This article originally ran on the Triune on November 12, 2013.
“We just don’t like you. No reason. We just don’t” ~ Mean kid, Any City, USA
My former supervisor used to have this analogy about a kangaroo. He would say “if someone called you a kangaroo, would you believe them? Probably not. And why? Because you’re nothing like a kangaroo. That thought is absurd.” But what happens if someone calls you weird or fat or ugly or a loser? Think you might believe them now? You are more likely to believe them now because unlike the springy mammal, you might actually believe that those things are true.
Guess what? Bullies know this.
“Bullies actually have high self-esteem. It seems counter-intuitive, but they are actually quite confident. The problem is that they have poor coping skills and trouble regulating their impulses. They know what they are doing is wrong but they think they are just ‘having fun.’” Dr. Tim Moyers, Marriage and Family Therapist, Journey’s Counseling Ministry.
Teens and tweens are becoming more and more bold and acting in sadistic ways as they hide behind the veil of social media and perceived invincibility. “These are kids who are prone to impulses without the ability to regulate. They may be picked on at home by their parents or siblings but in their peer settings they have high self-esteem” Dr. Moyers. Bullies take on a type of persona where they feel empowered to hurt others. There may be a power struggle in their home life, but when they are in control and harming others it feels good to them. It tells them that they are still important that they can still affect people – even if that means affecting them in a negative way.
“They shunned him and it worked. They told his friends not to talk to him anymore. He started to hide during lunch hour just to avoid them and because – they threw food at him.” Mom of bullied middle school student.
Unsure of the long-term emotional damage bullying would take on her son, Jessica needed something else. After more than a year of threats, mind games, social media embarrassment and very little administrative support from their school, this mother had enough. Eventually she transferred her son and added sports to his weekly activities. Ethan took to soccer and CrossFit and excelled. Jessica noted that he was a different kid when he was on the field or at the gym.
He didn’t have to worry about what kids were saying about him or where to sit for lunch, CrossFit and soccer offered him a different group of kids with a built-in community of mentors and coaches.
“The drama didn’t follow him there and CrossFit has just given him such a sense of confidence” said Jessica.
“Don’t break the sense of community. Involve teachers, administrators and other people who can help. In addition, therapy can help families learn how to take their lives back from the bully’s,” Dr. Tim Moyers, Marriage and Family Therapist, Journey’s Counseling.
In our harried and busy lives, parents need to take time to encourage their kids to speak up and to say something to an adult whether it be a teacher or a parent when they see bullying or if they are being bullied; when necessary professional help or counseling is an incredible tool for the family dealing with bullying. Bullies try to isolate their targets, keeping a sense of community and having various peer groups is helpful for the child being bullied to feel empowered and gain confidence.
“We have to teach kids to stand up for themselves without being confrontational.” Deana Gillespey, Dean of Students and CrossFitter.
Deana Gillespey is the Dean of Students at a comprehensive inner city high school of about 2,800 students. Deana is in charge of discipline and safety on campus and agrees that when a kid speaks up and breaks the silence about being bullied then the school administrators can do something about the problem. Once a person or behavior is identified then school administration can keep an eye on the kids involved, they can address the students and if a clear target or threat is established then they are able to take action (every school has different policies on how to take action against bullying).
“If their safety is compromised and if it affects a student’s grades or ability to function in their daily life, then it should be brought to the school’s attention” adds Gillespey. The key is awareness, early intervention and speaking up.
EMPOWERED FOR LIFE
“Sometimes a kangaroo is just a kangaroo,” Randy Powell, Marriage and Family Therapist, Journey’s Counseling Ministry.
Our children need our guidance. They need our direction. They need to know that when someone calls them a name that sometimes a kangaroo is just a kangaroo – and being called a kangaroo is absurd. The best defense against sticks, stones and cell phones is having the confidence to know what is true and what is not. Empower your kids by getting them involved in activities outside of school, limit access to social media and a have access to their profiles. Get counseling when necessary and do not ever let up. Have conversations with your kids even when they try to push you away – and most importantly, stay connected to a community.
One evening while driving home from the gym, Jessica asked Ethan if he thought what they were doing was helping with the bullies. Ethan responded “that’s simple. While they sit at home on the couch tearing people down, I’m at the gym jumping a 39” box, squatting, lunging and getting stronger. They have zero effect on me now.”
A supportive community that breeds confidence and empowerment not just for right now, but for life – CrossFit has been this families anti-bullying campaign.
*Jessica and Ethan are fictional names. The circumstances, situations and life change are based on real experiences in a real CrossFit gym.