Bullying And Our Assumptions About Your Kids

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Bullying conversations remind me of that old Bob Marley lyric:”Them got so much things to say right now”.

Everybody and their mama got the 411 on bullying right?

“Bullies have low self-esteem. That’s why they bully.”
“It’s a natural part of life.”
“Kids these days are weak and need to learn to cope better.”

Each one of the above statements is like those old Cracker Jack boxes: Mostly air, some stale stuff, and a treat. So let us address each one, my people.

“Bullies have low self-esteem. That’s why they bully.”

Mostly air and stale stuff: This, as a general truth, has been proven false. You hear me? False. But, the treat: This, as something that describes the behavior and history of some kids that you may see engaging in bullying behavior? Spot on. We see both kinds of bullies in the neighborhood and at school. Some kids are status driven and have a high opinion of their self-worth relative to others (self-esteem). Other kids are what we call “bully-victims” have a very low self-esteem, and are more prone to depression. The only way to truly even guess which category a particular child/adolescent falls into is to know a lot of history about that young person. And this is the problem when things are “debunked”, but really aren’t.

It is only the overgeneralization of low self-esteem that is debunked — but do you think the media or its average consumer will get that? I don’t. So I am writing this.

“It’s a natural part of life”

Air and stale stuff — they forgot to put the treat in the box. My training as a developmental scientist requires me to throw the hell up in my mouth anytime somebody invokes what is “natural”. First, there are cultures where there is not a huge problem with bullying, where it is quite infrequent actually. So — no. Second, saying a human behavior is “natural” is really murky, because myriad environmental factors influence not only our actions but our genetic makeup itself. More on this later, but here are a link and a diagram below explaining the basic concept of epigenetics. We need to learn the difference between a trait, and social behaviors imprinted on a trait. More on that later too, because that takes at least a whole article. Keep reading.

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“Kids these days are weak and need to learn to cope better.”

Ok, there is a treat here, past the hot air and stale stuff: Some kids can benefit from learning to cope better with events that occur in their lives. I think letting kids navigate life on their own more is necessary to build resilience. But none of this means that bullying is not real, or often severe. Remember that there are deaths — actual deaths — from bullying. Look homie, I am pretty sure if you are that parent, you are not gonna say “well good for my dead son, at least he died whilst being resilient”. So, there are limits to each sentiment, aren’t there?

Bullying is only going to be curbed (I doubt a final and sweeping solution) by recognizing that a single set of behaviors can have multiple causes. We are only going to get a handle on this issue by recognizing, as I often harp on, the natural variances in human behavior. Variance: for those folks that break out in hives over big words instead of breaking out a damn dictionary — everybody ain’t the same.

Further, we are going to have to address this as cohesive communities, not in a cage match of teachers vs. kids vs. parents, vs. kids and parents, vs. administrators vs. the cops.

Tighten up, y’all. Do you want to discuss this more? Get at me on Twitter or Facebook. Comment on or share this article!

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