Often, our public discourse regarding the need to end bullying centers around the assumption that children are only bullied at school. That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Many children are bullied before they ever walk into a school — they are bullied every day by parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. The truth of the matter is that you don’t have to be a kid to be a bully, you just have to fit the description.
According to definition, a bully is someone who uses superior strength or influence to intimidate another, typically to force another to do what he or she wants.
I first encountered bullying in my household. I was bullied by people who I assumed loved me and had my be interest at heart. Bullying in my home often manifested in the form of verbal threats, such as: “Shut up before I hurt you”; “Stop doing that before I hit you”; “Sit down before I slap you”; or “You better get over here before you regret it”; and “Don’t make me hurt you.” This is no way to talk to a child.
In fact, I want to say very plainly and clearly: Parents and adults who use threats and violent intimidation to get what they want out of their children are bullies.
Consider this: If you heard a child make these same statements to another child you would quickly label him or her a bully, and yet many adults speak to their children in this manner every day. Sometimes at the dinner table in households where resources are limited, children are intimated to give their food away or have it taken from them by adults only to have them laugh. When I was a kid my grandmother used to tell me to hurry up and finish eating before my uncles got home, because sadly she and I knew that if I wasn’t done they would take my food.
Of course adult bullying isn’t relegated to the dinner table. Parents and adults even bully children during play, as well as during productive times of learning. I know this all too well. The same uncles who turned dinner into a time of anxiety would create a disruption during my play time just to amuse themselves — and no child’s play time should be defined by fear.
Parents and family members who intimidate, threaten violence, and demean their children are no different than a bully in school who does the same. For some parents and families, intimidating and threatening demands and behaviors are what they believe to be discipline or teaching a kid to be “tough.” But discipline need not be violent (verbally or physically) and “tough” children often turn out to be bullies themselves.
In fact, bullying is a learned behavior for many kids. When parents bully at home to get what they want, they legitimize using threats and intimidation as normal behavior for their children. As a result, kids who are bullied by parents or family members turn around and do the same to their peers. Many kids in school cafeterias and playgrounds become victims at the hands of children who just left homes in which bullying is practiced.
Parents and adults, allow this to serve as your wake up call. Please evaluate your methods of discipline and do the hard work of determining whether your child is becoming a well-adjusted individual or turning into a bully. Advocates, remember bullying doesn’t always start in the school yard. As we work to end bullying in our schools and amongst our children, we must end bullying in the home as well.