Around the late 1960s, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” became a popular slogan. That statement is more accurate today than ever—especially when it comes to the problem of bullying.
I usually write this column from the point of view of parenting a bullied child. The experience I had with my son provided me with valuable skills when it came to navigating the red tape often put up by administrations, handling and reporting each individual incident and empowering my son to maintain his confidence and self-esteem, and I’ve spent a good deal of time sharing what I’ve learned.
But this week I feel it necessary to comment on the other side of bullying—parenting the children who may not be the victim.
Recently I heard about yet another young boy who committed suicide after being bullied so severely that he felt no alternative but to end his life. It was heart-wrenching in and of itself, but then I read a follow-up story about his sister, who was being accosted by her classmates with comments about her brother like “I’m glad you're dead.”
I thought about it for a long time. To be honest, I wasn’t all that surprised. I go into schools and talk with kids about bullying fairly regularly, and there is a percentage of students who really don’t seem to understand just how dire the consequences of their words and actions can be—often they don’t care.
I believe that all children have (at least) the potential to be kind, so it makes me wonder where this attitude may originate. I’m sure we all have our theories.
It’s possible even the best of kids can be insensitive, or outright mean, but this is what I know. If my children made a statement like what was said to this poor girl, the consequences of that action would be significant—and they know it, too.
Attitude, compassion and empathy begin at home. And we need to remember that assuming our children are just naturally nice to everyone is a mistake and can lead to their downfall. I know I’ve stated this before, but children who bully don't do very well as adults. Making assumptions of any kind is not in their best interest.
We also need to remember it’s not always what we do say, but what we leave out that makes the difference. Having regular conversations with our children about whether or not they are being treated well is crucial. But being clear about your expectations of how they treat others is just as important.
We as parents have the power to impact a concern that the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention now considers a public health problem—if we just take the time to make it clear to our kids that simply being nice to everyone is not only the right thing to do—it’s required.
I'd rather not be part of the problem, but if we can just get our kids to respect those around them, we may even be part of the solution.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is a screenwriter, performer and the author of the I’ve Got character-building book series for children, and was 2010’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts Honoree for Orange County, NY. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she speaks out and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to create a positive future through creative dramatics activities.