Following reviews of Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,” Holly Finn brings in Cowboy Ethics and the Cowboy Code in her review in the Wall Street Journal, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”  She contrasts the Cowboy Code with many examples of poor character shown by students and their parents – lying, cheating, stealing and doing anything to get ahead at many of our most prestigious schools. Of course she’s right about character versus greed and success at any price.

Whether the Code comes from Jim Owen’s book, "Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West" or from Ernest Morris’ “El Vaquero: The Cowboy Code,” the message is the same.  Character counts.  Character counts first and most.  Or, as said elsewhere, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Some of the crucial traits of Cowboy Ethics and different Cowboy Codes are:

  1. Live each day with courage.
  2. Take pride in your work.
  3. Always finish what you start.
  4. Do what has to be done.
  5. Be tough, but fair.
  6. When you make a promise, keep it.
  7. Ride for the brand.
  8. Talk less and say more.
  9. Remember that some things aren't for sale.
  10. Know where to draw the line.
  11. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage - even of an enemy.
  12. A cowboy never betrays a trust.  He never goes back on his word.
  13. A cowboy always tells the truth.
  14. A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks, and animals.
  15. A cowboy is free from racial and religious intolerances.
  16. A cowboy is always a good worker.
  17. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents and his nation's laws.
  18. A cowboy is clean about his person in thought, word, and deed.
  19. A cowboy is a Patriot.
  20. The highest badge of honor a person can wear is honesty.  Be truthful at all times.
  21. Your parents are the best friends you have.  Listen to them and obey their instructions.
  22. If you want to be respected, you must respect others.  Show good manners in every way.
  23. Only through hard work and study can you succeed.  Don't be lazy.
  24. Your good deeds always come to light.  So don't boast or be a show-off.
  25. If you waste time or money today, you will regret it tomorrow.  Practice thrift in all ways.
  26. Many animals are good and loyal companions.  Be friendly and kind to them.
  27. A strong, healthy body is a precious gift.  Be neat and clean.
  28. Our country's laws are made for your protection.  Observe them carefully.
  29. Children in many foreign lands are less fortunate than you.  Be glad and proud you are an American.
  30. I will be brave, but never careless.
  31. I will obey my parents. They DO know best.
  32. I will be neat and clean at all times.
  33. I will be polite and courteous.

But the Cowboy Code is not true; few cowboys really followed it. Yes, that’s right.  Many of the exemplars are fictional or fictionalized characters like Hopalong Cassidy and Wild Bill Hickok.  We can quibble with many of the sentiments and find situations in which, for example, parents are not always good, right and deserving of respect.

So what?  The factual nature doesn’t matter.  What matters is what spirit gets stimulated in our children’s hearts and even in us as adults.  The history of the greatness of the human spirit and human endeavor is passed on generation after generation through stories that inspire each new individual to be great and to do good.  It’s passed on in myth, legend and fiction, as well as through the lives and deeds of great men and women – great humans.

That’s the way human education works.  What counts is what gets inspired in the heart of each child and each adult.

Won’t honesty and good character mean that our children will be beaten out by the cheaters? That’s what many parents are afraid of: the cheaters will get better grades, get into better schools and eventually get better jobs and careers; lying cheating and stealing are necessary for survival or success.  But those predictions come from fear and aren’t necessarily true.

Step back from fear and think.  Would we want our children to become or to marry people who are selfish, lying, cheaters?  Don’t we want our children to have “Cowboy” character and to their live lives based on that?

If our children become witnesses or defenders, won’t they get into trouble? Maybe.  Children or adults who speak out against harassment, bullying and abuse can get trouble focused on them.  Children or adults who speak out against domestic violence, racism, religious persecution, genocide and terrorism can get trouble focused on them.  We each decide what to do in specific situations.

What’s crucial is to know the difference between right and wrong.  If we don’t know the difference, if we think that all values are the equal because there are so many different ones across the globe, we are making a grave mistake.  Different values lead to different places and we choose the direction we will try to go.

The engine and the steering wheel. Traits and skills like grit, determination, perseverance, fortitude, endurance and resilience are our engine.  We need the power of these abilities to get anywhere on the long road of life.

The values, beliefs and attitudes that are embodied in the humans who exemplify the Cowboy Code or Cowboy Ethics, whether as real as Lincoln, as fictionalized as Wild Bill Hickok or as fictional as Hopalong Cassidy, are our steering wheel.

We need both an engine and a steering wheel to get where we want to go.

What engine and steering wheel do we try to teach our children?  What engine and steering wheel are we models of for our children?  Which values are more important when some of ours conflict or are even mutually exclusive?

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Two articles have been stimulated by the publishing of Paul Tough’s new book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.”  One is in the Wall Street Journal by Mr. Tough, “Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race'” and the other is by Joe Nocera in the New York Times, “Reading, Math and Grit.” Both ask, “Which is more important to student success, character or cognitive skills, and what kind of interventions might help children succeed?

The whole idea behind this way of thinking is flawed.  Parents who follow it will jump on a new fad and, once again, be overwhelmed by anxiety.

I challenge some of the ideas behind both the old and the new ways of thinking such as that:

  1. One set of characteristics – either cognitive skills in math, language, science, etc. or personality/character traits like grit, persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, resilience, integrity, resourcefulness, professionalism and ambition – are much more important than the other.
  2. We can figure out what all the factors are and assign percentages to each based on its contribution toward success.  These factors will be reliable determinants of success.
  3. We can improve the success rate of individuals by thinking and discussing ‘why” some children succeed while others don’t in terms of abstractions and generalizations such as “American parenting,” “affluent parents,” “parental anxiety,” “over-protective parents,” “permissive parents,” “character,” cognitive skills.”
  4. We must actively intervene to ensure that our children learn the most important attributes.  Based on the latest research, we can develop methods to teach these to all children so they’ll be successful.

When I think of what’s necessary for success, I think not of a list of factors with percentages of importance attached to each factor, but of a target with a bull’s eye in the center containing of all the abilities we want our children and ourselves to have.  Did anyone really think that mastering cognitive skills without developing grit would lead to success?  Or does anyone think the opposite now?  Both areas are necessary and the appropriate mixture of characteristics depends on the individual.

In general, grit matters no matter what you do, but what it takes to succeed as a lawyer can be very different from what it takes to succeed as a genius programmer or a fashion designer.  What it takes to succeed as a factory worker, a small business owner or a bus driver may be very different mixes.  What it takes to participate in team activities and in individual activities can be different.  What it takes to face harassment, bullying and abuse can be different depending on who’s doing it.

All these discussions are in the abstract and general.  What we can do something about is in the moment-to-moment reality of us and our families.

How many of us really tried to keep our kids from experiencing any failure and disappointment?  How many of us really covered up each of their mistakes and failures so that blame was never on the actions of our children?  Most of us try to teach the lessons of life to our children.

Each child is different.  Each child learns some particular lessons the hard way, while other kids get those same lessons immediately, but learn other lessons the hard way.  And some just never seem to learn, no matter how hard we try.  Most kids learn the universal lessons despite the times we mess up the opportunities to teach.

My conclusion about these ruminations is to stop thinking in abstractions and generalizations, stop trying to figure out the correct way that will guarantee success for an average person or a middle class person or an affluent person or a disadvantaged person.  Instead, focus on our individual kids and ourselves.

We know the obvious – both grit/character/personality and cognitive skills matter.  Which ones do we need to develop more?  Which ones does each individual kid need to develop more?  Which kids need to develop more grit?  Which kids need to learn when to stop beating their heads against which brick walls?

We also know that if we protect our children from hurt, pain, mistakes, failures and realistic estimations of their talents, we’ll promote arrogance, weakness, hesitation and defeatism.  Facing challenges is the only way we learn to face challenges and to overcome them and our weaknesses.

I’ve focused on middle and upper class parents and kids instead of disadvantaged kids because I think most of the people who read this blog fall into those categories.  But I’d say the same to everyone.

If you’re still protecting your children or if they think they know best or they’re entitled to do what they want, change your approach immediately.

Paul Tough ends his article with “Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.”  I agree whole-heartedly.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Paul Tough ends his article with “Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even 

more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.”  I agree whole-heartedly.

Do you think it’s normal for tweens and teens to be sarcastic toward their parents?  You know: the non-verbal hostility and sarcasm of eye-rolling, snorting, laughing.  You know: the openly sarcastic remarks, put-downs and talking back directly to us or in front of us while they’re talking to their friends. I think it’s normal for people to try to discover what works easiest for themselves: to think their opinions matter, to think that they’re entitled to express themselves in any way they feel like at the moment, to try to assert themselves and to push boundaries in order to gain control and power.

What’s not normal is for parents to allow their children to treat them that way.

Some typical reasons why parents don’t insist on better treatment:

  • Parents complain that it’s hard to resist the bad influences of tween and teen television, movies and internet shows, and the bad influences of their friends.  Yes, that stuff is out there.  Yes, we have to put out more effort to counterbalance bad influences.  Don’t wallow in analysis of those factors.  So, it’s hard?  We can’t wait for society to make things easy for us.  Who said parenting would be easy?  We must act as soon as we can to teach our children to see what’s wrong with the media and the behavior of some of their peers.
  • Many parents are afraid their children won’t like them if they’re “strict.”  As if being liked is more important than setting boundaries and high standards.  We do know that our children will understand a lot better when they have teenagers of their own.  Of course, there’s a balance.  I’m not talking about beating or abusing our kids.
  • Many parents think that it’s very important to be best friends their kids.  As if their kids will reveal more secrets to them or that kids will be helped to adjust better when they’re friends with their parents.  I even saw an official name for that style of parenting, “Peerenting.”  What nonsense.  If your children know as much as you, you don’t know enough.  They may be technically more savvy, but they’re still kids and we’re still parents.  They don’t know more about what constitutes good character, attitudes and values.  They don’t know more about the effects sarcasm and nastiness will have on their careers or families when they grow up.  We must teach them.
  • Many parents do not believe in punishing their children.  They think their children will grow out of all bad behaviors by themselves.  As if denying children what they want or thwarting their self-expression will create psychological problems for them later.  As if, when they become 21 or get married or have children, those kids will suddenly become polite, civil and responsible citizens who love their permissive parents.
  • Many parents believe they shouldn’t set standards.  They believe that kids should determine their own standards as they grow up.  I think we are teachers.  We teach them a set of standards that we think is right.  When they grow up they can decide what parts of ours they want to keep and what other ideas they want to try out.

One of the most important lessons we can teach and model for our tweens and teens is that we determine what behavior we’ll allow in our personal space.  We must not allow harassment, bullying and abuse in our personal space.  Since tweens and teens are still dependent on living with us, we can’t simply remove them from our space, as we would any adult who attacks us, no matter what the relationship is.  Therefore we must require that they treat us well.  That’s the first price they pay for anything they want from us beyond food and shelter.

Do not show them that we give into bullies.  They’ll believe what we show them, not what we ask, beg, bribe, threaten and yell at them to do.

In addition to developing the will, determination, courage and strength to set standards of behavior, we need to learn skills.

Some effective parental responses to smart-mouthed kids, all delivered with good cheer and smiles and a matter-of-fact firmness, are:

  • Take charge of the TV and internet.  Allow them to watch only certain shows or internet sites.  Sometimes, watch with them.  Teach them to resist bad influences they see.
  • The kids will say, “All the other kids act that way.  I’m just trying to fit in”  We can say, “If the other kids told you to murder someone or commit suicide, would you?  We don’t do what jerks or losers do.  We’re better.  We (last name) set higher standards.
  • They’ll say, “You’re just forcing me; you’re just blackmailing me.”  Answer, “Yes.  Of course I am.  I’m showing you how much I care about teaching you good behavior and what behavior I allow in my personal space.  I’m showing you that good behavior is so important I’m willing to make you unhappy.  Usually I try to make you happy.  There’s a price you pay for getting what you want from me.”
  • They’ll say, “I can say what I want.  It’s free speech.”  Answer, “Actually, there’s a lot that we as a society have decided you cannot say, like joking about carrying a bomb on an airplane or insisting you can play ‘Words With Friends.’”  Answer, “What you’re really arguing is that there should be no consequences for your being nasty; that no one should get upset when you’re a jerk.  I’m saying that there are consequences for expressing yourself any way you want.  People might not like you; people might not want to do nice things for you.”
  • Some other ideas to share with them
  • Treat the people you’re closest to, the nicest.  You know you have to be polite with strangers, teachers and cops.  Be even nicer to your parents.
  • If kids are left to create their own society, without wise adult input, you get “Lord of the Flies.”  Read it.  Would you like to be the target of those tweens expressing the worst of themselves?
  • No matter what we do, our kids will grow up disliking something about the way we raised them.  So what?  Say, “Do differently when you’re a parent.  Be prepared to be shocked when your kids protest about you even though you think you’re a wonderful parent.”

Even if they’re better debaters, require the behavior you want.  You don’t have to convince them you’re right or to get their permission or acceptance for your standards before you demand compliance.

Signs that you have a real problem child. It's a bad sign when children fight to the death to resist reasonable rules of polite, civil behavior.  Civility requires some effort compared to selfish, spoiled behavior and childish temper tantrums to get their way.  Therefore, I expect kids to push back at first.  Tell them that this battle is a waste of their precious time.  Encourage them to put their energy into struggling to succeed in school, to develop good friends, to prepare themselves with skills for being effective adults living a wonderful life.  If they still focus on fighting us, they have a real problem

What if you get no support from a bullying spouse? Again, this simply adds to the degree of difficulty.  Two very bad situations are if your spouse actively encourages and participates in abusing you, or if, for example, your extended family culture supports male children in abusing females.  Stand strong and openly set high standards.  If they won’t change, you may have to get rid of them.

What if you’re just beginning to set standards now that they’re teens? Of course, it’s always easier to start when they’re young.  If you let them get away with mistreating you when they’re five, you’re setting yourself up for a very big problem when they’re fifteen.  If you’ve let an older child grow up to be a rotten teen, don’t hesitate to learn from your mistakes with the younger children.  You can be open and honest, “I was wrong when I allowed your older brother or sister to act rotten.  I’m sorry I let them grow up spoiled, selfish and arrogant.  But I’ve learned and I’m doing better for you.  I know it may seem harder on you, but you’ll be much better for it.”

Prepare your children for being adults in a world where bosses and spouses won’t be permissive and all-forgiving.  They will require high standards of behavior.  They won’t plead with you and negotiate forever and neither should will I.

If your children have already become teenagers who think they’re entitled to do what they want, set boundaries immediately, as long as they’re under your roof.  And then demand good behavior toward you when they move out on their own.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Sawyer Rosenstein, 12 -year-old seventh grader from New Jersey, was bullied for months until the bully punched him and left him paralyzed.  He received a settlement of $4.2 million from the school district.  A claim against the bully has also settled, but details are confidential.  And, Sawyer is still paralyzed for life. Reports from the New York Daily News and the Morristown Personal Injury Blog make clear that:

  • Three months before the final incident, Sawyer reported previous incidents of being bullied to the school in writing, but no responsible adult – principal, teachers, therapists, district administrators – stopped the school bullying.
  • "Additionally, the same bully that injured the boy had previously injured another student, yet no serious action was taken."
  • New Jersey has a strong anti-bullying law.  Nevertheless, his experience “shows that schools have a great responsibility to make sure that these laws are enforced in order to prevent students from being injured by bullies on school property.”

“The Board of Education released a statement Wednesday denying any wrongdoing and saying that it was the district’s insurance carriers that decided to enter into the settlement and will pay it out.  ‘The district’s character education and harassment/intimidation/bullying initiatives and reporting practices are leading edge,’ the statement said. ‘All programs in this area far exceed all of the criteria established by the state of New Jersey.’ … The board said the settlement did not include any admission of liability or fault on the part of the district.”

What’s wrong with the school board’s basic assumptions?

Of course, the local Board of Education has washed its hands of all responsibility, claiming that they followed the correct procedures.  Thy used the same type of defense that the do-nothing principal and district superintendent used after the suicide of Iowa teen Kenneth Weishuhn.

The people on the Board of Education, the principal, teachers, therapists and district administrators seem to feel that having a process; a program, initiatives and reporting practices is enough to cover them.  If negativity, harassment, abuse, or physical, mental and emotional violence occurs, it’s not their responsibilityIf they victimize students, it’s not their responsibility.  They were just following orders and procedures.

They think they’re not responsible for results, only for process.  They think they’re not responsible for stopping school bullying, only for pushing paper.

That lack of accountability may work for adults in education but for the rest of us, with real jobs, results count.  Even the kids taking tests are held accountable for performance and results.

Obviously laws are never enough.  It’s the people who administer the laws who are responsible for protecting us.  Or these incompetents settle for ineffective responses and leave it at that.  They lack the will to stop bullies.

Little children usually can get away with charm, potential and promises.  But as we cross past approximately 5th grade, we enter the time when those qualities count less and less, and results count more and more.  That’s a hard transition for many people to make.  When we get to be adults, we’re evaluated by the results we produce.

Obviously, the 12-year-old bully was in the transition, but how about the adults who were responsible for protecting all their students?  When are they going to be held personally responsible?

Following the rules or processes is a minimum standard.  The correct standard, by which school authorities should be judged, is whether they get results. Thomas Alva Edison once said, “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”  Of course large organizations like school districts need rules and processes.  But those are judged by whether they produce the desired results, not by whether they’re being followed.  Following processes is never enough; results count.

What can you do if you’re a parent trying to protect your child from such irresponsible incompetents?

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

To be a successful administrator, basic operational savvy is necessary.  But to be a successful leader, you must also master human savvy. For example, Joe worked his way up through the financial ranks and had mastered three of the major skills of internal operational savvy:

  • Setting high performance standards.
  • Project management.
  • Financial soundness.

Joe’s teams met their goals within budget and deadlines.

But Joe was always passed over for promotions to leadership.  Why?  Basic operational savvy isn’t enough to make leaders even partially successful.

To read the rest of this article from the Memphis Business Journal, see: Leaders who ignore the human element will fail http://www.bizjournals.com/memphis/stories/2007/10/01/smallb4.html

When I explained to Joe that he was missing the human savvy I’ll describe below, he said he couldn’t change.  He had strength of character and responded successfully to the ups and downs, and the challenges of business.  But he said he was an introvert.  He could achieve high performance in operational areas but it wasn’t his personality to excel in people areas.

Joe’s response is nonsense.  He doesn’t need to become an extrovert or develop the personality of an archetypal used-car salesman.  But if he wants to advance his career, he does need to master his innate human savvy—the universal human attributes for empathy and sympathy, for knowing what makes people tick, and for transmitting and enhancing passion and dedication.

Joe’s progress was halting when he was simply memorizing lists of how-to’s.  But his learning took off when he modeled himself after the subject of one of the best leadership books, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Joe saw himself as having a personality similar to Lincoln: a melancholy introvert who could come out of his shell to make human contact.  Lincoln’s human savvy was a crucial component of his success.  Joe resolved, “If Lincoln could do it, so can I.”  Joe drove himself to use Lincoln as his guide and to learn what Lincoln learned.

One of the important personal skills Joe learned was critical listening.  Instead of listening only to the dictionary definitions of words, he trained himself to hear “the message behind the message.”

That essential information taught him what concerns other people have and what they really want.  Joe used what he learned in order to connect with his team on an emotional level, so he could help them dedicate to their mission.

Lincoln said that the most important task of a leader, once he has finally decided on a course of action, is to educate people so they are inspired to proceed on that course.  Lincoln used insightful comparisons and memorable stories to transfuse people with his vision, dedication and perseverance.  Joe realized that appropriate stories have an emotional impact greater than the effects of logical arguments.

Like Lincoln did, Joe can now tell memorable stories of his team’s effort and progress.  His staff is now enthused to achieve team and personal goals in the face of challenges that demand their best.

Joe also sets high behavioral standards and holds his staff accountable for behavior that reflects good attitudes.  He’s stopped bullies and even had some success getting difficult messages across to abusive, toxic staffHis best workers are happier now that he’s weeded out the slackers and bad apples.

Now his superiors say:

Many people teach basic operational savvy as if it’s all that’s necessary for leadership success.  But good administrators aren’t necessarily good leaders.  Basic operational savvy is necessary, but it’s not enough. Leadership success is more all or none.  You can succeed only if you master human savvy.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to:

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Of course, it’s easy to sympathize with most people.  If someone has been abused, bullied or worse as a child, our hearts go out to them in sorrow for their suffering.  Or we can see someone’s beautiful spirit, the spirit of God, in them and our hearts will go out to them with compassion and empathy. But if a friend, neighbor or co-worker comes to you full of hurt, anger and outrage, does that mean that someone else actually did something wrong to them?

Maybe or maybe not.

For example, Linda recently moved next-door to Carrie in their friendly, family-focused block. It was a cul-de-sac and all the families had kids approximately the same age.  They’d organized many activities, birthday parties and car pools in order to create a community feeling.

Carrie and Linda started becoming close friends.  One day, Linda came to Carrie crying and angry.  As Linda struggled to stop her tears, Carrie felt herself becoming angry on Linda’s behalf.  Who’d caused this much pain and suffering to her friend?

Linda explained that one of the other women had made cutting remarks about Linda’s husband not being as successful as many of the other husbands and that Linda’s children weren’t as athletic or smart as the others.  Carrie was furious.  How could that woman say such things and hurt Linda so much?  What kind of neighborly welcome was that?

In an act of sympathetic friendship, Carrie said she’d never liked the other woman, who was always pompous and inflating her husband and children.  Linda shouldn’t pay attention to what the other woman had said.  Linda should know all the other women liked her much more than the other woman.

None of that was true.  Carrie actually liked and admired the other woman.  She’d never been negative, insensitive, righteous or arrogant before.  She’d always gone out of her way to help everyone.  Actually, Carrie couldn’t imagine the other woman saying those things to Linda.  But, obviously Linda’s pain meant that she had, indeed, said those things.  And Carrie thought it was her responsibility to comfort Linda and make her feel better.

The tactic worked.  After Carrie’s statement, Linda seemed to feel much better.  She thanked Carrie and left.

Two days later, Carrie noticed that the other woman had snubbed her in public and was whispering with Linda and a few of the others behind Carrie’s back.  Linda seemed to be accepted as part of the group and Carrie was glad for her.  But she still felt the cold shoulder.  Over the next week, it got worse.  She felt defeated, being cut out by the other women.

Episodes like this were repeated, sometimes with Carrie as the target and sometimes with other women as targets.  Carrie realized that it was like being back in junior high or high school again.  There was the clique of “in girls,” now led by Linda, and a shifting group of “targets-of-the-day.”

Carrie later discovered that after she’d sympathized with Linda, Linda had gone to the other woman and told her what Carrie had said behind her back.  Of course, the woman had reacted and had started snubbing Carrie.

In this article, I won’t go into how Carrie learned what Linda had been doing to each of the women or how Carrie managed to combat it.  Carrie might have been Linda’s first target, but she was not a victim.

Linda’s narcissistic, sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing behavior was her tactic for breaking in to a new group and taking control of it.  Linda was a Queen Bee.  She wanted to control the turf.  She wanted everyone to be either so worshipful or so afraid that they sucked up to her and did what she demanded.

If Carrie had let herself be ruled by her sympathy for a friend trying to break in to a new group, she’d have never been able to protect herself.  Instead, she did not accept defeat.  She took power over her actions.  She was able to bring the women together in friendship and to return the block to a friendly, activity-filled community.

Carrie and the other women found that acts of friendship did not change Linda’s behavior.  She could not be won over to acting nicely.  All their sympathy and compassion didn’t stop Linda from harassing or bullying.  She would not be a true friend.  She remained a “mean girl.

As Carrie discovered the hard way, sometimes sympathy can be a trap.  Her sympathy only aided and enabled a bully to spread her poison.

Just because someone is hurt and angry does not mean that someone else really did anything wrong to them

Carrie should have been more careful of what she did to make Linda feel better.  And she should have trusted her knowledge of the other woman’s good character.  She should not have believed Linda’s report, no matter how convincing.  She should have spoken face-to-face to the other woman in the beginning.

If a person who’s hurt, angry and complaining is a snake or go-between, who likes to pour gasoline on fires and stir up trouble between other people – who plays the game of “Uproar” – they’ll use any sympathy, opinions or information to enmesh you in a fight with someone else.

I haven’t mentioned the “Linda’s” in our extended families because we already know who those manipulative tricksters are.  We’ve already been sucked in to their manipulations so many times that we’ve learned to protect ourselves and to maintain good relations with the other people who act nice in return

A big learning for Carrie was that we may see someone’s shining, Godly spirit, but we’ll probably get to deal with their personality and the consequences they cause us.

It’s not the sympathy that’s a problem.  It’s how we express that sympathy or the dumb ways our sympathy can lead us to act in order to make someone feel better.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Amy was raised to be a nice girl.  She had learned not to act if she felt angry or if she sensed any resentful or vindictive feelings within her.  When she held back because her motives weren’t pure enough, she became easy prey for her bullying brother. When they were middle-aged, her brother moved back to their small town after having been gone for 20 years.  He began spreading vicious lies and rumors about Amy.  He blackened her reputation around town and even manipulated their mother into believing that Amy had always been jealous of him and that’s why she would claim he was nasty to her.

It was all lies.  Actually, Amy had done a lot to help him and had ignored his attacks; she’d never been nasty.  He was a sneaky, narcissistic, abusive, covert bully.

But the more his poisonous words went unchallenged, the more people believed them.

Amy obsessed on what he was saying and what was happening.  She couldn’t sleep, she wallowed in negative self-talk, shame and guilt, and became grumpy and angry at her family and at work.  She got anxious and depressed.  She even contemplated suicide as a solution to her dilemma.

Amy had helped her brother so much and she couldn’t understand why he’d do these things.  She tried reasoning with him and in return he attacked her verbally, venting a lifetime’s hatred and jealousy on her.  He blamed her for all the problems in his life; all his troubles had been her fault.  He told her that she had only succeeded and had a wonderful family because she’d fooled them all and he was going to bring her down.  He wouldn’t listen to reason or any compromise she offered.

He accused her of being evil.  Her anger and desire to retaliate proved how bad she was.  Since she did feel angry, resentful and vindictive, maybe he was right and she was deluding herself by thinking she was a good person.

Finally, Amy was forced to reevaluate some beliefs she’d accepted when she was a child:

  • Truth will out; good people will be justified.
  • Turn the other cheek; follow the Golden Rule.
  • Never act if your motives are impure; if you feel the slightest amount of anger, resentment or vindictiveness.

When she could see that the wonderful life she’d created and her teenage children’s happiness were threatened, she broke free from her old rules and roles.  She evaluated those old rules-roles as an adult with much more experience than she had when she was a child.

She could see where and when the old rules might apply, and where and when she needed new rules because she was now a responsible adult.  She realized that her most important jobs were to protect her children, her marriage and her reputation.  She felt like her old skin had been ripped open and a new sense of clarity, urgency and power filled her new skin.

She told her teenage children what she’d realized.  She’d told them secrets about her brother that she’d hidden because she didn’t want them to know how rotten he’d always been.  But she had to protect her family from someone who’d destroy it, even though he was her brother.

She told their mother the truth, even though that hurt mom.  Her mother had always tried to ignore how bad her son had been.  Now she had a choice, face the truth and side with her daughter, who’d always been good to her, or continue siding with a son who was weak and manipulative.

Amy told the truth to her friends and many of the important people in town. The hardest part for her was to overcome her reluctance and produce evidence for many of the rotten things her brother had done while he’d been gone.  There were newspaper clippings to back up what she said.

Also, she reminded people to judge by character and history.  How had she behaved to them over the years: had she lied, deceived or harmed them?  Or had she always been kindly, considerate and truthful?

Her brother had to leave town.  Amy felt sorry for him, but she knew that her responsibilities were more important that her sympathy for her brother, who was now reaping the painful harvest of the seeds he’d sown.

Most important, she had a much better sense of what she had to do to fulfill her responsibilities and that she wouldn’t allow her feelings to put her in harm’s way.  Also, she saw that she had not let herself be overwhelmed by anger or resentment.  She hadn’t blown up and lost her character or the respect of the people in town.  Instead, she had stayed calm and thoughtful, and developed a plan that succeeded.

Now, she’s much stronger, courageous and determined.

Expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Most people think that if they made a mistake, broke the rules, weren’t good at something or did something wrong they deserve what they get.  So they accept being scolded, chastised and browbeaten. This attitude is so common that we have many words and expressions for these put-downs and abuse. For example, admonished, assailed, assaulted, attacked, bashed, bawled out, beaten, berated, blamed, castigated, chewed out, condemned, denigrated, disapproved, disparaged, dressed down, flayed, punished, rebuked, rejected, reprimanded, ridiculed, slammed, straightened out, taken to task, thrashed, told off, tongue-lashing, torn to pieces, upbraided, vilified, whacked.

I used my handy Thesaurus because I want to ask: “Which feels most familiar to you?”  That tells you who you’ve been living with.

Most people allow bullies to bring up incidents forever, whenever the bully feels like attacking them.  After all, victims and oppressors reason, they did wrong; facts are facts.

The real mistake is when we allow ourselves to be bullied, scolded and chastised.

This isn’t about pretending that a mistake wasn’t a mistake or that we were ignorant when we actually could have known better.  Sometimes a fact is a fact.  Sometimes we easily might have known better or done better.  Maybe we weren’t careful enough.  Often there were consequences.

This is about the “so what” if we made a mistake.

There’s a big different between reviewing behavior to see what could have been done better and being scolded or chastised.  There’s a big difference between recognizing our mistakes and determining to do better versus being beaten into submission, verbally or physically, in order to make a point.

You know how it feels when a predator gleefully pounces on you with, “I gotcha.  Now I can beat you.”

Some common examples:

So the first action message is not to allow yourself to be talked to that way.  Period.  Not even “when you deserve it.”  If you catch it early it’s easy to end the relationship.

That method of negative self-talk stimulates self-bullying perfectionism as if, “If I’m not perfect, I’m worthless and deserve to fail and get beaten.”  Allowing yourself to be scolded and chastised increases anxiety, stress and depression, and leads to self-doubt and low self-confidence and self-esteem.  If you allow those nasty, hostile, personal attacks in your space you increase your helplessness and hopelessness.

People who bully this way simply from ignorance and habit can understand rapidly, even though breaking the old habit will take longer.  Allow as many chances as your spirit can take easily, but no more.

People who enjoy the feeling of righteous power rarely change.  You can’t reason, appease or forgive them or love them enough to change them.  The Golden Rule won’t help youVote them off your island before they destroy you.

The second action message is don’t say things that way.

These messages train people to accept bullying and to become bullies.  Don’t train people to respond to messages phrased that way.  Don’t train your children or spouse that they have to be beaten before it’s serious enough for them to change or do better.  Don’t train yourself that you have to be beaten before you’re willing to listen.  Don’t train them that they have to beat you.

Get expert coaching to change these patterns for yourself and others.  Otherwise you create and reinforce an Island in which bullying must occur in order for change to occur.

Many people still feel like children when their parents boss, belittle, criticize, demean, blame, shame, bully, abuse and guilt-trip them.  The now-adult children still feel afraid, just like they did years ago. Angry, hostile, harassing, taunting parents still elicit the most primitive responses from their adult children – fight, flight or freeze.

How can these adult children free themselves from uncivil, impolite, nasty, manipulative or toxic parents who trample their boundaries?

The first step is always inner change.

Grown children need to mature into adults; to free ourselves from our childhood rules expectations and roles, from our fears and guilts.  In many ways it’s like shedding our old skin and growing one that fits better, or going into a cocoon and emerging as a butterfly.  It’s also just as natural.

We must make up our adult minds and hearts about what we will allow in our personal space.  Will we allow anyone to treat us like a child or simply treat us badly, or will be allow only our parents?  If our answer is “yes,” then we’ll probably be bullied, abused and terrorized by toxic parents for the rest of our lives.

That is a life choice many people make.  If we make it as an adult, not only as a beaten and submissive child, then it’s our choice and we get to live with it.

Many cultures consider that duty, obligation, respect and catering to parents – even vicious, abusive, bullies – as the most important duty of a good child.  It’s often called “filial piety.”  The principle is that we owe them our lives and must pay that debt as long as we live.  If we’re lucky, our children will pay their debt to us in the same way.  Some cultures have been organized around filial piety for thousands of years; it works and is self perpetuating.

However, the negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode our spirit, sap our strength, ruin our focus and destroy our courage.  Looking at ourselves with demanding, toxic parents’ hostile eyes and talking to ourselves with their critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voices can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all our imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead us down a path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t go there.

In many ways, the Enlightenment in the West broke with that old tradition of filial piety championed a new way of being in the world.

As adults, we have the freedom and responsibility to make a different choice.  We have the moral right, permission and strength to stand against our parents and other people’s commandments.  We may and can and must choose for ourselves.

We can choose not to look over our shoulders and bow to our ancestors in fear and obedience.  Instead we can look ahead to our descendents with hope.  We can focus on taking care of our physical and spiritual children more than our parents.

The old way was to ask authorities, ask “What’s right?”  Now, we say, “That’s for us to decide.  We will follow the call of our Spirit, not the roles, beliefs and ideas we accepted when we were children.”  Of course, the Enlightenment’s way has its own downsides, but I’d rather have its upsides.

Maturing requires us to stand our Spirit’s ground, especially with our parents and extended family.  The longer we endure what we think of as mistreatment, the more our Spirits will shrivel and die, day-by-day. We must say some form of, “I love you but I’ll allow you in my space only if you treat me like I want to be treated, like you’d treat a person whose affections you’re trying to win.  I’m an adult; treat me nicely, kindly, respectfully and with fear that you might anger me.”

Often, we hold back because of our fears – fear of offending a moral code, fear of the condemnation of the “elders,” fear that we must think they’re evil, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of going too far, fear of our bullying parent’s power and retaliation, fear of being on our own emotionally even if we’re already married and have our own children.  We hold back because of the Golden Rule.  We hold back because we accept their excuses and justifications.

If we hold back, their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate.  If we still try to beg, bribe, please and appease them in order to get them to treat us decently, they’ll keep thinking they’re right and safe in continuing to beat us into submission.  We’ll get what we’re willing to tolerate.

Instead, break the game.  We don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act.  We’re not mature until we simply tell them what we want and have rewards if they’re nice and consequences if they continue abusing us.

Many people think that before they act they should do psychoanalysis until their fear is gone.  That’s a seductive trap, especially because it means they don’t have to act.  That way makes us think we’re weak and cowardly – it fills us with anxiety, stress and self-recrimination; we lose confidence and self-esteem; we’re more easily subject to physical ailments; we isolate ourselves and become depressed.

Speaking up and acting to make our words real is the way of courage; it builds strength, confidence and power.  Those fine qualities are developed only by overcoming fear and strong challenges.  Don’t wait until we’re “ready” to act in a way that’s perfect.  Act now; act next time.  We don’t have to be perfect the first time. If we go too far or not far enough, accept no blame, shame or guilt.  Simply adjust so we get closer to the way we want next time…and the time after…and the time after.  There will be more “time after’s.”

Some parents will finally see the consequences of losing contact with us; they’ll change their behavior.  Some won’t.  They also have free will and choice.

We’re not mature until we make an adult decision about what we’ll allow in our personal space and then back up that decision with rewards and consequences.

Of course the predicament is the same for parents with abusive children, or even worse since the children can deny their parents contact with the grandchildren

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  We must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome our fears and hesitations, and parents who won’t treat us right.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” contains the case studies of Carrie, Kathy, Doug, Jake and Ralph taking charge of themselves and stopping bullying parents and extended family members.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

A typical tactic of sneaky, manipulative bullies is to convince their well-meaning targets to try to make the bullies happy.  Although covert bullies and control-freaks aren’t usually so clear, straightforward and blunt about it, what they say is, “You’ve made me unhappy.  It’s your fault that I’m upset, angry, violent and abusive.  If you only acted the way I want, I’d be happy and nice.  It’s your responsibility to make me happy.” Common examples of this tactic are:

Common examples of this tactic are:

  • An abusive spouse yells, controls and beats his partner. Then he blames his loss of self-control and self-discipline on the target.  “If you did what I wanted, I’d be nice.  You brought it on yourself.  It’s your fault I treat you so badly.”  See the case study of Grace in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up.”
  • A covert bully in the workplace will get hysterical and claim to have low morale until you give her everything she wants in order to calm her down and raise her morale. You’ll have to keep the goodies coming because she’ll never trust you; every day you’ll have to convince her anew by doing what she wants. An overt bully at work will use the same approach as an abusive spouse for outrageous acts of bullying, abuse and violence.
  • Facing the temper tantrums of two year-olds, you’re teaching them how to get what they want from you; by being nice or by being nasty.  You’re also training them how to feel when they don’t get what they want.  They learn whether it’s okay to fight you as if not getting what they want is the end of the world or if they have to develop more self-discipline and control.  Once you’re defeated by a two year-olds’ temper tantrums, you’ll have to do what they want forever, or else.  The best way to create a spoiled brat is to accept the task of providing for their happiness.  The worst consequence of your giving in is that they’ll grow up convinced that they can’t be happy unless they’re catered to.
  • Using surly, grumpy, demanding, entitled behavior, teenagers can manipulate or browbeat their parents. Teens will claim that if they fail in life, it’ll be your fault because you didn’t give them enough.  Or they’ll threaten to hurt themselves or damage the house if you upset them.  However, your job is to turn the responsibility around.  You might give them things if they make you like it, not if they try to beat you into giving them what they want.  See the case study of Paula in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

In all these situations, sneaky, manipulative, covert, stealthy bullies try to get what they want by using emotional blackmail and name-calling.  For example, if you don’t give them what they want, “You’re insensitive, selfish and uncaring” or “You’re not a nice person” or “You don’t understand how I feel, what I’ve lived through or how hard it is for me” or “You wouldn’t want me to repress what I feel.  I don’t have any control over what I feel.”

Their hidden assumption is that other people (you) are responsible for their attitudes, moods and happiness.  They have no control over how they feel about getting or not getting what they want.  Also, they have no control over how they act when they’re upset.  And, therefore, your job is to make them happy.

I disagree with all those assumptions.  Also, if you accept the guilt, blame and responsibility, you’ll be a victim for life.

The negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage.  Looking at yourself with their hostile eyes and talking to yourself with their critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating.  Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide.  Don’t go there.

Their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate.  If you accept the responsibility to please them in order to get them to treat you decently, you’ll give them what they want and all they have to do to keep you giving is never to be satisfied.  Since you’re responsible for their feelings and actions, there will always be more things you have to do to please them.

Don’t let them destroy your inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience.  Don’t go down the path to being a victim for life.  Don’t let them destroy your self-confidence and self-esteem.  Don’t let them stimulate your anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  Don’t let them push you toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Instead, break the game.  Don’t accept the responsibility for their feelings and actions.  You don’t have to be perfect before they have to change how they act.  Give the responsibility back to them.

For example, you can say, “I’m not responsible for how you feel and act.  You are.  I don’t have to make you happy.  You can choose how you feel and what you do, no matter what’s happening.  I’m going to focus only on behavior and decide whether to keep you around based only on your actions.  Your reasons, excuses and justifications won’t count.”

And then you have to make the consequences count.

If a stealthy, manipulative bully says, “You’re being selfish,” you can respond with, “Thanks for noticing.” And you keep doing what you were doing.

The tactics they use tell you how close you want people to be; how close you want to let them come to your wonderful, peaceful, joyous island.

All tactics are situational so we’ll have to go into the details of your specific situation in order to design tactics that fit you and the other people involved.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” has many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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In a series of articles in the New York Times, “Poisoned Web,” Jan Hoffman details a sexting case gone viral in Lacey, Washington.  What can you do for your son or daughter so they don’t get sucked into the black hole of a sexting catastrophe that could ruin their whole lives?

In this particular case, a middle-school girl sent a full-frontal nude photo of herself, including her face, to her new middle-school boyfriend.  He forwarded the picture to a second middle-school girl he thought was a friend of the first one.  The second girl, an ex-friend with a grudge, forwarded the picture to the long list of contacts on her phone with the caption, “Ho Alert!  If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.”  The photo rapidly went viral.

A lot of the analysis about the situation is nothing new:

  • Why do girls send nude photos of themselves to boyfriends they have or hope to have?  The same reasons girls always have.
  • Why do guys prize and show these pictures as evidence of what studs they are?  The same reasons guys always have.
  • Why do friends of the guys or mean girls forward the pictures?  The same reasons that names used to get written on bathroom or phone booth walls.  The same reasons that girls have always cut down their competition and enemies.  Bullies, bullying, harassment and abusive behavior have always been with us.
  • Who or what is to blame?  The same culprits get vilified: thoughtless, foolish boys and girls, teenagers, school officials, society, double-standards and technology.

Does technology make sexting worse?  Yes, of course.  Technology makes it seductively easy to forward pictures and comments.  Also, technology makes the information global and permanent.  Kids can’t move to another school or even another city in order to get away from the consequences of what they and others did.

In the past, many reputations and lives were ruined by foolish moments.  Kids and adults have always been able to exercise righteous or mean or vicious inclinations, but it’s so much easier now.

What are the consequences to those caught up in sexting?  The girl who sends her picture may be the subject of vicious attacks all her life.  Her inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience will be tested.  She may feel helpless and that her situation is hopeless.  She may go down the path to being a victim for life.  Her self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed.  Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated.  She can move toward isolation, depression and suicide.

The boy, the second girl and everyone else who forwards the picture have to face their own stupidity or meanness.  And they may have to face their role in a suicide.  An act of a moment can destroy a life.  Also, they may have to face prison.  We hope this will help them do better the rest of their lives.  Humans have always learned some lessons the hard way.

Do today’s kids face overwhelming pressure?  Many people make excuses for the foolish or nasty kids; as if the external pressures are overwhelming.  For example, the article quotes, “'You can’t expect teenagers not to do something they see happening all around them,’ said Susannah Stern, an associate professor at the University of San Diego who writes about adolescence and technology.”  This line of thought focuses on reducing all pressure and temptation.

But pressure was just as great throughout history as it is now – depending on the particular time in each society.

What’s the solution?

These steps will decrease the number of kids involved in sexting.  But we’ll never stop 100 percent of kids’ foolish or mean or vicious actions.  But that can’t be our intention.  Our goal is to educate kids whose awareness of the potential consequences of their actions will awaken in them the ability to do better.

Our goal can’t be to educate or convert psychopaths or people who want to make a living off child pornography.  Educational approaches aren’t effective with these people.

I do expect most kids to be able to learn to be stronger, to develop better character and to be able to resist the temptations of our popular culture.  There’s nothing new in the temptations and pressure the kids face.  The only new thing is the ease and permanence that technology offers.  I focus not on making society easy and safe, but on developing individual values, character, heart and spirit.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must design plans that are appropriate to preventing our individual children from sending pictures or forwarding them, and to minimizing the disaster if they act foolishly.

If your children are the targets of cyberbullies or sexting, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome the effects of seeming to have your child’s life ruined by a foolish act in middle-school.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

In a new interview and article, Theresa Marchetta, Investigative Reporter for Denver ABC-TV station, KMGH-TV reports on the steps you need to take to protect your children from becoming victims of bullies and of principals and district administrators who won’t stop taunting, teasing, harassment, bullying and abuse. Of course, if your wonderful principal protects your children, your two tasks are still to:

But if you’re faced with a “blame the victim; avoid the bully” or a do-nothing principal, you’ll have to become strong and skilled in your children’s defense.

Some key steps mentioned in the article are:

  • Think of “Relentless bullies as predators.  They are not going to stop and will do it over and over again.  I have to let my child know I am going to help protect you.  I don't want my kid to be a suicide, so I’m willing to fight.”
  • “My first action is with my children.  I want to let them know they are being targeted, but I won't let them be victims.  I want to build their strength, their character and their willingness to do something to protect themselves.”
  • “Second, I'm going to bring it to the school.”
    • “Request a meeting with the school principal…I expect that principal to meet with you the next day, the day after -- that fast.”
    • “To prepare for that meeting, parents must bring any evidence of the bullying including hate notes, e-mails, texts, pictures and any details of the child’s story.”
    • If you cannot stay calm, bring someone who can.  “If you're not calm you'll be targeted as the angry parent throwing a fit.”
  • Does the bullying stop?  I'll give them a week or a day depending on how bad it is…My tests are, is the bully separated to another part of the room or is the bully allowed access to my child?  Is my child the one who is kicked out of class or is my child protected?...If your child, the victim, is the one having to make changes, that is a red flag.”
  • If the situation is not resolved quickly, take the case directly to the district superintendent and the school board.”
  • If the responsible adults don’t resolve the situation, “Your next step is that you have to up-level.  You have to get a lawyer.  You have to think publicity…You've got to be willing to go right to that level.   When the people who should be protecting our children are fired and sued successfully, it will change.”

We all know the consequences of not stopping bullies and of allowing them continued contact with their targets, the bullying and violence will increase.

Principals who avoid the issue make the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  It starts them down the path to being victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials who aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

I’ve often seen principals, guidance counselors, teachers and district administrators recommend mediation even for relentless school bullies and their targets, even after the bully has taunted, teased, harassed and abused the target for months and the school officials haven’t changed the bully’s behavior by asking, encouraging, begging and bribing the bully. In these situations, the principals finally give up and throw the burden back on the defenseless targets by saying that the kids have to work things out on their own.  In these circumstances, this recommendation is a cowardly abdication of adult responsibility and authority, and it’s totally wrong.

Of course mediation and the weight of peer opinion and condemnation can be effective in some cases.  For example, in situations in which two kids got into it with one time, it’s possible to bring them together and build a bridge of civility and even respect.

But in recommending one-to-one mediation when the school officials have already failed, the officials have taken the third step in converting your targeted child into a victim:

  1. The first step was in not protecting the target, in not removing the bully, in not having consequences for the bully and his family the next time the bullying occurred, in not kicking the bully out of school.
  2. The second step in converting targets into victims is usually taken in cases where the principal, teachers, counselors and school district administrators have been unable to rehabilitate the bully through asking, teaching, begging and bribing the bully.  They make the target pay the price by removing him from the classroom or by simply looking the other way when the bully acts and then stonewalling and lying to the target’s parents.  They hope the target will be less stubborn than the bully and will agree to suffer in silence.  However, when the bully realizes that he has power, he usually increases his violence because no adult is making him stop bullying and other kids are afraid of him because he can get away with doing what he wants.
  3. The third step that uncaring, lazy, weak, inept or cowardly principals take is when they blame the target.  They say, “You must be doing something wrong because the bully’s still picking on you.  Therefore, if you get together and apologize and promise to do whatever the bully wants, he won’t have a good reason to abuse you.  If you can’t make him change, it’s your fault.”  They call that “Mediation.”  That kind of mediation assumes that the target did something wrong, that the bully has good reason to be angry and abusive, and that the bully will stop when the target grovels.  That form of mediation completely ignores the truth that relentless bullies are predators. For whatever reasons – their own pain, their drive for power and position – they will keep bullying until they’re actually stopped.

This approach makes the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  They’ll be victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide. Parents, when principals have gone on weeks and months making excuses why they allow the bullying to continue, they’re telling you that you’re on your own.

  • They won’t stop the bully; they’ll look the other way.  They’ll let your child sink or swim on his own in the shark-infested waters of the playground, cafeteria, lockers, hallways, bathroom or bus.
  • They don’t care about your child’s feelings or problems.  They either care about the bully’s feelings more or they simply don’t want to deal with a difficult problem.  Don’t let your child entertain self-doubt or negativity.  Don’t give in to stress, anxiety, hopelessness or depression.  Don’t go down that path to helplessness and suicideKeep your child’s confidence and self-esteem high.  You and your child can stay strong and courageous; you can stop the bully.
  • Encourage your child to maintain his inner strength and move up a staircase of increasing firmness to try to get the bully to look for easier prey.  All tactics depend on the situation, but there are some general guidelines.
    • At the bottom of the staircase we try peaceful, friendly methods.  We ignore it, we say ouch, we ask the bully to stop, we try to deflect it with jokes, we avoid contact.  If that stops the bully, your child wasn’t really dealing with a relentless bully.  If the bully doesn’t stop, if the violence continues, we need to teach our children to push back verbally.
    • If verbal methods don’t stop the bully and the school officials won’t stop the bullying, especially with younger kids, when it’s one-to-one and the kids are the same size, your child must be prepared to beat up the bully, if possible.  Prepare your child with martial arts training.  Of course you must be aware that the older a bully is, the more likely he is to be carrying a weapon.  I’m going to this level because you’ve already failed using every peaceful means you can.
    • I’m assuming that the principal and district administrators have not stopped the bullying while you’ve been talking to them and your child has slowly gone up the staircase.  Of course, when your child hits back those cowardly principals will attack your child because, they’ll say, “We don’t condone violence,” even though they permitted the bully to be violent for months.  And usually, they permitted his friends to pile on by attacking your child verbally and physically or through cyberbullying.  They’ll suspend your child for fighting back.  Arrange for your child to be prepared and happy.  Go to Disney World as if you won the Super Bowl.  If the bullying stops because your child is ready to fight again, it’s worth the trip.
  • Since you won’t have legal redress – principals can’t be fired if they don’t stop bullies – your only alternative is plenty of bad publicity.  You’ll need a lawyer and the ear of sympathetic reporters.  Get your documentation together and make it public; minutes of all the meetings with the principal, emails and letters received by the principal expressing your concerns for your child’s safety and containing the minutes of the meetings.  Look for a reporter or station manager who was bullied and not protected when he or she was a child.  They might champion your cause.
  • The most important consideration is your child.  Eventually, you want your child to get a good education.  You must increase his strength, courage, character and will.  You want him grow up to look back at the bully and the authorities who didn’t protect him as insignificant.  They were speed bumps in his life that he’s overcome and doesn’t even think about now because his life is so wonderful.  That may mean that you remove your child from the care of school officials who don’t care about his physical, mental and emotional well-being and safety.

By the time the principal suggests mediation, you know you’ve given them too much time and trust.  You’ve been in an adversarial relationship and you didn’t recognize it.  Now you know.  Act wisely and tactically.

If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials who aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right.  We can plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Do we have to decide that a bully is bad, evil and unredeemable in order to stop them or get them out of our lives?  Do we have to be judgmental in order to act – to kick someone out of school, to divorce someone, to sever a relationship, to put someone in prison? Many people think they’d have to be much too judgmental and punitive in order to act.  After all, we don’t know the heart of someone since we can’t really walk in their shoes, and we don’t know who can be transformed or redeemed.

But is that way of looking at bullies true or useful?

Do we have to wait until we’re sure that a bully is evil and unredeemable before we can act?  Is it wrong to be so judgmental about a person’s character?  Can we say that our standards are so much better when someone else has such different ones?

I think that those are the wrong questions.  They’re not questions that will help us; instead they get us into unanswerable philosophic discussions.

I think more useful questions are: “What actions from whom are we willing to have in our environment?  What are we willing to do to remove people who act in ways that are painful, demeaning, denigrating, abusive and bullying?”

By using these criteria about actions, we’re not making any judgment about the person’s character or identity – are they good or bad, are they evil?  We’re not hallucinating about the possibility of their rehabilitation and redemption in the future.  We’re simply deciding what behavior we’ll accept in our personal environment. Doesn’t that change things?  What happens to the hesitation, stress and anxiety in trying to figure out what’s the “Right” thing to do?  What happens to the fear and worry about misjudging someone?

It’s not a matter of being judgmental; it’s simply a matter of choosing how to live in our personal space.  Once we choose our personal standards, we can pay attention to other people’s actions; not their reasons, excuses or justifications; not their character, true identity or the state of their soul; not some grandiose judgment about whose culture is superior.

If or when bullies change their behavior, we can decide how many times we have to see them act decently or over how long a span before we give them more chances to get close.  Or maybe, we’ll never let them get close again.

We’re not required to share time and space with anyone now, no matter what our previous relationship was or how much they want to see us now.  Their desire to date us doesn’t alter our freedom to say, “Not interested.  Go be happy somewhere else.”

We don’t have to have good, logical reasons.  We don’t have to figure out what the “Right” action is.  We don’t have to justify our decisions.  We can just be with the people we feel like because we want to.

It’s not a judgment about them; it’s about how compatible we feel or the dangers and risks we want to take or just because “We wanna or we don’t wanna.”  And we get total control over these choices because it’s about us; not them.  There are no outside rules or social codes that force us to do what we’re not comfortable with.

So keep it simple.  No great philosophical questions; no questions about character, identity or future possibilities, no questions about good or evil, no questions about future possibilities of redemption: only questions about the behavior we want in our personal environment or the behavior we won’t tolerate.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules and simply take charge of our personal choices.  We can become strong and skilled enough to resist being coerced by bullies into doing what we don’t want.  We can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults getting over their early training and creating the environment and life they want.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

Of course, we’ve tried everything we can think of, but the negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame, bullying and abuse haven’t stopped.  We’ve tried to do exactly what they want, but it’s never enough.  We’ve apologized and pleaded with them to stop, but that just makes them act nastier.  We’ve gotten angry and threatened not to see them, but they broke down in such tears of distress we felt guilty or they blamed on us even more or they acted nice for a few minutes but, when we relaxed, they attacked us more about something different they didn’t like.

So what can we do now?

  1. For the sake of peace and quiet in the whole family, we could keep trying to endure the abuse while begging them to stop.  After all, we never know; if we only kept trying, if we only did enough, they might change.  Also, they might leave us in the will.  And it’d be our fault if we quit too soon.  Many people fly low until they have children and see their toxic parents either criticizing and emotionally abusing their children or belittling and criticizing them while being sweet to the grandchildren.
  2. We might continue objecting and arguing; enduring our frustration and anger.  Usually this tactic repeats endlessly and often spirals out of control.  Relentlessly toxic parents won’t admit they’re wrong and give up.  Eventually they’ll escalate and cut us out of the will.
  3. We might try withdrawing for a while; not seeing them, telling them we won’t return emails and calls, and then carrying through.  People usually shift from the first two tactics to this one when they see the effect of their toxic parents on their own children.  This tactic sometimes convinces nasty, mean, bullying parents that they’d better change their ways or they’ll lose contact with their grandchildren.  But the relentlessly toxic parents don’t care.  They’re sure they’re fine and they’re sure they’ll win if they push hard enough, like they’ve always won in the past.  So they don’t change and we go back to arguing or we give up or we finally respond more firmly.
  4. The next step is to withdraw for a long time, maybe forever – no contact.  It’s sad but we have to protect the family we’re creating from our own predatory parents.  It’s usually both scary and very exciting.  Most people, despite any guilt they feel, also feel a huge surge of relief, as if a giant weight or a fire-breathing dragon has been removed from their shoulders.  Our spouse and children may celebrate.  Get out of town, go on a vacation, turn the phones and email off.

What to expect and how to respond?

  1. They’ll attack when we withdraw.  Expect them to make angry calls and send hostile emails.  Save these on an external drive or a cheap recorder before deleting them.  They want to engage us, so do not engage endlessly and fruitlessly; no return calls or emails, no hateful or vindictive responses.  We’ve only gotten to this point because they haven’t changed after many approaches and warnings.  We might have to change our phone numbers to unlisted ones and change our email addresses.
  2. They’ll rally the extended family.  Prepare by making cue cards of what to say; no excuses or justifications.  Just tell the family what you said and did, and what you plan.  Ask them not to intervene.  Tell them we’d like to see them but only if our toxic parents are not present.  We’re sorry they’re caught in the middle but that’s life.  They do have to choose who to believe and what behavior to support.  Be prepared to withdraw from anyone who attacks or interferes.
  3. They’ll disinherit us.  When they can’t manipulate us through love, blame, shame and guilt, they’ll try greed.  If we don’t do what our toxic parents want right now, they’ll cut us out of the will.  Don’t be a slave to greed; it’s a deadly sin.  If we want to have a bully-free family life, we’ll have to make it on our own.  The real benefit is not merely ending the brutality, it’s the strength of character and the skills we gain when we make decisions for ourselves and chart our own course in the world.  We’ll end the negativity, stress, anxiety and depression usually caused by toxic parents.  We’ll develop the strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience we all need to make wonderful lives.  We’ll be able to express our passion and joy without cringing, waiting for the next blow to fall.
  4. We’ll have an empty space in our lives.  Even more than the empty physical space we’ll now have at the times when we used to get together with our toxic parents, we’ll have a huge mental and emotional space.  How many hours have we wasted thinking about our parents, worrying about the next episode, dreading what might happen next, agonizing over what to do.  We don’t have to do that any more.  Of course, being weaned from an old habit takes a little time.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  Focus on the freedom we now have.  Now we can think about the things we want to think about; not about pain and suffering, not about past failures.  Now we have space to bring into our lives people who will be part of the tribe of our heart and spirit.
  5. Our children will wonder why.  Tell the kids in a way that’s age appropriate.  Are we protecting them from the verbal abuse of their toxic grandparents or from lies that paint us as bad people?  They’ll want to know what’s going to stay the same.  Will they have fun, celebrate holidays, get presents, have extended family?

The most important lessons we offer our children are not through books and lectures.  Those are important, but the most important ones are the ones they see in our behavior when we’re models of behavior we want them to learn.

Be a model for them of someone who protects himself and them from anyone who would target them, even someone who’s close by blood.  Being close by behavior counts more than blood.  Show them not to be victimized even by blood relations.

Show them to how to be the hero of their lives.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to endure whatever bullying and abuse our toxic parents dish out simply because they’re our parents.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives. “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and freeing themselves from toxic relationships.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling
24 CommentsPost a comment

Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller.  She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures. If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame.  Amy Chua is an abusive bully.

She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.

They also won’t suffer from anxiety, nightmares, negative self-talk and depression because they’ll be successful in her real world.  The bullying and beatings will make them as tough as nails.  They’ll wipe out your kids; you lazy, slacking, guilt-ridden, ambivalent, permissive American parents.

Some of her ideas and claims are:

  • “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
  • “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.”  Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
  • “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches.  Chinese parents aren't.  They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
  • “Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.  If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough.  That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.”

Therefore, she proudly states that never allowed her daughters to:

  • “attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”

Why will some people take her seriously? People who think that American culture produces only losers – selfish, lazy, narcissistic, weak, slacker teenagers and adults who will never succeed – will be tempted to improve their children’s test scores acting like Ms. Chua did.  People who enjoy beating their children into submission will be tempted to use her ideas as a justification for dominating and abusing their children.  People who think that China is the next rising super-power and that today’s Chinese children will rule the world and our children won’t be strong and determined enough to stop them will be tempted to channel their children down Ms. Chua’s narrow track.

There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.

What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?

  • She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
  • She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
  • She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet.  I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
  • She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”).  If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
  • She assumes that there’s only one way to get children to work and succeed.  Because no children want to work at the right subjects, you must beat them into submission physically, verbally and emotionally.
  • She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
  • There’s almost no joy in their lives.  Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise.  But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning.  There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.

Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost. This is a great and necessary value.  It has made our society the first world.  But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.

No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks.  She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection.  That’s why people take it so personally.  Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons.  These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.

Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx.  She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon.  When she grew up she sued him.

A better approach:

  • Have you observed your children individually and carefully?  One approach does not fit them all.
  • Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own?  Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out?  This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
  • What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own?  Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you?  How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
  • Character is critical.  All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs.  What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
  • Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it.  You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.

By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”  In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices.  In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her.  That’s not the answer either.

All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.

Instead, find the fire in your children and feed that fire.  Help them become skillful and competent in areas that matter most to them.  Help them create a life that’s uniquely theirs, not one you think is proper or best for them.

Why do I say that Ms. Chua is abusive and a bully?  Let’s review – what do “Chinese Mothers” and bullies have in common.

  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” don’t care what you think or how much pain you feel.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” can do what they want to you and you’d better like it.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are right and righteous.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are the best because they’re the winners in life.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” beat you into submission for your own good.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” isolate you and make you dependent on them.

My conclusion is that if it looks like a bully, if it acts like a bully and if it feels like bullying then it’s a bully, even if it calls itself “Mommie Dearest.”

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AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabusing, abusive, accomplish, activities, adults, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, allowed, ambivalent, American, Amy Chua, anxiety, anxious, article, attacking, attacks, Aung San Suu Kyi, barbarian, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, beating, beatings, beats, beauty, book, brutality, brute, bullies, Bullies at School, bully, bullying, bureaucrats, character, Charles Dickens, children, China, Chinese, Chinese Mothers, choose, Chua, claims, Communist, compassion, compete, competitive, complain, computer, computer games, connection, control, control-freak, creative, culture, cultures, Darwin, dedicated, defeat; win, demand, depression, desires, desperate, determination, determined, discourage, dominating, emotionally, encourage, encouraged, energetic, entrepreneurs, esteem, excoriate, failures, Fascist, fragility, fundamental, games, Gates, grades, guilt, happy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hildegard of Bingen, honor, In Defense of the Guilty, inconvenience, independent, individuality, individually, inhumanity, Isolate, Joan of Arc, joy, jungle, justification, lawyer, lazy, liberty, literature, losers, love, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Marx, material, mothers, narcissistic, narrow, Nazi, negative, negative self-talk, nightmares, nurture, pain, parenting, parents, passionate, perfect, performance, permissive, physically, piano, playdate, power, preferences, Preoccupied Western Mom, professor, psyches, publicity, punish, right, righteous, rigid, rule, scores, self-determination, self-esteem, self-talk, selfish, shame, skill, Slacker, slacking, slaves, sleepover, social climbers, solution, soul, spirit, spirituality, sport, Steve Jobs, strength, strong, structure, submission, substandard, Succeed, successful, suffer, super-power, superior, teenagers, test, test scores, torturer, traditions, TV, uncaring, uniquely, values, verbally, victim, victory, violin, Waldman, Wall Street Journal, weak, western parents, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, wimpy, winners, work, wrong
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Many types of family bullying are obvious, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment, nastiness or abuse, and targets or witnesses usually jump in to stop it.  The typical perpetrators are mothers and fathers bullying each other or the kids, sibling bullies, bullying step-parents or kids sneakily bullying a step-parent in order to drive a wedge between a biological parent and their new partner. But many people allow extended family members to abuse their children or their spouses, especially at the holidays, because they’re afraid that protest will split the family into warring factions that will never be healed.  They’re afraid they’ll be blamed for destroying family unity or they accept a social code that proclaims some image of “family” as the most important value.

Except in a few, rare situations, that’s a big mistake.

A rare exception might be an aged, senile and demented, or a dying family member whose behavior is tolerated temporarily while the children are protected from the abuse.

But a more typical example of what shouldn’t be tolerated was a grandpa who had a vicious tongue, especially when he drank.  He angrily told the grandchildren they were weak, selfish and dumb.  He ripped them down for every fault – too smart, too stupid; too fat, too skinny; too short, too tall; too pretty, too ugly; too demanding, too shy.  He also focused on fatal character flaws; born lazy, born failure, born evil, born unwanted.

For good measure, he verbally assaulted his own children and their spouses – except for the favorite ones.  He even did this around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables when the parents and their spouses were present.  He was always righteous and right.

Imagine that you see the fear, stress, anxiety and pain on your children’s faces and on your spouse’s face; you feel the pain and anger in your own heart.  You hate being there; you hate exposing your family to the negativity and abuse.  The rest of the adults try to shrug it off saying, “It’s only dad.  He really does love us.  His life has been hard.”  Or they insist, “Don’t upset the family, don’t force us to choose sides, family comes first.”

What can you do?

I assume you’ve asked him to stop or given him dirty looks, but that only seemed to encourage him to attack you and your children more.  Or he apologized, but didn’t stop for even minute.  When you arrived late and tried to leave early, he attacked your family even more.  He blamed you for disrupting the family.  The rest of the adults also said that it’s your fault you aren’t kind and family oriented enough to put up with him.

What else can you do?

I think you have to step back and look at the big picture – a view of culture, society and what’s important in life.  Only then can you decide what fights are important enough to fight and only then will you have the strength, courage and perseverance to act effectively.

Compare two views: one in which blood family is all important. We are supposed to do anything for family and put up with anything from family because we need family in order to survive or because family is the greatest good.  This view says that if you put anything above family, especially your individual conscience or needs, you’ll destroy the foundations of civilized life and expose yourself in times of need.  In this view, we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves and our children to our biological family – by blood or by marriage.

We can see the benefits of this view.  When you’re old and sick, who else will take care of you but kith and kin?  In this view, the moral basis of civilization is the bond of blood and marriage.  Violate that relationship, bring disunity into the family by standing up for your individual views and you jeopardize everything important and traditional.

In my experience, this view is usually linked to the view that men and inherited traditions should rule.  Boys are supposed to torment girls because that teaches them how to become men.  Girls are supposed to submit because that’s their appointed role – sanctioned by religion and culture.  If men are vicious to women and children, if old people are vicious to the young, that’s tolerated.

Contrast this view with an alternative in which behavior is more important than blood. Your individual conscience and rules of acceptable behavior are more important than traditions that enable brutality and pain generation after generation.  What’s most important in this view is that you strive to create an environment with people who fill your heart with joy – a family of your heart and spirit.

If you choose the first view, you’ll never be able to stop bullying and abuse.  Your children will see who has the power and who bears the pain.  They’ll model the family dynamics they saw during the holidays.   You’ve abdicated the very individual conscience and power that you need to protect yourself and your children.  You’ll wallow in ineffective whining and complaining, hoping that someone else will solve your problem.

The best you can hope for outside the family, when your children face bullies who have practiced being bullies or being bullied at home, is that school authorities will do what’s right and protect your children from bullies.  But how can you expect more courage from them than you have?  Or why shouldn’t they accept the culture which tolerates bullying and abuse, just like you have?

Once you’ve decided that you will stop accepting intolerable behavior, your action plan will have to be adjusted to the circumstances, for example:

  • Are you the biological child in the family or merely a spouse?
  • Is your spouse willing to be as strong as you?
  • Who’s the perpetrator – a grandparent, another adult or spouse, a cousin, a more distant relative?
  • Do you see the perpetrator every year or once a decade?
  • Do other adults acknowledge the abuse also?

Expert coaching and good books and CDs like “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” will help you make the necessary inner shifts and also develop a stepwise action plan that fits your family situation and newly developed comfort zone.  For example, see the case studies of Kathy, Jake and Ralph.

Keep in mind that while you hope the perpetrator will change his or her behavior, your goal is really to have an island with people who make every occasion joyous.  You must be prepared to go all the way to withdrawing from family events or to starting a fight that will split the family into two camps.  But at least you’ll be in a camp in which you feel comfortable spending the holidays.

Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.  Sometimes when one person speaks up, many others join in and the combined weight of opinion forces an acceptable change.  Sometimes if you say you’ll withdraw, you’ll be seen as the most difficult person in the room and the rest of the family will make the abuser change or ostracize him or her.

There’s a world of difference between being an active witness to bullying and abuse, and being merely a bystander. A bystander has already decided to be an uninvolved spectator, to look the other way, to pretend ignorance if called upon.

A witness can make a tactical decision based on the circumstances – intervene now in some tactical way or speak up later.

At work, co-workers or bosses are bullies; at home, abusive parents will harass and bully one young child while lavishing goodies on the other; in addition, toxic parents will favor one adult child over another with love and inheritance on the line.

I’ll focus here on kids, but the larger implications should be obvious when you think about slavery or the Nazis or a hundred other public examples.

Often, at school and at home, mean kids will try to turn siblings or friends against each other.

For example, Charles’ friend, Brad, was relentlessly nasty to Charles’ sister Sarah.  He made fun of her, called her stupid, dumb and ugly, and, even though Sarah was tall and skilled enough to play with the older boys, he’d cut her out of their games or he’d intentionally knock her down.

Charles looked on in dismay but never interfered.  That was puzzling to Charles’ parents because, in one-to-one situations, Charles played well with Sarah and liked her.  Yet Charles had become a bystander; he wouldn’t step up to what he knew was right.

How come he didn’t protect Sarah from Brad?  Was Charles afraid that if he interfered he’d lose a friend or that Brad would beat him up?  Did Charles secretly want his sister out of the way?

More important than an analysis of “why,” was the potential effect on Charles of being a bystander.  What would be the cost to his character and mental and emotional well-being?  What would be the effect on his conscience and self-esteem if he played along and didn’t speak up against the abuse or if he colluded by joining in the harassment of his sister in order to make friends with Brad?

Without knowing the real answers to the “why” questions, the pain, shame, anxiety and stress of watching his sister tormented and the guilty laceration of his conscience finally drove Charles to choose which side he was on.  He stood up for his sister and for high standards of conduct, but then he had to solve another problem; Brad was a head taller and 30 pounds heavier than he was.

In front of Sarah, Charles got in Brad’s face and told him to cut it out.  If Brad wanted to be his friend and play with him, he had to be nice to Sarah…or else

Most of the Brad’s in the world would back down but this one didn’t.  Angry words led to shoving and Brad grabbed Charles and threw him down.  At this point Charles and Sarah’s advanced planning gave them a tactical advantage.  Sarah, as tall and heavy as Charles, jumped on Brad’s back and the brother and sister piled on Brad and punched and kicked him.

As with most kid fights it was over fast.  Brad got the message; he was facing a team.  If he wanted to play with them he’d have to play with both of them.  If he wanted to fight he’d have to fight both of them.  No parents were involved and Brad chose to play with them and be nice to Sarah.

As much as the incident helped Sarah, Charles was the major beneficiary of his choice.  His self-esteem soared.  He had been courageous and mentally strong.  And he learned that he and his sister could plan and stand firm together.

In a different situation, Ellen was popular and Allison, who was outgoing but had no friends, wanted Ellen all to herself.  At school, Allison put-down and cut out anyone Ellen wanted to play with.  If Ellen refused to follow Allison, Allison would get hysterical, cry and wail that Ellen was hurting her feelings.  Ellen didn’t want to hurt Allison but she wanted to play with whoever she wanted to play with.

The situation came to a head during the summer.  Allison wanted to play with Ellen every day.  And on every play date, Allison would be nasty to Ellen’ younger sister.  She’d mock Jill, order her to leave them alone and demand that Ellen get rid of her younger sister.  They were best friends and there was no room for a little kid.

Numerous times at their house, Ellen’ parents asked Allison to include Jill, but to no avail.  Allison would agree, but as soon as their backs were turned she’d be twice as nasty to Jill.

Ellen faced the same choice that Charles had; hurt her sister in order to collude with her friend or lose a friend and classmate.

Ellen didn’t agonize like Charles had.  Ellen was very clear; colluding is not how a good person would act.  However, her requests that Allison stop only brought on more hysterical anger and tantrums.

Ellen didn’t want to play with Allison any more but didn’t know how to accomplish this.  When she told Allison, Allison threw another fit – hurt feelings and crying.

This situation required different tactics from Charles’ because Ellen was younger and arrangements for them to play during the summer and after school had to be made by their parents.

Ellen’ parents could have gone to Allison’s parents and told them what Allison was doing.  However, they’d observed that Allison’s parents had never tried to stop her hysterics, blaming and finger-pointing at school.  They’d always believed Allison’s accusations about other kids and added their blame.  They demanded that teachers do what Allison wanted.

Ellen’ parents thought that raising the issue with Allison’s parents would only lead to negativity, accusations and an ugly confrontation, which would carry over to school.

They decided to use an indirect approach; they were simply always too busy for Ellen to play with Allison.  The rest of the summer they made excuses to ensure there would be no play dates.  When school started, they made sure there were no play dates after school, even if Jill wasn’t there.  They didn’t want their daughter to be friends with such a stealthy, manipulative, nasty, control-freak like Allison.

In addition, they told Ellen’s teacher what Allison was doing and asked them to watch if Allison tried to control Ellen and cut out other kids.

Most important, Charles stopped being spectator and became an effective witness-participant.  Ellen also would not remain a bystander.  She made her feelings clear and her parents helped intervene.  Both children learned important lessons in developing outstanding character and values.

Tactics are always dependent on the specifics of the situation.  As parents wanting to help and guide your children and grandchildren, remember that there’s no one-right-way to act.  The people involved get to choose where they want to start the process of standing up as witnesses and participants.  You can get ideas and guidelines from books and CDs but on-going coaching, to prepare you for your “moments of truth,” is essential.  You will need to adjust your plan in response to what happens at each step along the way.

For example, see the studies of Jake and Carrie in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

In summer the “Queen Bees” come out in force.  Every neighborhood has at least one. For example, Jill was jealous of Mary.  All the other women in the neighborhood liked Mary.  Her home was always open; she always had treats; her kids are fun and shared their toys and games.  The nicer Mary was, the more the other neighbors liked her, the more jealous Jill was.

Jill made excuses about what Mary had done that made her dislike Mary, but underneath it was simple envy that turned to hate.  In Jill’s mind there was room for only one queen bee in the hive.

Jill’s venom came out in sneaky, backstabbing tactics.

She tried turning the other moms against Mary.  She whispered in one person’s ear that Mary liked someone else better and had given that person better gifts or had brought better food to that person’s picnic.  In another ear she whispered some malicious and catty things that Mary had supposedly said.  In a third ear she whispered that Mary thought that the woman’s children were stupid and nasty.

To Mary, two-faced Jill was sweet and smiling.  She even told Mary some nasty things other people had supposedly said about her.

It took a while for Mary to realize that false rumors and malicious gossip about her were being circulated and even longer to recognize the source.  The neighborhood had been a friendly place in which all families got together, but it soon become a tense battleground in which previously friendly women become suspicious of each other.  Husbands were eventually drawn into the conflict.

Jill was in her element.  She knew how to drive wedges between people and also how to bring people together into a clique with her as the head.  She used Mary as the target and scapegoat for her clique.

At first Mary took it personally.  She assumed that she must have done something wrong to offend Jill.  Stress, anxiety, self-doubt and negative self-talk soon decreased her confidence and self-esteem.  She tried explaining her good motives in response to each charge that Jill leveled at her, but she could never satisfy Jill that she wanted to be friends.

It took Mary a while before she recognized in Jill’s actions the seven signs of stealth bullies.  She finally understood that Jill’s hidden agenda was not personal in the sense that as long as the other women liked Mary more, there was nothing Mary could do to placate or appease Jill.  No amount of begging, bribery or appeasement would stop Jill’s bullying; the Golden Rule wouldn’t stop Jill’s bullying.

Ruling the hive was Jill’s personal agenda and she wouldn’t let Mary remain in the way.

Eventually, Mary went outside her comfort zone.  She stopped being reluctant about creating tension or conflict or making a scene in public.  She decided to shine a light on Jill’s gossip, innuendo and lies.  One at a time, starting with her closest friends who were aware of Jill’s tactics, Mary clarified the situation and repeated what Jill had been saying about them.  Then she got them together so they could compare notes.

She then spoke one to one with every other woman in the neighborhood.

But that wasn’t enough.  When she caught Jill in blatant lies, she made them public at neighborhood gatherings.  Mary was always sweet and smiling when she asked Jill to clarify what she had said about one of the other women or about their children.

Jill was surprised and unprepared.  She’d always been able to hide in the shadows because women where she had lived previously had been too polite to create conflict and tension in public.  Once Mary begun shining a light on Jill’s actions, other women began noticing what Jill had done to them.  They noticed how afraid they’d begun to feel about offending Jill and started figuring out why that had happened.

At first, the neighborhood split into camps.  Over time more and more women moved into renewed friendship with Mary.  They found that they couldn’t stay in the middle.  Jill always trapped them into some shabby, hostile plot.  Jill’s camp grew smaller and smaller.  Mary’s good character and friendliness won out.  Jill’s controlling, sneaky tactics become more apparent.

That was last summer.  By Christmas, the balance had swung in Mary’s favor.  Jill and her family moved away.

Leading up to this summer, the women are planning more family activities.  Tension has decreased, but it will take the rest of the summer before the camaraderie gets close to what they had before Jill moved in.  Maybe one more family will still move.

Stealth bullies like Jill can be difficult to detect and even harder to stop.  Most of their targets have to go through a self-bullying, self-questioning phase before they realize that they’re not at fault, that they didn’t do anything wrong to start the abuse.

Expert coaching is usually required for people to regain their strength, determination and courage, and to overcome their old hesitations in order to create an effective plan to stop the bullying.

There are toxic people in every environment – toxic lovers, husbands, wives, parents, children, relatives, bosses and coworkers.  Many people let bullying friends continue abusing them because they want to maintain the friendship.  They won’t disagree with or hurt the feelings of the false-friend even if he or she’s a righteous, narcissistic control-freak. However, if you don’t stop these bossy, self-centered bullies, they’ll increase your anxiety and stress, harass you and make your life miserable, take over your life and eventually turn other friends against you.

Joan had a problem with her friend Shelly.  Shelly was sure that she knew what’s right about everything and was intent on straightening out Jane.  She told Jane that Jane was a failure because of numerous character flaws; that’s why Jane’s children were not as successful as Shelly’s.  She said that if Jane didn’t do things the way Shelly told her, Jane’s part-time business would fail and Jane would be a failure her whole life.

Shelly corrected Jane about every detail; how Jane dressed, what she ate, who she talked to, what she read and where she went to church.  She also knew how Jane should behave to prove she was a true friend to Shelly.  If Jane didn’t change, Shelly either cried or got very indignant and angry.

Shelly was always convinced she was absolutely right and perceptive enough to recognize Jane’s hidden fears.  Faced with Shelly’s certainty and a few accurate remarks by her, Jane was thrown into self-questioning and self-doubt.  She agonized that maybe Shelly was right.  It was hard to argue against Shelly’s righteousness and total conviction.  As soon as Jane started, Shelly got angry and rebutted every one of Jane’s objections with reasonable sounding answers.  Or Shelly changed the subject and verbally attacked Jane.  Jane could never convince Shelly that she was wrong or that she was a self-righteous bully.

Also, selfish Shelly was the center of attention.  Most of their conversation was about Shelly’s emotional melodrama.  Only at the very end did Shelly pause to tell Jane where she was wrong.

The few times Jane has brought up a problem of Shelly’s, Shelly attacked Jane, claiming that Jane was jealous of Shelly or that Jane once did what she didn’t want Shelly to do.

After every conversation with Shelly, Jane felt discouraged, depressed and defeated.  She was afraid that if she told Shelly what she really felt, she’d lose her best friend.

Every situation is different; every situation has complications that limit possible solutions.  Solutions to each situation will have to be designed specifically for the people involved.  For example, in Jane’s case, she was afraid that if she argued or disagreed with Shelly, Shelly would sabotage Jane to all their friends. However, there is a general rule: The longer you accept the righteous put-downs and control by a bullying, abusive false-friend, the more your confidence and self-esteem will be battered.  You must gather the will and determination to act.  You must learn skills of planning and successfully executing effective tactics.

The key to Jane’s breaking free was to see that Shelly was an abusive bully, not a true friend.  Jane realized that true friends don’t act the way Shelly did.  That realization gave Jane the will – the determination, perseverance and grit – to be honest with Shelly.  Jane realized that the friendship she might lose was one that hurt, even though Shelly called it “best friends.”  Jane also prepared herself and her other friends for what Shelly was likely to do in retaliation.

Jane didn’t argue, debate or try to prove to Shelly that she was a bully.  Jane simply stated how people had to act in order to be her friend and to be in her personal space.  Shelly was shocked that Jane finally found the backbone.  Of course, Shelly was convinced that Jane was wrong.  Shelly tried to turn their friends against Jane, but Jane’s preparation paid off.  The friends had had similar experiences with Shelly.

For another example, in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” see how Tammy stopped a false-friend who tried to force food down Tammy’s throat even though Tammy was trying to diet.

Toxic, righteous, controlling, bullying, abusive false-friends usually don’t change.  The relief and freedom you feel when you clear them out of your environment tells you that it was worth the effort.  You’ve reclaimed your spirit and your life.