Two important things I learned while listening to Jennifer McIlwee Myers presentation about depression, anxiety and kids on the spectrum are “Every day that you survive, you win against the bullies,” and “Depression lies.” Two very important concepts that when I thought about them later, led me to a conclusion that would have been really helpful for me to know in fifth grade. Bullies lie, too.
Bullies feed off their victim’s pain. They revel in the power they have over other people, the friends who follow them blindly as well as those they’re tormenting. By throwing people out of the group, they shore up the walls that divide the “in crowd” and the “out crowd”, and build up their vision of themselves and where they think they fit in society. The fact that they can make someone cry proves (in their eyes) that they have control and power. They love the feeling and they have no problem doing whatever it takes to keep generating that feeling, including lying.
I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me when I was a child that just because someone (who I knew was mean) told me I was fat or ugly, that it didn’t mean I was fat or ugly. That they would say something, not because it was true, but because they knew it would hurt. That they would say anything to cause people pain. That they would poke around until they found someone’s tender spot, and once they found it, would strike again and again like a cobra, precisely where they knew it would hurt the most. By triggering the victim’s own self-doubt, he’d keep punishing himself, over and over, long after the bully had sauntered away smirking.
Let me reiterate – bullies will say or do whatever it takes to get you to doubt yourself. They want to see your pain.
So how does knowing that affect what we teach our kids about protecting themselves against bullies?
We need to tell them that bullies are manipulative, lying jerks who are really good at what they do. You don’t believe them. You don’t take what they’re saying to heart. You do whatever you have to do to get away from them, and then you disregard what they’ve said. That’s not the same as ignoring the bullies – advice that has been handed down since time began and doesn’t work any better now than it did when we were kids. You can’t tell a kid to ignore someone’s taunts if he or she believes they might be true. If one of the tallest kids in a class is being teased about being short, he’s going to think his tormentor is an idiot. But if he’s teased about being too tall, he may buy into it. Instead we have to teach our kids that bullies will pick at us until they find the things that hurt us most, and that’s what they’ll attack us with, even if they have to make something up.
Schools and parents are putting a lot of effort into anti-bullying programs these days and that’s a good thing. The programs are having an effect and the number of bullying incidences are decreasing. But the programs aren’t going to make bullying disappear. Bullying is an ugly aspect of human nature, and it’s never going to go away. As parents and teachers, we have to teach our kids more than “be nice to each other” and “tell a teacher.” We also need to teach them resiliency. We need to give them the tools so that when bullying does occur, as it will, they can survive it. They can let those hateful words slide right on past them instead of letting those nasty little swords hit them where they live.
Bullies lie. Make sure your kids know it.