October isn't just the month of Halloween, it's also Bullying Prevention Month. What an interesting, and significant, coincidence! During a month when our society encourages tricks, pranks and the like, we need to also encourage kindness and accountability--be conscious of the level of deceptions being played, and what messages we are being sent to your kids.
I've never understood the fascination many people have with spooking others. It never thrilled me to "pull one over" on a family member or friend. It always seemed somewhat mean-spirited to me. None-the-less, many enjoy the "trick" tradition of Halloween, and who am I to begrudge them a harmless spider on the desk, eyeball ice cube, or skeleton in the closet, right? Yet, depending on the age of the child being tricked, and the level of intimidation being felt (ex: intense fear of spiders, or skeletons, etc) who's to say the "trick" isn't inflicting deep emotional scarring. And in today's era of instant gratification/no accountability, I cannot help but question what role these acceptable "traditions" have on an impressionable young child (and what serious offenses they may lead to later on).
We tend to shrug off pranks as harmless, "no big deal." But let's focus for a moment on the underlying element of a prank. The perpetrator is intentionally attempting to scare, deceive, or harm someone (usually someone they know.) In order to pull off a prank, one must ignore feelings of empathy for the "victim" of the trick. Essentially, this instills the notion that it is okay to pick on someone (bully). If you've ever been on the receiving end of a prank, you know it isn't a good feeling to realize that you've been "had." Your trust has been misplaced, and you feel betrayed. This moment lasts a lifetime, and is particularly significant for a child. And if the child has been "pranked" by an adult, it can have a lasting impact on their psyche.
Children are very impressionable. Every experience in their young lives shapes who they learn to be, and how they learn to treat others. If they experience deception and betrayal growing up, and are taught/permitted to disregard & devalue others feelings, what behaviors will they be capable of later on?
Unfortunately, we live in a society that accepts a lot of bullying behavior, at all ages. Reality shows like "Punk'd," "Jersey Shore," or even sitcoms & "America's Funniest Home Videos" (where inevitably some man is getting hit in the crotch) encourage laughing at others' misfortune/expense. Whether we watch these shows or not, I would bet we are all guilty of participating in the societal norm of making fun of others. Think back...have you ever commented negatively about an acquaintance, co-worker, media personality, political figure, or rival sports fan? Have you ever yelled at other drivers (road rage) simply because they switched lanes (legally)? Adults make fun of their peers all the time, and kids are watching & listening. Although many of these behaviors are unconscious, said out of frustration, let's not "up the ante" by deliberately modeling bullying behaviors for our children.
Why does this matter? Hurtful experiences last a lifetime (I still remember most of my negative childhood experiences), and accepting small pranks/comments as "okay" can lead to larger ones. It can lead to complacency about things like Cyber bullying, which is becoming an increasing problem. The anonymity of the internet provides the perfect environment through which to pick on others, with zero accountability for the outcome. With smart phones in nearly every pocket (even kids') everyone has immediate access to the internet these days. You get an alert from Facebook that 20+ people are commenting on one post, and suddenly you're hooked. If adults have trouble fighting the urge to "comment" along with their peers, imagine the level of control it would take for a child to not join in.
For kids, it can become group bullying of one kid that's "different." It's not just about the one or two kids that start the bullying...it's also about all those kids that voluntarily join in. They may not even realize the extent of the harm they are doing, when joining a group of peers in making fun of someone else. They may just want to "fit in." But, picture the harm it has done to the one being picked on -- this should be discussed with children who are caught bullying others.
Of course, we think of Cyber bullying as an extreme example; yet it isn't a distant scenario from your own life. All kids are made fun of in school (think back to your elementary days - whether chosen last for gym, nasty notes passed around class about you, being tripped in the hall, etc.-- being laughed at/bullied hurts) and the internet is becoming the new medium through which to bully others.
The only way to break this pattern is to discourage picking on others, at every opportunity, no matter how small the "trick" may seem. Start young - toddlers are learning to interact with peers, teach them to share, to "play nice" etc. and extend it up through the years. Do not encourage school-aged children to partake in "picking on" or tricking their peers, in any scenario. Explain it is never okay to devalue others emotional/psychological health.
And what better time to embrace this concept than by leading by example this Halloween. Will one little prank between adults will do harm? Probably not. But between kids, it really can! So... model kind behaviors for your children to emulate. They watch everything you do...don't let them catch you playing tricks on your spouse, friend or neighbor. Instead, let's replace the "trick" with only "treat." Bring sweetness to others lives, not negativity; Let's teach our children that it feels much better to be kind, than to be cruel. Stopping bullying starts with you!
Join the local movement...
Rally Against Bullying - Unity Walk: October 10
Redirecting Children's Behavior - Workshop: October 13