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Adult bullies who bully children: A modern day Peyton Place

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Think bullying is just for kids and teens?

Think again! There are adults in tight-knit communities who are at each other’s throats and involving their neighbor’s children.

Wondering where your kids learn to bully? You may only need to open your front door.

We always hear about kid-on-kid bullying but we don’t hear a lot about adult-on-adult bullying.

Often kids will share examples of adult bullying, as well as their concerns about how adult power plays into these situations. While most adults who are caring and conscientious, there are other adults who bully kids and pose significant risks for their targets. When kids or other adults confront adult bullies such as teachers, coaches or youth leaders, the results can involve more humiliation, being given unfairly low grades, loss of playing time or less involvement in special activities.

Bullying is mostly a learned behavior. It’s bad enough when kids bully other kids, but when adults bully kids, that draws the line.

Remember Lori Drew, 50 of Missouri, who was accused of participating in a cyberbullying scheme against 13-year-old Megan Meier who later committed suicide.

Then there was Long Island mom, Margery Tannenbaum 40, whose daughter apparently got into some sort of fourth-grade argument with a classmate, so she went on Craigs List and used the site to exact revenge on the girl’s rival.

Tannenbaum, a licensed social worker is charged with aggravated harassment and endangering the welfare of a minor, both misdemeanors.

Last year there was significant news coverage of adult-on-youth bullying that involved a 10-year-old New Jersey boy whose father resorted to sending his son to school with a hidden tape recorder to document the ongoing verbal abuse he had been experiencing from his teacher and the teacher’s aide.

And now it’s happening in a New Jersey suburb where adults are fighting with each other and turning their kids against their neighbor’s kids!

And New York City mom, Nicole Sprinkle knows about cyberbullying firsthand. She has been on the giving and receiving end of this malicious online behavior – sniping, watching as seemingly innocent subjects on her neighborhood parenting listserv turned into nasty arguments.

These experiences are not isolated. They’re just the ones we’re hearing about in the media.

What is all of this about?

It’s called Adult-on-Adult Bullying and spreading that poisonous behavior to children.

And adult cyberbullying can cause a whole host of other problems like someone smearing your good name all over the Internet or even worse – identity theft. (See Google Bomb.)

Adult-on-Adult Bullying

Workplace bullying is on the rise. A 2010 study commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute and conducted by Zogby International found that more than a third (35%) “have experienced bullying firsthand.” Other surveys differ but it’s pretty clear that millions of adults have experienced verbal abuse, offensive conduct and sabotage of their work, according to the Institute.

A 2006 Harris poll, found that adults, 39% said they had experienced some type of abuse such as:

  • Called bad names (31%)
  • Pushing, slapping, choking or hitting (21%)
  • Public humiliation (19%)
  • Keeping away from friends or family (13%)
  • Threatening your family (10%)

While many parents use Twitter and Facebook to connect with each other, some parents get angry, jealous and plain nosy when it comes to the Internet.

Some want to chide their friends and neighbors, while others are busy finding out what their kids are doing with other kids.

Adults who care about and who put kids first and foremost have a responsibility to stand up and work to end these harmful behaviors.

If your child tells you they are being bullied by an adult here are some steps you can take:

  • Listen, pay attention and probe for more information.
    Adults’ responses can vary from disregard and disbelief (“that can’t be true”) to voicing a desire for revenge and retaliation (“no one’s getting away with this”). Respond in a way that shows you care about kids’ safety and well-being and ask questions that draw out their thoughtful ideas. Work with your child and document in writing what happened.
  • Stay calm.
    When you hear that your child or a child you know is being harmed, your first instinct might be to react quickly and out of anger. Use techniques to calm yourself. Take deep breaths and be aware of your thoughts and feelings before moving to action. Modeling this is a powerful teaching tool for kids.
  • Ask for your child’s opinion.
    Because kids are at the center of the situation and most at risk for experiencing consequences of any action you take, it’s important to understand how much they want you involved. Find the balance between hearing their concerns and making it clear that your utmost responsibility is addressing their safety and well-being.
  • Meet with the adult, be prepared, respectful and clear.
    If you feel the adult bully is somewhat of a reasonable person and is not dangerous, share what’s been reported to you and how the situation is affecting your child’s ability to learn or participate fully. If the adult seems concerned, regretful and apologetic, ask how he or she plans to follow up with the child. If your concerns are dismissed or not taken seriously, share that you plan to follow up with someone in a supervisory capacity to make sure the situation is addressed and end the meeting. Do not have future discussions with this person.
  • Don’t confuse bullying with harassment.
    If a situation involves mean-spirited, hurtful language and behaviors that target a young person based on group membership (such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability and religious differences), schools and other settings may have legal responsibilities to address what’s happening.
  • After taking action, follow up with your child.
    Kids need to know that not all adults harass and bully. They take these issues seriously, and it’s important to share as much information as possible about what action you’ve taken and what they can expect the next time they encounter the adult. It is equally important to ascertain if your child needs additional kinds of support, such as help from a psychologist or counselor.

Recognizing that kids aren’t the only people who carry out bullying behaviors – it is time to examine the adult behaviors and what they’re modeling in order to create a safe environment for kids.

To learn more about bullying and cyberbullying visit STOMP Out Bullying and Love Our Children USA.

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Ross Ellis is also the Examiner for:

National Parenting Examiner
NY Real Estate Examiner

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