Saturday 16 November 2019

Helen Moorhouse: Why parents need to beware they don't foster bullying in the home

THE older I get, the happier I am, I think. The slippage southward of physical attributes is a minor inconvenience when compared with mid-life benefits such as self-confidence and good old cop on. I would take any form of physical decrepitude over being a kid again.

Being a teenager is the loneliest island -- the insecurity, the having-to-look-cool-when-you-have-no-idea-what-the-hell-is-going-on-ness of those formative years makes me shudder.

Those years when you've developed a sensitivity chip, but it's malfunctioning. Passionate opinions are maybe where sympathy should be, the fight-back button is triggered instead of the shut-up-and-listen switch. It's the human form taking shape. And at that time, that human form is soft as putty and it needs a hand being moulded.

So that's where we come in -- the adults. We're now the ones with the influence. An influence that's partly responsible for breeding bullies.

I defy anyone to say that they haven't been bullied -- from the kid at school sniggering at your schoolbag through to the work colleague who is so good at walking over others they should get sponsorship.

The recession has been kind to the workplace bullying culture. Why waste time incentivising when underlings are so scared of losing their jobs that they'll do anything?

We all know that bullying is everywhere -- hiding under the guise of 'being assertive', 'showing others who's boss', 'looking after number one', and 'sticking up for yourself'.

But there's a line to be crossed between not being taken for a mug and turning into a tyrant. And that line gets crossed every minute of every day. In front of our children.

Kids, after all, are sponges. And what they're absorbing is alarming. That you don't get anywhere unless you're shouting the odds, that only the alpha male reaps the spoils -- sport, school, work, the home -- it's everywhere. It verges on acceptable.

But it's not. And it's not a formative life experience either. Every time that a former 'victim' of bullying speaks out to say that it didn't do them any harm, that thanks to their tormentors they are better, stronger and more able to stand up for themselves, it sends a message to aggressors that what they are doing will be all right in the long run, and a message to victims that if they don't feel the same, that they are weak and unable to cope.

One of the most worrying things that I have seen since the tragic suicide of Erin Gallagher was an inflammatory Facebook post encouraging 'naming and shaming' teenage cyberbullies; giving them a taste of their own medicine. It had been posted by an adult. A so-called 'elder and better' using social media to prove that they are more powerful than others. Than children.

And while online bullying is the most disgusting, vile, dangerous and damaging activity, it's complicated and delicate.

So is this really an appropriate response? Maybe it's time that adults -- all of us grown ups -- started to look at our own behaviour before lighting a virtual torch and storming out into cyberspace with a pitchfork and a mob of angry 'likes'. Shouldn't we read what advice is available? Talk to parents, teachers and our vulnerable kids? And then have a look at ourselves: our attitudes, our methods of correction and reward, our styles of encouragement, our methods of coping with overbearing treatment.

It's all very good to speak to our kids about coping with bullying, but it can't hurt to start showing them as well.

Irish Independent

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