Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bullying by any other name

During the past two weeks, my colleagues and I have been sharing content about childhood bullying, in advance of the new school year. Our external team created two videos on bullying, a radio show conversation about bullying and providing experts. On the internal side, we shared information from interviews we did with several of our experts who talked about what bullying is and how to help our kids.

I wrote the story and it was a struggle to get the story pared down to under 500 words. My first draft was 2700 words! There was just so much content and so many dimensions to the story. Frankly, I wasn't sure I was qualified to make the judgement of what was valuable and what wasn't.

We posted the story on our intranet news center on Friday, August 24, and it got lots of traffic (over 10K views) and lots of comments, some positive and some a little sad as they talked about what their children have gone through.
But then the comments turned to adults bullying each other and bullying in the workplace. One person commented that she was disappointed in how HR handled her complaint about being bullied. Others joined in about their experiences being bullied in the workplace.

As the conversations talked about the increase in bullying, both for children and adults, and how those in authority weren't doing enough, it really got me thinking. Is there really an increase in bullying? Or does any behavior that tilts even slightly negative get labeled as bullying? Bullying lacks a true definition and many people define it as "whatever happens to them."

This is just my opinion (and I know that I'm opening up a can of worms), but I think part of the reason why it's difficult to get "those in authority" to act, is that so many people have made "mean people" and "jerks" into bullies and, with so many people crying "Wolf!", who do they believe?  

There is legitimate bullying happening, but more often than not, I think people over-react, and instead of looking within themselves and questioning their response to a situation, they find it easier to label the other person as a bully.

There are the "snowplow parents" who insist on clearing the way for their children, so much so that these kids don't learn the skills they will need in the real world. They're not learning problem solving skills because they never have to resolve a problem. Mom and/or Dad take care of it for them, sometimes without even involving the kid.

I was teased as a child for being overweight, for having braces, for staying back a grade. Teasing is not bullying. I let it get to me because I had self-esteem issues. It changed for when I got a thicker skin and learned to believe in myself, when I realized that the people who teased or mocked me didn't know me. These people didn't matter. 

I remember my dad telling me that the people who tease you are looking for your reaction - figuring out what button to push. And the moment you give them the victim reaction, it only encourages them. 

Perhaps we just need to be nicer to each other. Perhaps we should realize that some of the people who get labeled as bullies are insecure people who lack decent communication skills. And while we may not be able to change their behavior, we can change our response and see them as sad, small people and find a way to deal with their actions by finding our inner strength.