Home > Uncategorized > On Bullying and Self Confidence

On Bullying and Self Confidence

Over the past year or two, there has been a strong anti-bullying push making its way through pop culture and the media, culminating in the somewhat controversial movie, Bully, which got a round of free publicity through a recent spat with the Motion Picture Association of America over it’s rating. It’s certainly a noble goal and a worthy cause. No one wants their child or any children to grow up with the emotional wounds of being bullied, but I can’t help but think that it’s all a bit wrong-headed.

When you really think about it, the anti-bullying campaign is nothing new.  It’s adults trying to get children to stop being mean to each other. Something about that just seems… I don’t want to say hopeless, but isn’t it? Are kids ever going to stop being mean to each other?

When I was growing up, the focus was on preparing children for a world in which not everyone would be nice. Perhaps the best strategy of preparation would be to work as hard as you can to make sure that children know that their sense of self worth should not be derived from the opinions of others.  I know that’s an uphill battle, as well. I know that everywhere in pop culture, there are pressures to value yourself through the eyes of others (though I see that more as a symptom than a cause). But while a social stigma against bullying is a lovely ideal to which to aspire, I guess I just find it a better life-long lesson if a child is filled with self-confidence that stems from within. There is far, far more to it than this, but it boils down to “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

That’s a funny phrase, because a couple years ago, I noticed that the popular childhood mantra has ceased to apply in adulthood. Media outlets have made a career of parsing words, inciting outrage and forcing apologies based on a couple of hurtful words.  And now this lack of adherence to “words will never hurt me” in adulthood is trickling through the way in which we as a society approach child bullying.

Obviously, I hope that the anti-bullying campaign is successful. I hope that a social pressure grows to reduce the ill will between and among children.  However, I see it at best as only a supplement for an effort that appears to have landed directly on the back burner. Value your children for who they are, and make sure that they do the same.

Make sure that your little girls’ sense of self worth is not derived from the amount of attention she gets from young boys (imagine how much that could affect teenage sex and pregnancy rates, as so many young girls attempt to live up to pubescent boys’ expectations).

Make sure that your little boy doesn’t derive his self worth based on how accurately he can throw a ball (but also, an active lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle. But that’s a whole different issue).

Make sure that children see examples of success and happiness that come from all different types of people.

Show children that living to impress a specific group of kids is harder and more miserable than finding solace in a group of like-minded kids that appreciate them as they are.

I guess that’s the lesson I wish had half as much traction as anti-bullying: Love yourself for who you are and love people who love you for who you are (and who love themselves for who they are).  There will be cliques. There will be friction. There will be harsh words exchanged. But if you instill in a child the value of valuing themselves, it all starts to matter a little bit less. I’m eternally grateful to my parents (and my childhood friends) for succeeding in this effort with me. It made it possible for a smallish theater kid who was routinely (wrongly) assumed to be gay to make my way through adolescence in absolute happiness. I wish the same happiness for children everywhere.

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  1. October 3, 2013 at 1:10 am

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