Beyond Sticks and Stones
“Do you know what it was like?” the tearful girl asked her mother when describing the recent bullying at school. “It is like I am a mouse in a classroom of cats, and they are chewing my legs and tail off bit by bit, and they are enjoying it!” Jessica age 13 yrs.
This description of a victim comes to mind again as the focus of the recent suicides of youth who have been bullied has reached national attention.
Growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, my parents would give two pieces of advice when I was called names at school. “Just ignore them honey.” or remember, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”. In the 50’s and 60’s this was possibly good advice. Youth spent approximately six waking hours a day with their parents. When a parent could not be home, children and youth spent time with grandmas and grandpas, a close neighbor or a friend of a parent. The extended family and social network of adults provided children with extra adult input that helped lift the spirits of a child/youth being bullied. This advice often helped children cope because they saw most adults as wise and often equally or more significant than peers. Many homes did not have a television until the late 1950’s. What television shows there were focused around wise and protective adults who were there to guide children and youth to a higher moral ground.
In 2010 the advice of the 50’s and 60’s seems simple and inconsequential in the face of today’s ruthless bullies. Perhaps though it is not that bullies are necessarily more ruthless, but that they have more access to peers and the victims have less of a protected environment.
The family constellation has changed. The majority of men and women are in the workforce, meaning that less adult/child interaction occurs. When there is free time, youth are engaged in multiple out-of-home activities such as sports, music, dance, martial arts and gymnastics. These activities place them in more peer-to-peer relationships than with family members on a daily basis. With many older adults in the work force, the grandparent or older neighbor may not be available for additional emotional guidance and support.
Communication tools have also changed and allow bullies increased access to their victims. In the 1950’s my family had a “party-line”. What that meant is that my family shared a phone line with another family. At any given time, if Mrs. Johnson picked up her phone while I was already talking to someone, she could hear my conversation. You can only imagine how that would censure what I might say to a friend. Today’s youth have email, Facebook and texting and can keep in almost constant contact with their victims without censure. In looking at the changes in family and other adult support, as well as the increase in the availability of bullies to victims, it becomes clear why the old adage of “sticks and stones . . .” no longer suffices.
The damage of being a victim of bullying can go on even into one’s adult life. Bullying attacks the core of a child/youth’s belief system about self. If the victim has been told frequently by multiple bullies that there is something wrong with who he is, then the victim will lose sight of his positive core identity. When this occurs, the victim no longer sees himself as “perfect in possibilities” but rather, sees himself as insignificant and defective. The victim’s negative choices about many things will emanate from that personal identity filter even into adulthood unless he can come to see the truth about the wonder of his own inner core.
Although peers have more access to youth today than 50 years ago, today’s adults can make it more difficult for bullies to contact a child/youth outside of school. As a parent, you do not have to add texting to your cell phone plan. The computer in the household can be kept in the living room with the parent having the only password to login. An adult can teach a child to only allow his closest supportive friends access to their Facebook page and encourage him to block all other acquaintances from having access. A parent can also become thoroughly familiar with the youth with whom his/her child is calling a friend. Victims of bullying have difficulty choosing healthy friends as the victims can come to believe that they have nothing to offer a good friend. Allow for more family time and fewer activities so that your youth has less time with peers. Let your youth know how significant he is and enlist the assistance of other adults to do the same.
Being a victim of bullying can increase the likelihood of the child developing anxiety and depression. These are serious emotional problems that should not be overlooked or ignored. Please contact a professional should you recognize these emotional problems in your child/youth. Contact your child’s school if your child has shared he/she is being bullied at school. In an October statement issued by the National Department of Education to schools throughout the United States, the education department stated that victims of bullying “civil rights were being violated.” Your schools are prepared to take action should this be occurring to your child.
Even though the parental advice to victims of bullying in the 50’s and 60’s no longer seems as relevant, there are still actions that adults can take to decrease the impact of bullying on a child/youth’s central core identity. Wholeness Healing Center will be offering an after-school group for victims of bullying. Please contact our office for more information at 308-382-5297 x 0.Tags: bullying
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Mental Health Practitioner
Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor
- Dorothy Molczyk, LMHP LADC, provides individual, family and group therapy at Wholeness Healing Center. She is experienced in serving children, adolescents and adults. Her areas of specialty include substance abuse/dependency, healing from traumatic events, recovering from loss, and behavior disorders in children and adolescents.
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