Despite the increased emphasis on tackling bullying within schools, an article in the West Australian on Monday 10 Feb indicates rates of bullying amongst boys continues to increase, with cyberbullying up 60 per cent between 2018 – 19.
Reading the report by Lanai Scarr and Steve Butler bought back memories of the bullying I experienced at school. The constant fear I had each day and the hyper-vigilance that caused me to see potential threats in each social interaction. But more than my own memories, the report bought back memories of the fear and absolute helplessness I felt as a parent when my son was bullied in high school.
Sure, the high school he went to had a policy to deal with bullying, but that meant having the courage to activate the policy. My son didn’t want to do that because he knew, like I knew from my experience, that sometime activating a policy does not solve the issue. It merely drives it underground, so it becomes more subtle and consequently more dangerous because it is harder to see.
My challenge, like many parents when their child is bullied, is the “high-wire” act of respecting your child’s wishes, while at the same time building their resilience and monitoring the situation to determine if and when you need to step in. I wish I could write that I successfully managed the situation my son experienced. Unfortunately parenting doesn’t come with a manual or with a clear policy and procedure where we are following the outlined steps.
Parenting is often the art of learning to walk in the dark, doing the best we can in a complex mix of love, frustration, fear, and wanting the best for our child. As difficult as it is, as parents we must do our bit to deal with bullying and not simply leave it to the school system.
We have a responsibility to create a safe space for our sons and daughters. This is challenging when social media is invasive, and a teenager has constant access to it. A safe space is more than simply asking your teenager if they are ok and saying that if anything is bothering them they can talk to you.
We need to remind our teenagers they are loved. As a father, it was important for me to let my children know they were and are loved. This was often difficult when they were being obnoxious, as only teenagers can be. Yet teenagers need to know they are working out their independence in the crucible of a love that is strong and will be there for them.
We need to let our teenagers know that we are proud of them for who they are, not for what they simply do. Fathers, when was the last time you told your teenager you were proud of a quality within their personality? We are often proud of our sons when they achieve on the sporting field or academically. We are proud when they do something, yet what about who they are as people? Are we proud of our sons’ compassion? His kindness towards others? His ability to relate to other people. Are we, as fathers, even aware of our son’s personality or is this the stuff we leave to our wives and partners to be aware of?
As fathers, do we hold our children accountable when we find them bullying others, or do we laugh it off, secretly proud they are being dominant and assertive. Does it give us a “glow” to know our son is strong? Bullies are never strong. As Kai Gullotto says in the article in the West “bullies usually pick on people just so they can feel better about themselves.”
If you are proud your son is a bully, you need to re-think your understanding of what it is to be a man of strength.
Dealing with bullying is challenging as a parent. While we work with schools to create safe spaces, we also need to work at home to create safety, security and accountability for our children.