an early morning ramble about bullying

 

There is lots of talk about bullying these days. This is a good thing – more adults are starting to take notice and to take what goes on between kids seriously. More workplaces are striving to create safe environments for the people who make their business or organizations actually work.

Do you ever wonder about the quality of the discussions around bullying? I saw a comment online the other day about how anti-bullying curricula are big business these days. That kind of comment raises a red flag for me. I always worry that profit and market appeal will trump quality and effectiveness. Easy answers are so tempting in the face of the painful or difficult questions in life.

I have three school aged children and we have dealt with our share of bullying incidents over the years everywhere from on the school bus to the classroom to birthday parties to Facebook. And as I am sure just about any other parent to more than one child can attest, all three of my lovely children has the capacity to treat a sibling with less than loving, respectful behaviour. They can be each other’s best friends but they also test out their worst behaviour on each other – at least mine do! Here are some things I have observed and learned over the years while trying to raise compassionate, creative, courageous, just, kind people from the perfectly beautiful, loving, joyful babies I was given.

Self-esteem matters. Children cannot be too loved. I do not believe that constant praise and unconditional support and admiration contribute to a child’s self-esteem, just the opposite in fact. I think that steady love and praise for something the child has worked for or done well is a good thing. I assume the best of my children and see it as part of my job to guide them when they stumble. Healthy and true self-esteem will grow from having done real good in the world as well as knowing that they are cherished and loved. Choosing the right path when in a hard situation is something worthy of admiration. I think children need to know we believe they are capable of being wonderful human beings and that they are capable of the hard work that entails. When a child has been hurt by someone else’s bullying behaviour they need to be comforted, cared for and kept safe. Being treated with compassion plants the seeds that I hope will someday bear fruit when this child offers compassion to another.

When I look at some of the situations my children have faced I think a misguided approach to building self-esteem has contributed to the bullying problem. Everyone feels they have the right to have their self-image affirmed at all times, regardless of their behaviour, and anyone who challenges their behaviour is being “mean” or “bullying them. The bullying curricula seem to have emphasized helping children speak up when they have been bullied – a very good thing – BUT I see little evidence that these programs are teaching children to recognize when their behaviour is hurting someone else. It is all about how others make me feel all the time. Even when children communicate well and say, “When you do X it makes me feel Y, please stop,” most often I find that the reaction is one of outrage and accusations of bullying. Please tell me how it works when one child takes a lunch, name calls or pulls hair, the one who says “Stop!” is the bully?

I would love to see us teaching our children (and adults for that matter) that as well as respecting and caring for themselves, they will be much happier, stronger and more capable if they can find self-esteem in making the world a better and kinder place. You can go to bed peaceful knowing you did the right thing during the day, that you made someone’s day easier or better. Everyone has a right to be loved and respected and that means that we all need to make sure we are actively offering those things to the people we interact with as well as seeking them for ourselves. It is not a one way street!

These are just some Sunday morning ramblings after nearly two months of sickness and sadness around our house. I am tired and my thoughts are not nearly as organized or well articulated as I would like so I am going to consider this the beginning rather than the end!

no cookies, mittens or homemade bread in this post

Warning right up front – this post has nothing to do with warm and fuzzy things like baking or knitting. It is a hard topic I have been struggling with all day.

Earlier today I overheard a conversation about what an insult  and inconvenience it is to have to get a police record check before doing volunteer work with children. The conversation went on to say that if people would just stop making false accusations of sexual abuse a lot of time and money could be saved. They said that all sexual offenders should be locked up forever but it is so hard to believe anyone who cries child abuse.

Seriously?

I get their point to a certain extent. Police checks only do so much good – they only highlight those offenders who have been caught. Those who have been devious enough to avoid detection, those whose victims were too afraid or too confused or too close to the perpetrator to find a way to come forward, have a clean legal record. I can see how it could be uncomfortable to be treated as if you should be assumed guilty until proven innocent and safe to work with children or other vulnerable people.

What I don’t understand is how people who think this way fail to see that when it comes to accusations of abuse, they are presuming the victim is guilty of lying until proven innocent. There are not nearly as many false accusations floating around out there as there are false proclamations of innocence. I can only assume that when people get going on this topic, they know nothing about how our police and legal systems treat victims of sexual assault at any age. Really – who do you think is more motivated to lie: someone who has been hurt, shamed and traumatized in the most personal of ways and by coming forward is going to have to make all of this public? Or how about the individual who has broken the law and has used, hurt and terrified another human being in such a despicable way? No one wants to believe that ugly things happen in secret places. It is more comfortable to be suspicious of victims than to believe that respectable looking people can be monsters in secret.

Rapists lie. Those who would use their power to degrade, injure, shame or use another human being would not hesitate to lie. Child molesters lie.

Do you know who else will lie? Children who are afraid that a parent they rely on for any sort of care and security, dysfunctional as it may be, may lie rather than have that parent taken away leaving them to strangers. People living in group homes or nursing homes who are afraid of the consequences of “telling” will lie rather than risk what little security and dignity they have. Speaking out takes courage and strength, two of the very things that are attacked in abuse. That’s right, I am saying that  we should be more suspicious of children or other vulnerable people who deny abuse when there is evidence to the contrary than we should be suspicious of those who accuse someone of abuse.

What amazes and confuses me is how many people are quick to say that child abusers should be locked up and the key thrown away but are also reluctant to believe anyone who says they have been abused. They won’t hesitate to spend thousands of dollars on prison sentences for offenders but they do not really want to believe that their victims are real people. They want more prisons but they don’t want society to help pay the surviving victims for the kind of treatment that will help them recover.

I don’t know how to wrap this post up. This blog is still so new and unknown that I don’t even know if anyone will read it. I just know that the next time I am asked to update my police check I will gladly do so, knowing that somewhere someone is at least trying to protect vulnerable people. I would rather deal with a little discomfort, expense and inconvenience if this process becoming standard means that even a few more children will be spared the (painful) discomfort, expense (do you have any idea how much appropriate therapy for trauma and abuse costs?) and inconvenience (how’s that for a gross understatement) of being targeted by an abuser.