, and vice versa. Real friendships wouldn’t blossom until my later teens. Among the girls I knew, there was an ongoing, shifting power struggle, anxiety about not knowing if I was “in” or “out” with the “popular” girls.

I share this because nothing really changes when it comes to human nature. Bullying lives on. I’m hearing from my kids that their own kids are experiencing or observing friends struggling to find their place among the children in their grades.

Bullying has become a cottage industry, the subject of talk shows, social media and school meetings. But awareness doesn’t always work; bullies still stalk the playground. One of my grandkids goes to a school where there’s a huge banner over the playground urging kids to be kind to one another and call out bullying when they see it.

Still, there’s a girl whose classmates make her life miserable on a daily basis, manipulating others to ostracize her and organizing whispering and secret-note campaigns against her. And this is without social media. These particular girls don’t carry phones. This is real-time bullying.

What to do? Yes, there are school counselors and teachers, and the option of calling the girl’s parents to talk it over. When your child is suffering, you want an intervention. In fact, parents can get heated themselves when their child is humiliated day after day and refuses to go to school. Remember “God of Carnage” on Broadway? Very “civilized” New York City parents get together to talk about their children’s fighting in school, and of course wind up throwing the furniture at one another.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that some people will always seek out weaker individuals to push around. That doesn’t mean we give up, but perhaps we should handle most incidents with less drama.

I don’t believe that a bully’s parents should be brought in unless some egregious offense is taking place. And I don’t think most anti-bullying programs in school actually work. In fact, research shows that some schools that publicize anti-bullying resources actually have more problems with bullying than schools that are less proactive about it.

For me, the bullying stopped when I finally started feeling good about myself. And that was a long and complex process, of maturing physically and emotionally and developing skills that I was proud of, and finding just a friend or two who were kind and supportive.

I think kids who are being bullied have to get through it as best they can, with the active support of family and maybe a teacher or counselor who’s savvy enough to do more good than harm. I say this not because staff members aren’t smart or skilled, but because any adult who gets involved changes the dynamic.

We, as the adults in the room, cannot change others’ behavior unless it really is out of bounds. And when we leave the room, bullies know all the subtle ways of undermining their victims’ confidence and status within their circles of friends.

So, as the parents, we keep talking to our children and encouraging them, and finding activities that boost confidence, and helping them find their value in themselves and not through someone else’s eyes.

If your child is the bully, then there’s real work to do, but in many ways, the results are easier to realize. It’s tough to acknowledge, but the bully can be redirected by parental guidance or counseling, if necessary. And if your kid is a bully, it is necessary to reach out because he or she is in pain, too.

We live in a time of instant solutions, but children go to school for 12 years, and it may take time to free the bullied child from the cycle of behavioral abuse.

My heart aches for the kids in that situation. I remember. I know most will be OK, and I know they may even be stronger for it, but in the moment, it hurts.

Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.