Life's microcosm can be seen in the preschool classroom and in the playground at schoools. There are leaders, followers and children who choose their own paths. Cruelty has no age barrier, as years of teaching in the classroom has demonstrated.
Bullying has been all over the news lately. Children who have been bullied have been speaking out, naming names or, tragically, commiting suicide when they can't take it anymore. Schools are promoting zero tolerance and suspending bullies. Officials on the playing field are decrying the act and corporations are sponsoring "anti-bullying" campaigns.
But what creates a bully? Who gives them the right to commit their heinous acts of cruelty and humiliation? Have you intentionally or subconsciously encourged your own child to become a bully by your actions and example?
The Bible lists the seven deadly sins as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Whether or not you are a Christian, you can see the basis for bullying in these qualities:
- Wrath. When anger is extreme, when a person feels cornered or threatened, their frustration may well explode into wrath. In a movie, this is when the head cheerleader may conspire with her cronies to "pay back" a girl whose accomplishments in the classroom or in the squad or their success in "scoring" the attention of the boy upon whom that head cheerleader has designs. Boys who feel that they are the best or the most popular are threatened by others who move into their territory. They use their clusters to physically threaten, hurt or demean anyone who stands in their way. Both sees feel entitled to take what they want and belive they deserve whatever they desire. In previous generations, the person who feels wrath lashed out with cruel words, pranks, demeaning acts, violence or even by lying. These days, social media is the means by which many bullies operate because of the relative anonymity. The truth is, many bullies are cowards at heart and lack the stamina to stand alone - they need a group or cluster to feed their feelings of importance and self-worth.
- Greed and Pride. You can see these qualities in operation in weekly television shows such as "Dance Moms" or "Toddlers and Tiaras". Children are primed to become little divas. They are encouraged to "be the best," the prettiest, the most acoomplished and their little egos are fed to the bursting point. Stage moms live their own lives vicariously through their children, often having desired to possess the ability and talent to "take home the gold." They foster greed and pride in their children, not permitting them to congratulate others on their accomplishments and railiing against the winners. You can witness children and mom having a melt-down when another child wins. What does this teach children? The same is true on the football field, in the classroom, on the playground and even in preschool classrooms. It's a sad commentary on a parent when they have to live through their children's accomplishments. Many schools seek to end competiton as a means to stop one child feeling supeerior to another, but does this teach children anything about accepting defeat gracefully or being a "good winner" and trying harder next time? Why don't we value children for who they are, with all their quirks and foibles, all their innate beauty and innocence? We, as society, should foster a generation of happy souls who have learned to laugh at themselves rather than others. Children should not fear the prospect of loss if they know they have done their best. They should not be forced into situations that are "staged," and should not be objects of display, ridicule or humiliation. Childhood is so short, let them be children and lead by example. If you rant when you don't win at work, why should they not lash out when they don't get what they want at school or on the stage?
- Envy. This may well be the greatest sin of all. Wanting what someone else has is a national pastime. Commercials promote it, the internet boasts of it, television programs display extreme cases and the media feeds the frenzy. Get the best phone, the best TV, the best intenet connection. Have what the "Jone's" have and outdo them. You have to have your neighbor's car, your neighbor's wife, your neighbor's life! If you have it good, you can do better. If Heather has a beautiful coat or Jimmy has a cool pair of shoes, you have to have that, too. Where have the days gone when we could rejoice in a friend or family member's success without feeling the pangs of envy inside ourselves? Where have the days gone when the family can enjoy their child's talent without comparing it with the neighbor's child's ability? When did sibling get paired against sibling and found wanting, or has this always existed? Do you fall into this trap? Do you teach your child to envy other's their success and accomplishments to the extent that they become a bully to get what they want? Do you insist that they have to have the best new device, phone, clothing to be "better" than the others? This is where gangs and cliques come into being: when one person becomes a "leader" and entices others to join them by making themselves known as the "best." Often the leader is too lazy ("sloth?") or feels it beneath themselves to actually performi acts of cruelty, putting themselves above the others and promoting their desires through their group. These cliques move through the school as a solid mass of humanity, pulling others into their ranks to strengthen them or repelling those not deemed "worthy." The feeling of envy, of wanting to be part of that group, to be the best or strongest, the smartest or the most beautiful, leads to initiation and bullying. And it can lead to suicide by rejection.
What is a parent's job? To cherish their children, love them as they are and to let them know that if they do their best, that's good enough for you. It's not a parent's job to display their children upon a pedestal and to pit siblings against each other. Parents shouldn't promote rivalry, they should teach good sportsmanship and grace in defeat by example. You can't always be a winner, as much as you wish you could, and your child won't always be a winner, either. We are all human.
It's sad to see parents reward kids with "stuff" instead of attention. Most children would rather spend time with their parents than get the latest and best device. Quality family time is still important, despite the board room, striving to eke out an existence and parental desires to stay young, attractive and vital. Play with your children, listen to them, get to know their friends, ask them probing questions and teach them to be proud of who and what they are, no matter their life choices. Bullies can be created and it's much more difficult to change a mindset than to teach the proper lessons when children are preschoolers. Respect is not a four letter word! Don't be "that" parent who attempts to bully school adminstration and coaches when they confront you about your child's behavior. Know your child, teach your child, love your child and you can honestly say you have done your best. That's the greatest gift of all.