Jentrie Hales, community advocate, @techhealthyfamily
Bullies — we all know a few. They show up in settings at school, work, and within families. Generally, their actions influence others to feel less about themselves. Bullies can take the form of the uncle who consistently makes someone feel the brunt of the joke to the point where it’s actually not funny anymore. It could be a coworker in the office who is continually discounting someone’s progress and blaming others for problems that they did not cause. Or perhaps it could be a neighbor who is spreading malicious or false information about other people.
The difficulty about defining a bully is that even if their behavior isn’t necessarily egregious, it is often masked by good intentions, humor, or unrealistic expectations.
The hard pill to swallow is sometimes we are the classmate, coworker, or family member that makes others feel less than. I am usually a very kind person, but I remember calling a boy in my 5th-grade class “Large Intestine” for a whole year and not recognizing that it was a problem until much later in life.
A type of bullying that happens in a digital space, or cyberbullying, is on a huge rise in 2021 and it is not just a problem for young people. According to broadbandsearch.net, 40% of adults in the United States have personally experienced some form of online harassment and 75% have seen cyberbullying occurring around them. Whether you like it or not, if you have a device in your home, you have a bully in your home.
So what motivates a bully? Let’s talk about four characteristics:
1. Power in anonymity. Being a jerk is much easier when it is anonymous. Cue the recent growth in cyberbullying.
2. Attention from others. Saying harmful things about someone else is an effective way to get the attention of your peers.
3. Feelings of superiority. Belittling someone is a sure way to make known that their time, needs, and/or money, is more important than the person on the receiving end of the bullying action.
4. Insecurity. People that hate on others usually do so because they hate themselves.
Now personalizing those characteristics into how we normalize the same hurtful tactics in our own homes:
1. Road rage. We have all probably jumped on the road-rage party at one time or another in our life. However hard it is to not say the worst about someone else when they cut you off, when we do so we are demonstrating to our kids and other passengers that it is OK to say whatever you want to someone as long as you will never see them again. If you are going to “road rage,” please do so quietly.
2. Social interactions. We also give our family the OK to be awful to anyone who wastes your time and money when we are rude to cashiers, fast food workers, receptionists, etc. It is important to demonstrate that even if someone messes up your order, they are still worthy of your respect and kindness.
3. Gossip. When we gossip we are role modeling that you can say whatever you want as long as it gets you the attention you want. Be the person that spreads kindness, not rumors.
4. Lack of confidence. Finally, if you want to extend more love instead of hate, start with you. Everytime you comment negatively about your own appearance, accomplishments, or actions you give permission to your family for them to do the same. If you are having a hard time believing positive things about yourself, start with simply verbalizing. The belief may come later on.
Most importantly, when you make a mistake and are a bully, normalize a sincere apology to those you wronged. Demonstrate to your kids and others that perfection is not realistic, but being a kind human is.