These days, children no longer spend hours playing in the streets with neighbourhood kids where they learn the rules of the jungle organically. They go home from school in cars, stay indoors or go to organised activities. I think this is a large contributory factor to the rise of bullying these days – because our kids no longer know how to deal with their peers.
One mother I know wrote candidly about bullying, from both angles. From one angle, her daughter was hurt by something her friends had done (excluding her) and from the other angle, her son and his friends had laughed (not maliciously) at someone, which might be upsetting for the person.
Bullying is a big deal. In its least malignant state, it causes anguish and pain to tender hearts; in its most malignant state, suicide by the victims. Yes, more effort from all parties, especially parents and schools, is needed to stamp out bullying.
BUT sometimes, “bullying” is unintentional. What one person takes on her chin easily, another might be cut down by it. My Asian-looking child is teased mercilessly by the two Caucasian boys she does chemistry with ….. and their teasing, be it about her gender or race, is like water down a duck’s back. She whacks it back to them, and they are often chuckling together like a trio of goblins.
Sometimes, it is just a matter of language, not malice.
For example, my awfully* English daughter (nothing awful about being English, just a figure of speech) often calls her grandfather, “You naughty old goat”. Like “a good egg” , it is a term of endearment, but many Asian mothers are shocked that she is allowed to call her grandfather a goat, let alone a naughty one.
She once commented that her Malaysian Chinese friend is terribly studious (terribly studious as in extremely/ very/) and the girl was upset at being called “terrible”. In fact, the girl was so upset by the innocent comment, taken out of context because of the language, that they fell out completely. The mother contacted me and demanded to know why my daughter called hers terrible, and what is so terrible about studying?
So my view is, we have to teach our children the concept of “IMPERSONALLY PERSONAL”. Stop taking everything so personally. It is not always about you. And even if it is, you have to learn to let it go. Move on, because we can’t control other people. We can only control our own reactions.
Us parents can’t be firefighting all the time, putting out fires that other children set. THEY have to learn how to put out these fires before their hearts get burned. Thus, teach them about impersonally personal, because at some stage, they are going to have to use it.
Teaching our children about impersonally personal helps them to cope with REAL bullying.
My seventeen-year-old doesn’t care much for fashion. She doesn’t have that much money to spend on clothes anyway. Last year, at a hip party, she was dressed quite casually in a flimsy cotton dress, more suitable for the beach, and high heels. Some malicious girl posted a photo of my daughter on social media, with horrible comments about her cheap dress. In no time, it was ‘liked’ by many (who joined in with cruel jibes of their own) and widely shared. Now, that’s real bullying. I was furious.
But my daughter just shrugged it off with her head held high.
And sometimes, that is the only way to deal with bullies. Mummy charging down to school firefighting just wouldn’t do any good. So teach impersonally personal. That’s the best defence against bullying.
Photo of Georgina when she was about eight-years-old. I chose this photo because when she was eight, she said to her father, “Daaad, can I have lunch with you? I have none friends in school.” Yes, she had been sent to Coventry (a term for exclusion) by her so-called friends, because that is the stuff girls do to each other. It is all part of growing up, I’m afraid, and we can’t protect our children from their peers. We can only teach them how to cope.