Is anyone else tired of reading stories about kids mistreating each other, being mistreated and worse hurting themselves as a result? Just in the past couple of days I read that a high school student from my hometown committed suicide. Last Friday after a high school football game, a player from one school was using racial slurs toward players from another school. Is it avoidable? I think so!
I'm not naive to the realities of the world; not everything is puppy dogs and ice cream. There has always been and will always be conflict. I remember certain experiences like they were yesterday where I was mistreated by others; I can also think of times where I was the bully. For any of you that may read this where I wasn't good to you, I truly am sorry.
So there is conflict and kids will be kids, but I am a strong believer that with CLEAR EXPECTATIONS, the RIGHT MESSAGING BY THE RIGHT PEOPLE, CONSISTENT and RELENTLESS FRAMING AND COMMUNICATION OF THE RIGHT MESSAGE and ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THOSE NOT MEETING EXPECTATIONS that things can be very different. I don't care if it's in your home, school or where you work, this is how cultures get established.
Late last week I picked my seven-year-old son up from school to learn that he had an incident report the day before. When I asked the after-school program coordinator for the details, she said she didn't see it, but she knows my son got punched in the stomach. Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I wanted to get more details to better understand what happened.
After "connecting the dots" from multiple sources, including my son, it sounded like he and another boy and girl were playing four square. From what I gathered, the girl told the other boy that he wasn't very good and in some way, shape or form my son agreed with her. The other boy got frustrated and probably embarrassed and punched my son in the stomach.
Now, I'm not an advocate of any type of violence. I do support self-defense if other, more productive options have been tried and failed. All three kids were at fault in this situation. The little girl should have kept her mouth shut, my son should have kept his mouth shut and the other boy should have kept his hands to himself. Saying all that, cause and effect is very real and every decision we make, good or bad has consequences. After I learned what happened the day before, the only thing I could say to my son was "I don't agree that he punched you, but when you treat people like that, you might get punched in the stomach." I ended the conversation with more of a rhetorical, but meaningful question we have been talking about for years: "When you agreed with the little girl that he wasn't very good, were you acting more like a leader or a bully?"
Leaders and Bullies
For years bullying has been a hot topic of conversation, and for good reason. A few years ago, even for being only three or four years old, my son was familiar with the concept and knew it wasn't good. At some point we started digging in to characteristics of a bully, while comparing them to characteristics of a leader. That created great conversation about two very different types of people. Today, if you ask him what a leader does, he will say something to the effect that "leaders are confident" or they "help people". If you ask him what a bully does he will likely tell you things you might expect such as "they aren't very nice".
Having this intentional conversation with him at three or four years old, accomplished a few things that will be critical to his growth has he gets older.
It created a strong foundation for conversation between us about an important topic that we both agree on; that had nothing to do with him at the time.
Without having to tell him what I think he should and shouldn't do, through the conversation about both leaders and bullies, he came to his own conclusions of what is right and wrong and how needs to behave. Now, we just need to remind him.
It gave him a framework for his own identity. Through talking about characteristics of leaders, he understands self-respect and confidence and has his own expectations for how he wants to show up and treat others. Is he perfect? No way! But, I'm confident his values
My challenge to you: CHANGE THE CONVERSATION (the sooner the better)
In late October of this year I have the opportunity to speak to 300 students from 10 different schools, ranging from 6th to 12th grade. We will be talking about leaders and bullies and concepts like self-respect, confidence, values based decision making and emotional intelligence. I will be asking them to think about their experiences and how they show up, as well to define how they need to show up to be the person they want to be.
We must change the conversation we are having with the young people around us. For some of you, this means you have to actually start to have the conversation. Stop telling them what to do and what not to do and why you think it's important. You have to make it personal to them, but in a way that makes them take pride and feel confident, rather than shamed or like they are doing something wrong or it's just another order from an adult.
Give this a try:
Rather than making it about them right away, make it about other people meaningful to their world that are of both high and questionable character or however you want to define them. I like to keep it general with Leaders and Bullies; that works for me. Feel free to use it.
Ask them about the characteristics of each type of person and why they are good or bad. Talk about how each type of person does things and the impact they have on others. For example, leaders help people and bullies hurt people.
After you have created the meaningful conversation and laid a foundation of agreement, make it personal to them. Ask them who they like more and why, who they want to be more alike and why, how they currently show up and treat people and how they want to show up and treat people. You'll notice there is a lot of ASKING and LISTENING that you have to do and not a lot of telling.
Keep the conversation going, even if they roll their eyes. Our young people get hammered with thousands and thousands of messages from external influences every single day and we MUST win the information battle. This is about establishing a culture in our homes and classrooms through clear expectations and consistent and relentless communication. Following steps one - three should make this step easier.
As parents or anyone else responsible for the success of young people, it is our job . . . our responsibility to the world around us to do everything we can to support our children in growing up with self-respect, confidence and respect for others. Is it always easy? Hell no. I've yelled, cried, cussed and thrown things. Two years ago I sat outside of my daughter's friend's house for an hour and a half, in my car, when it was negative five degrees below zero outside because I thought she was lying to me. She wasn't. There are few things more humbling than when your six-year-old calls you out for swearing and tells you because you swear, you aren't being a leader. Are you kidding me?
Here's the bottom-line! Kids with self-respect and confidence are less likely to make a habit of bullying and mistreating other kids. Kids with self-respect and confidence are less likely to allow themselves to be bullied and mistreated. We must be proactive and intentional with how we talk to our kids about things critical to their quality of lives today and in the future. That might require us to get out of our comfort zone and do things a little different, get help when needed and do a better job of listening. At the end of the day, what results do you want?
Yes, it takes a village, but it starts with us.