Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How to (really) deal with bullies

I remember being bullied as a kid and receiving advice on how to deal with it from all corners. All of it was well-meaning, but some of it was drastically misguided, and I knew it even then.

More than once, somebody (or some pamphlet) told me lines to the effect of, "Talk it out with your bully. Tell them that you have good qualities too." Is it ironic to say I found that advice dorky? I mean, if the bully were operating on any intellectual plane, bullying wouldn't be happening!

At least no one ever urged me to coddle the bully, or not to defend myself or report the abuse, like these 9 Commandments of Crap:

These seem rooted in the idea that you don't want to give the bully any satisfaction, which is a decent root. But it just becomes kudzu from there. Here are some real tips kids could use to counter bullying, from someone who's been in the crosshairs:

RULE #1: It's OK to get mad. Bullying thrives on the idea that you, as a target, are less of a person. That's not true. You have every right to feel hurt by bullying. Because even though the bully feels you deserve it, and wants to make you feel like you deserve it, you don't deserve it. You matter. Don't fault yourself for having feelings.

RULE #2: Your bully is a bully for a reason. It has nothing to do with you. They're probably dealing with something far worse than they dish upon you. Keep this in mind.

RULE #3: But don't take it lying down. Empathy for your bully does not mean that their actions against you should have no consequence. Anything they do or say to you should be dealt with — and there's a right way to do it.

RULE #4: Defend yourself with your attitude. A defense can be anything from a witty retort to simply brushing it off. In every case, it's about establishing your confidence in yourself. Confidence is Kryptonite to bullies. (Don't worry if you have to fake some of this confidence. Everybody does at times. Bullies fake just about all of theirs.)

RULE #5: Do not attack. Many bullies are out to provoke you, because they enjoy enraging someone they feel can't hurt them back. Don't take the bait. Two wrongs don't make a right.

RULE #6: But do fight back if necessary. If your physical safety is on the line, do whatever you must to get it back. And then flee the situation as fast as possible, so that the bully can't regain control.

RULE #7: Don't embrace violence. Because then you become the bully. 

RULE #8: Tell on bullies. If nothing else, it'll get them off your back. But it also might alert an authority figure that something deeper is going on with the bully. Don't be concerned with how the bully will feel about your snitching. You don't care what they think, remember?

RULE #9: It's not your fault. No one deserves to be bullied, not for being small, or nerdy, or different, or even for being a sore loser. No one should ever make you feel bad for things you can't control. But even where you can change, that isn't grounds for others to attack you. No one should ever feel like simply being who they are merits abuse. 

RULE #10: It gets better. There's an entire campaign centered around this for LGBTQ youth, but its message applies to anyone who feels trapped in torment. Your school years can be miserable, but schoolyard bullying doesn't last forever. And neither do bullies, at least if they want to get anywhere in life. 

Bullies eventually become trivia questions. I never saw most of mine after middle school. Some apologized and we are friends now. Some didn't, but they have zero sway in my life. Others tragically died young from the same poor decision-making that marred their adolescence.

On the other hand, the qualities that attract the scorn of bullies are usually exactly what make people interesting. Nearly every person who has cultivated their talents can point to a time in their childhood when they were mocked or harassed for being different. On the other hand, very few game-changing adults are bullies — and of the few who are, even fewer are respected.

So, be interesting. Be strong. Be you.

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