By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Our children are navigating completely different worlds than we were as kids. I recall very clearly that "teasing" was defined as being made fun of, called names, ridiculed, and so on. "Bullying" was when someone became physically aggressive to you. In other words, they stuck your head in a toilet, punched you, tripped you, shoved you into lockers, etc. I recall that you weren't supposed to hit anyone, but you had the option of self-defense if you were experiencing physical aggression.
Today? "Bullying" has been downgraded to include name-calling and some ridiculing, and even, in some scenarios, being ostracized because you're not someone that another child wishes to play with. My son came home from school with the announcement he was being "bullied." After mama bear calmed down and did some investigation, I found out that his friend Patrick had told my son that he didn't want to play with him anymore, and therefore, my son was left out of the games Patrick was playing with another friend.
So, let's take a step back and consider "bullying" and what it actually means according to a dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines it as abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger or more powerful. This means you could make an argument that name-calling and ostracizing is bullying based on the concept of "mistreatment," but you could also argue that this isn't bullying because of the use of the word "abuse." Therefore, what is bullying to one person isn't to another.
In short, we can all agree that mistreatment isn't right. Kindness is definitely what we're shooting for and attempting to teach our children. So, regardless of your ultimate definition, how do we help our young ones, specifically our boys, address bullying in their world? What makes bullying extra significant in the life of a male?
1. Understand the "King of the Mountain"
Boys have a unique hierarchy based on unspoken but enforced qualities like strength, dominance, power, intelligence, savvy, and sometimes wit. Even if you have the most sensitive of young men in your home, that doesn't mean the males surrounding them aren't influenced by the levels of testosterone that drive them to compete.
As parents, whether we like it or not, we need to take a step back and recognize that there will be stiff competition amongst young males, as is true with adult males. It's in their blood to varying degrees. Some males will try to avoid conflict, while others may seek to gain an unspoken monarchy with them at the helm.
Recognizing this is important, why? Because how we address boys being bullied needs to be filtered through the understanding that males fight for dominance and rank all the time. It sets a unique stage for girls and needs to be considered regardless of culture or how we want things to be.
2. Address Your Son as a Future Man
Your son is growing up, and in doing so, he will come against conflict. We hope that conflict is manageable, but sometimes, it graduates from mean boys and name-calling to actual physical aggression or stalking. Considering that your son is entering a world that will be a reality for the length of his life, so his coping and survival skills need to be honed appropriately.
What does this mean? It means that, as a parent, you need to carefully consider what type of character traits you want to foster in your son. Avoidance, submission, or verbal coping skills are nice—if they work—but often, it can leave a boy (even the sensitive boy) feeling emasculated and conquered. Even a boy with sensitive nature needs to feel empowered. Consider this when giving him advice.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Sanja Radin
3. Consider Your Son's Strengths and Weaknesses
If your son is being bullied, take inventory of your son's strengths and weaknesses before you address the bullying. Why? Because his strengths will be instinctual, and you'll want to know how to monopolize on these in conflict resolution. His weaknesses will be the targets of his bullies, and you'll want to teach him self-defense—whatever that looks like—so he's not left open and vulnerable.
Teaching your son how to confront their bully verbally may be less of a focus if your son is verbally confident, schooled in words, savvy, and able to talk himself out of situations. However, suppose your son is being physically hurt, and he's not physically strong. In that case, you may want to consider how to help him defend himself without starting his own war of anger and aggression.
It's important—no, it's critical—to identify where your son will need to be able to protect himself.
4. Define What Is Acceptable from You
Every school, and other parents, will have a definition of what is acceptable in dealing with bullies. You may or may not align with their sequence of steps to address a situation. Therefore, it is crucial that your son knows what your steps to address a situation are. In the end, as their parent, your definition will be what sets them up to succeed.
To be frank—and many may disagree with me—I've taught my son that in no way should he use physical aggression unless it is in self-defense with the intent to cease the assault on his person. I realize that his school will likely have a defined list of consequences for him in the event he were to "fight back," and I've made it clear to my son that should this happen, we will be his mediators before the school authorities and will deal respectfully with the rules that have been set down. To help facilitate this, I've also enrolled my son in martial arts to learn the correct context in which to use physical skills to his advantage. In fact, his class is specifically called "self-defense" instead of a specific type of martial arts (Karate, Ju-Jitsu, etc.) for this very reason.
But no matter where you stand, your convictions on the matter should be apparent to your son. This will empower him to work within the boundaries the most important authorities in his life (you) have set for him. It will set him up to be prepared and expectant of what he can and cannot do in the face of bullying and what will and won't be the consequences of his choices at home.
5. Remember to Be There
Your son needs you. Plain and simple. Any bullying situation will be difficult, and unfortunately, there isn't a step-by-step solution that can resolve it in a few points. However, your presence in your son's life is critical, as well as recognizing their situation and defining it as bullying.
My son's situation with his friend Patrick? We resolved it relatively simply. We sat our son down and told him what he was experiencing wasn't bullying. He wasn't physically harmed. Mentally and emotionally? Sure, there was some hurt, but it was par for the course of being human. It wasn't exaggerated mental or emotional abuse that could leave scars so permanent that our son would need therapy. One boy simply didn't want to play with my son, but nothing beyond that choice was happening. Unfortunately, we had to teach our son the fickleness of friendship, but it wasn't a bullying situation.
On the other hand, my son witnessed another one of his friends being physically pushed around by some boys. A slap, a shove, and my son stepped in physically and held his ground—without physical retaliation. He was defending his friend from a bully, yet, according to school rules, because he was involved in an "altercation," he also served time in recess detention. Did I, as a parent, feel this highly unfair? Absolutely. Did I teach my son that what he did to protect his friend was right? Absolutely. Did I go before the school and argue and rant that my son wasn't due those consequences? No. I didn't. My son served his "time," so to speak, with honor and respect while knowing we supported him fully and stood behind him. We were there for him through it all.
Bullying is rough on any kid. It's also rough on parents. So, link arms, Mom and Dad. Form a chain of support for your boy. Help them enter manhood with the values you've set for them and the confidence that whether they're remarkably strong or remarkably sensitive and artistic, they can be empowered with skills to defend themselves. And, most all, they are not—and never will be—alone.
Photo credit: ©Getty-Motortion
Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!