Parenting Podcast: Is Your Child a Bully?

Parenting Podcastby Melissa Frey

In this week’s parenting podcast, Education Consultant Lori Day talks about bullying. Rather than focusing on protecting our kids from bullies, Lori asks the tough question of how we ensure our children are not growing up to be bullies. Lori specifically notes that children often act very differently at school than they do at home. It’s been my experience in working with young people that they inherently do not want their parents to know about their social strata in school. This stems from their desire to not disappoint their parents. Whether the bully, the bullied, or the bystander, there is real shame that comes with all of these roles and your children do not want you to know where they fall on that spectrum, and especially when they fail. Specific to bullying in school, the failure is not about tests of knowledge, rather tests of humanity.

In Pirkei Avot 2:5 we read, “In a place where there are no human beings, try to be one.” This is our key task: helping children to do the right thing when others are not, to preserve their humanity when others won’t. Or, as Holocaust survivor and renowned child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott put it, “Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”

We’ve read in recent headlines of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who took his life just over a week ago after being tormented by his classmates for being gay. In Thursday’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Bullying as True Drama,” the authors write that “his story is a classic case of bullying: he was aggressively and repeatedly victimized” and that “Jamey recognized that he was being bullied and asked explicitly for help.” Most young people who exhibit the behaviors of a bully will rarely self-identify that way, even when they know they are doing wrong, because it inherently means they are an abuser. And while Jamey Rodemeyer asked for help and tragically did not get the response he needed, what is also disconcerting is that a bully will never ask for help because of the shame involved with owning his or her behavior. One key to stopping bullying is teaching children to identify their own misguided behavior, take responsibility and make a change. As parents, the toughest job isn’t protecting our children from external dangers, but loving and helping them be their best selves in the toughest situations.

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Melissa Frey is the Director of URJ Kutz Camp and Associate Director of NFTY.

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