By Joan Carie, LCSW, LCAC, Courier & Press, June 6, 2017 –
It is not uncommon these days to hear stories about bullying in schools. Most schools have a zero tolerance policy for bully behaviors. When addressing the problem of school bullying, it may be helpful to look deeper into what drives this type of behavior.
A quick look into our history finds that America is known as the great melting pot, encompassing a worldwide blend of cultural traditions and founded on freedoms and tolerance of differences. If we focus on the positives of this rich diversity, we come to view our differences as opportunities to discover new ideas and values that can enhance our lives.
If, however, we focus on differences from the perspective of no value for cultural diversity and a “my way or the highway” attitude, then we have become narrowly focused; our ability to have tolerance and empathy for differences significantly decreases. When empathy and tolerance are lacking, we are living in a perfect environment to foster bullying.
These intolerances have serious implications for our youth. The American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said, “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”
Children 3-6 are able to stereotype groups of people and can recognize blatant discrimination. Children 6-10 become increasingly aware of others’ prejudices and can recognize the more subtle forms of discrimination, and by the teens years, these prejudices become internalized to eventually become part of the adult psyche.
Perhaps if we focus on tolerance, loving kindness and compassion in our own lives and live as examples to our children, we can reduce intolerance and bullying in our schools.
Some ways to foster tolerance with our children include:
- Teach love first. Show examples of loving others despite the existence of differences. Reach out a helping hand to others even if they are different.
- Be familiar with and acknowledge the values and biases you have. It is important to evaluate ourselves in terms of our own beliefs and the differences we struggle with tolerating.
- Exposure to differences throughout childhood teaches children they do not have to agree with others in order to respect others.
- Allow children to explore other cultures and different viewpoints. This can teach children an appreciation and respect for others while allowing them the freedom to express their own views and values.
- When intolerance rears its ugly head, including through media and social interactions, take the opportunity to challenge it. We can teach our children to not endorse or participate in jokes that promote stereotyping, belittling or degrading others.
When children are confident and secure with themselves, they don’t feel threatened by differences. To the contrary, they are comfortable and able to engage with others in spite of the differences that exist.
When looking at the bigger picture, if we can shift our focus to celebrating our differences we may take a huge step toward combating an ever-increasing concern, school bullying.