Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It gets better. I promise.

OK, so maybe I can't "promise", turns out I'm not actually that powerful (wait, WHAT!??!)

But I can say with a fair amount of certainty that no matter what kids might be thinking right now, high school is not the be-all, end-all of your life.  In fact, it actually has no bearing whatsoever on what your life can, and likely will, become.

I just finished watching a special on bullying on CNN (I know, right.  Look at me, watching the news!)  It was done in conjunction with the new movie Bully, which is a documentary put together by Lee Hirsch that follows five different families for one school year, documenting their problems with bullying in different U.S. schools.  I haven't watched the movie yet, and frankly I'm not sure I'd be able to - just this CNN show had me in tears - and it made me worry for my kids and their generation.

Bullying is an epidemic.  Does that sound dramatic to you?  Because I really don't think that it does.  And it frustrates me to absolutely no end that it is allowed to continue.  So why is that?  WHY is it allowed to continue?  Who do we blame for this?  Who is allowing this to happen?

Well, let's start at home.

How many parents have talked to their kids about respect?

Hopefully all of us.

How many parents have talked to their kids about including others?  Or speaking nicely to, and about, people?

I'd say, again, hopefully all of us.

Now, how many parents are guilty of pointing out someone in a store - maybe someone largely overweight, or with some crazy outfit on, and perhaps making fun of or rolling their eyes at that person?  How many parents have talked about a friend of theirs, a coach of their kids', a teacher, an in-law, etc etc etc, either to their faces or behind their backs, in some mean or inappropriate way?

Don't lie to me.  We've all done that.

And here's the thing:

Kids understand a hell of a lot more than we give them credit for.

They see you roll your eyes at someone who looks different than you.  They hear you making comments about that family that has less than you do.  They heard you call their sports coach an asshole, or make a derogatory statement about someone who's lifestyle choice is one you don't agree with, or have a name-calling argument with your spouse.  So no matter how much you try to teach them respect and to treat others fairly, until you can do it yourself and actually model the behavior, you're totally wasting your time, because learning appropriate behavior and the value of respect all begins at home...and it starts a hell of a lot earlier than the beginning of the school-age years.

How many parents have told their kids that some people are gay?  Or that some people hold different religious or political beliefs than your family does?  And furthermore, that it is all absolutely OK, and that people are individuals who are allowed to think whatever thoughts they want, and make whatever choices they wish, so long as they aren't hurting someone or infringing upon the rights of others?

How many parents have told their kids that if someone chooses to wear an outfit that you think is weird, or be friends with someone you don't like, or spend all their time doing an activity that you think is stupid, then that's their choice and...news flash, kids!!...you actually don't get to have any say in it?

Tell your kids that it's OK to be different.  That's it's OK to love whoever you love, and believe whatever you believe.  That other people have the same rights you do - which means THEY are allowed to wear what they want, and THEY are allowed to love who they want, and THEY are allowed to believe what they wish and do what they like.  Remind them how much words and actions can hurt.

Tell your kids that it's OK to be brave, and to stand up to people who are bullies, and remind them that the bullies are the ones with the real problem - and use the opportunity to teach them a little empathy.  Maybe the bully needs a voice. Maybe he (or she) isn't being heard at home.  Maybe he's the one who's really afraid.  Maybe he needs a friend.  Maybe you could be that for him.

The show on CNN made a great statement.  It said that this is not an anti-bullying campaign; it's a movement.  So as fearful as I am for my kids and their generation, I am also a tiny bit hopeful that as they grow, the problem of bullying will get less and less, as kids learn to stand up for themselves and for each other.  Hopefully, parents, teachers, coaches, extended families, big kids, little kids, everyone, will understand and teach that bullying in any form is wrong and unacceptable.  It is NOT "kids being kids".  Anything that is done to another human being that violates their basic rights is not OK, ever, EVER, and our kids need to start being taught that, as early as possible, by us - their parents - at home.

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