October was National Bullying Prevention Month. Started in 2006 by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, National Bullying Prevention Month is a campaign that raises awareness and helps educate communities about how to handle bullying and ways to prevent it. Even though October is over, I want to keep the conversation going because bullying is such an important topic and one that affects many people.
Fortunately I did not experience bullying on a large scale in my youth, but I have many stories of times when people teased me and made me feel like I didn’t belong. My sister, who is 13 years younger than me, had a very different experience. By the time she reached middle school, cyber bullying was prevalent. People from her school would leave comments online and say horrible things to her.
To some degree, we expect our children to experience drama and conflict, especially during the tumultuous middle school years but, as with my sister’s experience with bullying, I wondered if her school did enough to support her. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy answer.
My daughter started preschool this year and even though she’s young, I frequently think about the type of communities I want her to be a part of. There are many things I can’t control as a parent, but one thing I can help my daughter understand is that she is in charge of what she puts out into the world. She can choose to put out negativity or positivity, but the choice is hers. Here are some of the things I will try to teach my daughter with my words and my actions that I hope will help encourage her to not be a bully, but to also stand tall if she or one of her friends is the target of someone’s bullying.
Everyone Has Worth, Especially You
This lesson is two-sided. On one hand, I want her to see value in every person she meets. I want her to understand that everyone has something to bring to the table and it’s important to honor that. On the other hand, I think it is easy to place more value on other people and what other people think. I want her to honor and respect others, but I also want her to honor herself first. This will be a lifelong lesson for her, but as much as I can I will do my best to remind and encourage her to see her own self worth. If she feels worthy of love and good treatment, it will be easier for her to see other people’s worth and to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Be An Ally
This can mean many different things, but what I hope my daughter will learn is to always align herself with people who need her support. I hear many stories of her hugging friends at school and checking on them to see if they are ok. I recently witnessed a really touching moment in her classroom when I was visiting one day. My daughter was upset and crying because she wanted to go home. Immediately all of her classmates came up to her and began giving her hugs to make her feel better. The teachers said that she always gives people hugs, so it was fitting that they wanted to hug her when she was sad. This was a clear example of my daughter getting back something that she frequently gives to others. I want her to use her caring nature to uplift others and support them when they need it.
Use Your Voice
One of the most powerful ways to combat bullying is by speaking up. People can speak up by telling an adult what they are going through and reaching out for help. Victims of bullying can also speak up by setting boundaries for how they want to be treated. An ally can speak up by standing up for another person who is a target of bullying. None of these things are easy, but if I teach my daughter from a young age that what she has to say is important and valued, she will be more likely to speak up in the big situations when her voice has the capacity to change lives. She is very strong willed and determined now, and I hope to nurture that aspect of her personality and encourage her to use her voice to better her own life and the lives of others.
All of these lessons seem simple, but they are an intricate part of essentially teaching my daughter that what she has to offer the world is important and that being kind to others and valuing what they have to offer is important too. I don’t know what her journey holds, but I hope to help her navigate it by listening, advocating, and learning alongside her.
If you or your child are struggling with bullying, I want to leave some resources here for you to check out. Bystander Revolution has a number of really great videos that I believe will resonate with young teens in particular. Also, the Anti-Defamation League has a number of great resources for educators, youth, and families. I did training with ADL in high school and as a teacher, and I always enjoyed their workshops.