By Michael Hawton, MAPS.
No doubt we are all on the same page when it comes to cyberbullying. It’s a terrible thing that some young people find themselves driven to taking their own lives and that cyberbullying appears to be a growing problem.
However, I don’t think the issue of bullying is a new problem at all. Far from it. Cyberbullying is just another version of a problem that has existed for generations. Bullies have always been around. Yes, I hear some of you saying, but the bullies didn’t use a device and the bullies didn’t follow you home! Granted. What I am saying though is that the same teasers and taunters and name-callers were there in many now-adults’ lives.
In other words, there have always been and there will always be young people who want to hurt other young people, even back in the dark old days, when I was a teenager.
When the topic of cyberbullying comes up I often hear commentators addressing the problem of dealing with the perpetrators and not actually helping our kids learn self-defence skills. While I absolutely think that we should be doing everything that we can to prevent this behaviour, I also believe we could approach the problem from another perspective. What if we flipped this conversation on its head and we became better teachers of how to help our kids to be tougher in the face of this kind of harassment?
I look back at how I dealt with being teased (although I never would have said I was bullied) and what I remember, is fighting back. I suppose I was taught by my parents to ‘appropriately’ stick-up for myself! I was also taught how and when to walk away. “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” my mother used to teach me. While the name-calling could hurt, I also learnt quick-smart that I didn’t have to sit there and take it.
In other words, I learnt to discriminate between what was harassment and what was just mucking-about. I really don’t think things are that different now. The very same kind of bullies that existed then, exist now.
The research is showing that bullying usually starts face-to-face and then it morphs to an online form. So, if you’re talking to a young person, here are my 7 tips for helping them to rise above the poor behaviour of others in real life or online:
- Tell them to ‘self-talk’ themselves – both sternly and strongly – only people close to you matter. Someone once told me that in life many people will hold views about you and some of those views will be ill-founded. Only worry about what your family and close friends think about you, the others do not know who you really are, and their views are less important.
- Report the bullies. The more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle an authority has (e.g., a school leader) the more they can see a pattern, which they can use in holding a tough conversation with a bully.
- Disconnect – and just ‘stop’ using your device for a while – and give yourself time to work out what to do. It’s tempting to go into a tizz when you first feel insulted by someone, but part of becoming more mature is knowing when and ‘how’ to give a proportional response – including when to stop worrying about things that have no easy solution. You can’t control other people, but you can control what you do.
- Sleep well – and even meditate. Sleep for 8.5 hrs per night (minimum) if you’re a teenager – and learn to meditate.
- Don’t confuse people’s ‘right’ to complain or disagree with you as abuse or as an affront; they’re not the same thing as bullying. Ask your teenager to tell you what happened and give them feedback. For example, someone looking at you the wrong way is not bullying. It may be unpleasant but it’s not that bad.
- Encourage your child to build an army of allies: Being a bystander is being complicit to bullying but being part of a bigger network, who refuse to allow bullying to occur and report it as a team, is empowering.
- Embrace social media, positively: know how to block, mute and report trolls and hate speech. Digital abstinence is unrealistic, managing a ‘friendship’ network so allies are central is key to using social media to be…social!
On a concluding note, we teach young people to defend themselves in Karate or Taiquando .
Shouldn’t we also be helping them to defend themselves psychologically?