Chacos column: Back off and stop the bullying
I don’t want summer break to end. I couldn’t say that a few years ago when my children were all in diapers at the exact same time. Back then, every day felt like eternity, and I was sequestered in my laundry room while the sun peeked brightly through the windows. Each kid napped at different times, ate at different times, and my overly tight shorts reminded me that I guess I probably ate all the time, too.
Now I wish I could keep my kids home for a bit longer, but they’re anticipating connecting with friends whom I’ve selfishly kept them away from most of the summer. They can’t wait to resume their scheduled activities and try new experiences. As for me, the very same things my kids are excited about fill me with pause and stress that I expect every parent probably holds for similar reasons.
I have fairly resilient kids, and luckily they’re sometimes really kind of oblivious, too. However, they’re not immune to what some call lighthearted teasing, a joke that goes too far or incidental bullying. I have two middle schoolers and a precocious youngster who all think something is “wrong” with them.
Each child cites their own reasons for getting teased, and we work hard as a family to hear them and offer suggestions for handling their naysayers. No amount of listening or reasoning to the contrary changes their reality. So like every other mom out there, I’m on high alert going into fall school season keeping an eye out for the newest bully.
Living in a small, tight-knit community offers all types of support, and I’m eternally grateful for it. But sometimes I hear that we live in a “bubble,” and that term is starting to really sound offensive, for the comments are designed to imply that we’re out of touch with reality. Nothing can be further from the truth. Bullying behavior is everywhere and no one is immune to it.
As a kid I spent months sleeping in my bedroom closet because of a bully one grade older than me. She sniffed out my fear, my insecurity and observed that I didn’t have too many friends as I just moved to town. Oh, and I also had crazy, bright red hair and thighs a bit out of proportion to the rest of my body. That seemed to be plenty of ammunition and sealed my fate for sure.
Today I’m in tune with what excessive teasing or bullying can do to a child’s well-being, their confidence, their self-worth and what could ultimately result if we don’t address it head on and full throttle. I know I can’t do it alone. I have to rely on my community for help. I need to develop and foster relationships with many different types of people to diffuse the bullying I know lurks in the shadows toward kids that are perceived as weaker or different.
As a teacher and now as a parent I’ve learned that we need to start with integration, even if it makes a bunch of us uncomfortable. The unknown usually is, but it’s the right thing to do. Next, it’s our jobs to educate and inform. We know more than ever before in regards to teaching to the multiple intelligences, brain-based learning, the gender spectrum, the autism spectrum and how kids learn in general. Let’s not pretend those aren’t facts. Third, we have to give it time. So often we’re quick to shut something down because we’re afraid to give it the time it needs to develop into something different than how we’ve been accustomed to operating.
Only after we integrate, educate and offer time for something to take hold will we arrive at the inclusion many of us desperately seek and many of us need in order to feel fully part of our society. Change takes work, courage and requires us to face the fear that we like to sometimes hide behind.
Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes. We’ve all experienced it at some point for our height, weight, name, skin color, religion or any number of other defining labels. We know it’s most likely found when someone tries to feel superior over another because they’re insecure in themselves. We see it in our current leadership, in our extended families, in some of our friendships and we see it with our kids and their peers.
Our children need us to guide them through these negative experiences because they rely on the adults around them for education and security. Kids wait to see how we will react before proceeding with something new. But we see that children are really OK with differences as long as they can find something that connects them. Once they find that thing in common, then they go off and play together and only seem to change their perception when an adult guides them to do so.
Adults, on the other hand, should have already learned that judging others, labeling individuals with condescending terms and making hurtful comments doesn’t serve a productive purpose. From what I’ve personally observed some like to find every difference and then use it to keep us disconnected from one another. I think this only perpetuates ignorance, fear and negativity. So let’s pull it together, people, because our kids are watching.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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Sticks in the mud. Overly cautious. Obstacles to progress.