When it comes to bullying, the world is an unpredictable place. The reasons a child may be targeted by peers can vary considerably and change often. In fact, a child who is bullied for a particular reason in one school may be popular for that same reason in another school, because what is looked down upon in certain cultures and communities may be viewed as “cool” or respected in the next. Take socioeconomic status, for example – in communities where minimum wage and homelessness are the norm, a child who wears expensive clothing or drives a new car will be singled out; vice versa, in a community where expensive jewelry and vacation homes are expected, a child who cannot even afford the school lunch will stand out. There are some areas of “difference” that commonly lead to bullying among youth, regardless of the culture: Appearance, Intelligence/Ability levels, Socioeconomic status, Sexual orientation, Lifestyle or religious preferences, and Behavior (this includes social skills, verbal expression, emotions, etc.). In general, sadly, anyone who does not fit the norm in a particular context is vulnerable to being targeted. Often, a child is perceived as “too much or too little” of a specific trait deemed significant by the community.
So what does this mean? Should we teach our kids to play it safe and “conform to the norm” in order to be less conspicuous to potential bullies? I’ve conducted research on adolescent bullying over the past few years, and one of the most insightful statements I’ve ever heard about this topic came from a 15-year-old girl who said: “I don’t know if she knows they’re making fun of her or not. ‘Cause she continues to do stuff that people would see as being weird or something. And you think if she knew, she would change it – but then again, maybe she is just proud to be herself, and doesn’t want to change.”
It sounds simple, but aren’t the best solutions usually so? Maybe instead of instilling the notion of flying under the radar and developing an identity driven by a fear of standing out, we should teach our kids to embrace their quirks, celebrate differences and seek out diversity. Become an expert at reframing negative perceptions into something positive for your child – instead of labeling someone as “pushy,” how about “eager to help?” Try transforming “weird” into “creative and imaginative,” and “stupid” into “persistent, dedicated and up to facing challenges.” For every poorly perceived trait, discover a redeeming quality. Every individual has strengths and assets, and teaching your child to recognize these qualities in both themselves and others is empowering – and it’s the first step in building a generation of kids who can end the cycle of bullying.
Link of the Week: This Kid Could Teach Us All A Lesson About Reframing
View my blog on the “Six Things Every Parent Needs to Know about Bullying“