Friendly Fire

With so much talk of bullying today it’s little wonder that us parents stress about how our kids will fare when inevitably faced with what appears to be a regular part of modern school-life.

It’s a prospect that has certainly bothered me but when Rhapsody came home from pre-prep recently to tell me about one of her friends teasing another friend I wasn’t initially sure how to react. She wasn’t directly involved but she was obviously uneasy about it.

Without thought I told her that if it happened again to tell the person who was picking on someone else that name-calling/teasing wasn’t nice and to hold your friend’s hand.

It wasn’t till afterwards I wondered whether I’d thwarted a bully only by creating another one. Especially given Rhaps’ rather . . . um . . . ‘forceful’ style of communication (a bluntness inherited from her mother).

And could standing up to a bully only make her a target as well? Or further antagonise the bully?

Oh, the paranoia that went through my brain. Concerned, I sought out Steve McLuckie – a fellow regular panellist on ABC Radio’s Parenting Panels (Thursdays after 10am) – who just happens to also be the principal of Southport State School for some advice.

What he had to say was truly heart-warming. He reminded me of when we were at school and how, when someone was being bullied, most people stood behind the bully. Not because they supported them directly but mostly because they were happy to be out of the firing line. This silent assent was part of the problem. In contrast, Steve talked about anti-bullying programs, such as at his school where students stand by the person being bullied and point out that the words or behaviour used by the bully aren’t nice or acceptable.

By robbing the bully of support it not only discourages bullying but often helps foster more social behaviour in the child who was doing the bullying (and while it’s not an excuse, we should remember that sometimes these behaviours demonstrate that the child needs help). It was a wonderful concept and, more
importantly, it appears to be working. A few weeks later I saw it firsthand in my daughters and their friends during a tennis lesson. One of the girls became frustrated and, after another mistake, lashed out in an all-too human way.

What I didn’t expect was the other girls coming together to politely chide her and tell her that it wasn’t nice to yell at the other girl. It wasn’t aggressive and didn’t alienate the initial girl. Quite the opposite – it included her and she calmed down amongst her friends.

It was an incredibly poignant scene as you have to remember we’re talking about four year old girls here. At that age, they’re emotions on legs and don’t easily respond to reasoned words (or any words for that matter). But within seconds a potential explosion was defused.

It made my heart soar and also realise that maybe I needn’t worry quite so much. I won’t always be there and they will inevitably come across bullying or criticism from their peers but maybe, just maybe, they’re not as powerless as my protective brain thinks.

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