“This seat is taken.”
“You can’t play with us.”
“There’s no room for you at our table.”
What do we call these phrases? Is it Mean Girl behavior? Typical teenager antics? Do we even pay it any attention? I mean, it’s okay not to be friends with everyone, right? But what if this happens to your kid every day, in classes, after-school activities, and sports practice? What if it happens so often they don’t even bother to ask anymore because they know they aren’t welcome, not part of the gang? Would you be surprised to discover this behavior of consistently excluding someone is considered bullying?
Bullying is any repeated behavior which uses a power imbalance, be it physical strength, personal information, or popularity, to control, manipulate, or harm others. Bullying includes physical harm, verbal abuses, and excluding others. The passive-aggressive excluding others is easy to hide. It’s also easy for us moms to excuse. After all, teenagers are old enough to have established friend groups. They have a genuine preference for spending time with some people over others. Teenagers are also self-absorbed and don’t always see the harm they leave behind. But exclusion isn’t just preferring a set of friends over other classmates. Exclusion is actively pushing someone aside. It’s not just picking them last, it’s not wanting to pick them at all.
I read an article on school bullies at least once a week. I’ve read about the signs of bullying, school programs to end bullying, and stories told by parents whose children have been victimized. I even see parents of kids who habitually exclude others share anti-bullying/inclusion articles on social media. So where’s the break-down happening? How is it possible that with all of this information about the importance of inclusion swirling around us, we can’t correct the problem? Any type of bullying can be life-altering for those who are its victim. We know this is true! Yet, despite it all, bullying is still a very real problem in our schools. How do we fix that? Seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question. What on earth do we do? Because fellow moms, we are not getting it right.
Are we completely in the dark about how our children behave beyond our sight? Are we so focused on their popularity we don’t worry about the hurt they leave in their wake? Are they learning how to treat others by our example? I remember what it was like to be in high school and despite having involved parents and a large network of adults watching out for us, we found ways to live lives beyond their reach. But as parents, we have got to find a way to grab ahold of our children and make sure they understand what a bully looks like, not just so they can recognize the behavior in others, but so they can recognize bullying behavior in themselves.
We need to teach our children the difference between being a nice kid and being genuinely kind. And while it’s great to have lifelong friends with whom we are inseparable, it’s also expected that we include others beyond that tight-knit circle because that’s how life works. As moms, we need to show them what this looks like by our example. How many of us as adults have gone alone to an event hoping to make friends and instead sat alone? Don’t you think it’s about time we put a stop to that?
I am not suggesting that the whole class get an invitation to the party. But I am suggesting that we look hard at the bullying problems in our schools. We can’t rely on a district-wide policy or program to keep our kids safe from either being bullied or becoming bullies. If we want to see real change then we need to do some hard work at home. Because no one deserves to be told there’s no room for them at the table.
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