Dealing With Bullying: Putting Power in its Place

By: Rachel Doherty

Bullying can be a difficult issue for parents to deal with, but when we boil it down to its basics, it’s all about power.

If you float around schools the term, “bullying incident” can be heard a lot. Having traversed school life with three kids now, and the issues that come up from time to time, I have a few thoughts on bullying that I wanted to share.

What is bullying?

The Bullying. No Way! website defines bullying as “an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm”.

To me, it’s difficult to have a “bullying incident” because, like this definition says, bullying is about power and the sustained exercise of that power by one person over another. Most people who have been bullied, wouldn’t just boil it down to one event, and probably can’t even fully explain how the other person is doing it.

Exercising power over another person tends to be invisible. It’s the leaving them out just as much as the hurtful words, it’s the “accidental” push and shove, but also a subtle stripping of your place with other friends. It’s the sideways glances and the smug looks when the powerless one makes a mistake.

One thing I’ve come to feel very strongly about, is that bullying as an issue can only be managed by our schools and government so much. At the end of the day, a person becomes a bully by grasping power, and being given more by their target, and others stand by and let that happen.


How should parents deal with bullying behaviour?

The loaded meaning of bullying means that it’s important to keep the emotions out of it and look at what’s going on underneath the hurt feelings and physical injuries.

Where my kids have been bullied, I tend to ask them questions about what the bully is like. What do you know about their life? Why would they want power over you and how will that help them feel better? Because lets face it, people tend to exercise power over others when they don’t feel like they have enough in their own life to feel satisfied.

Then I look at what they’re doing that encourages the bully to take their power. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that bullying is the fault of a victim, which again is a loaded term, but I do think that as a bully takes power, those they target also give it up, and we can help our kids to work out why they’re doing that and how they’re going to get it back in a way that’s true to themselves, without becoming a bully themselves.

The solution to this ‘stealing of power’ is to look at why the bully is targeting them and not others. What is it that happens when your child encounters the bully that results in this situation, when others can just walk away? In the experiences our family has had over the years, it’s often the emotional response the target gives that draws attention of a larger audience that keeps the bully going.

Reporting bullying behaviours to teachers can often solidify a “naughty child” tag that young bullies actually like. Having some notoriety is better than none when you’re unlikely to attract your teacher’s attention for your academic successes or other positive talents. While kids should make it known to others, there’s also times when they should be given a chance to solve the problem of bullying themselves if they feel strong enough to do that. Then they can let teachers or administration staff step in to deal with the underlying issues.

And the last thing is to recruit some friends. Bullying is a bit of a smoke and mirrors things where people act with more courage than they really have. They rarely take on a strong group and prefer to pick off those on their own, so if your child is finding themselves under attack, it’s important to reinforce those other relationships and get the whole group involved in looking out for one another.

If the issue of bullying comes up at the dinner table and it’s a friend involved, then I always challenge my kids to be a good friend and lend some of their power to make sure the bully realises that this person is not the powerless target they thought.

Having experienced bullies in the workplace in a couple of jobs I’ve had, I know that we’re unlikely to create a world where others don’t try to exert power for their own benefit. So teaching our kids to spot the signs, to hold on to their personal power and step in when others are vulnerable are all going to set them up to deal with bullying for life.

If you’re dealing with this topic right now and needing some more tips, then I highly recommend having a look at the resources on the Bullying. No Way! website. They’ve got articles for parents and kids to help you navigate this tricky issue.

Article supplied with thanks to Tweens 2 Teen.

About the Author: Rachel Doherty helps those living and working with young people, through supervision, coaching, speaking and consulting.

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