When Benni Cinkle was 13, she appeared in a YouTube music video that went viral, receiving over 200 million views. At first, Benni was ridiculed by millions around the world for her awkward dancing, often referred to as “That girl in pink that can’t dance.” They called her names and told her she should kill herself.
A few of the printable names she was called were “lame, terrible, awkward, horrible, stupid, freak, loser, awful, worthless, annoying, fat and ugly, dumb.” Other comments included, “She should probably look into suicide,” “Please just die” and “I’ll bet she wants to kill herself now.”
Did she let the jerks drag her down? Did she lose her self-esteem and get depressed? Did she commit suicide?
Instead of reacting defensively, Benni didn’t take it personally. She kept her spirits up. She met their criticism with humor, honesty and understanding. She was open and didn’t hide. Soon, anonymous cyber bullies became fans and Benni's online reputation as an approachable, down-to-earth teen began to grow. In the months following her unexpected popularity, Benni received tens of thousands of requests for advice from teens around the world.
Realizing she had been gifted with a platform that offered international reach, Benni decided to use her 15 minutes of fame for something positive. So she:
Started “That Girl in Pink Foundation” as a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide. TGIP focuses on any issue that may directly or indirectly lead to teen suicide, including: Teen Depression, Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, Teen Self-Mutilation, Teen Gay/Lesbian Support, Child Violence, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Violence, Eating Disorders and Teen Pregnancy.
Authored “That Girl in Pink’s Internet Survival Guide,” offering teens strategies for handling life online.
Organized a flashmob dance to raise donations for American Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief.
Organized a walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that included hundreds of kids from 14 countries walking with her, virtually.
Recorded her single, “Can You See Me Now,” and donated profits to TWLOHA and GLSEN.
Visited schools across the U.S. delivering her “Don’t Just Stand There” anti-bullying presentation.
Also, “This was the case for parents of a special needs student at Miami Trace Middle School in Ohio, who sent their daughter to school with a hidden tape recorder last fall after the girl repeatedly complained about teacher bullying. The revelation was shocking: the educators on the recording called the child lazy and dumb, and forced her to run on a treadmill with increasing speed.”
Venting, like catharsis, seems so natural: we all blow off steam sometimes. And when we finish, we usually heave a great sigh of relief.
But to me, the real questions are, “What’s the point of venting?” and “Can it help stop bullies?
I think of venting as a process, or part of a process, not as a result in and of itself.
Tens of thousands of years ago, we might have vented our fear and anger through physical action. Get rid of the adrenaline, calm down and decide what to do. But we still had to be careful and keep ourselves in check enough while we’re venting to see the signs of saber-toothed tigers or giant bears or we wouldn’t be around to vent again.
Or we might have used a big club to whack an opponent and then face the consequences of that rash act.
Nowadays, we can still use some techniques like physical effort to release steam and calm us down. For example, working off adrenaline by banging a ball or running or boxing. In addition, a wise woman once said that whenever she got angry, she vacuumed her house. That way, when she finished being angry, she’d have a clean house and she could focus on what to do next.
Some people use anger and venting to give themselves enough energy to stop harassment and bullying. In that case, it does help us stop bullies. A classic example might be Ralphie Parker in the movie, “The Christmas Story.” In that case, he channeled his anger effectively and vented while he was beating up the bully. But usually, when we act from anger we’re not strategic; we do dumb things that make the situation worse.
Therefore we must challenge ourselves to stop repeated replaying and re-venting over the same incidents and injustices. Repeated venting without effective action becomes narcissistic whining and complaining, which becomes boring and self-destructive.
Such repetition drives our good friends away. I think it was Annie Liebovitz who said, “Spilling your guts is about as attractive as it sounds.”
We most also be wary of hanging out with people who vent repeatedly. Yes, injustice might have been done, but we still have to move on effectively in life – either fight the injustice effectively or go in a different direction successfully.
I’ve met too many people who have filled their lives and many hours of psychoanalysis in endless probing and catharsis. They seem to assume that if only they vent enough, finally they’ll come to rest in peace on the other side. Too often they end up knowing everything about some sides of themselves, but never having changed their behavior, fixed the situation or created wonderful lives. A life of verbal and righteous indignation is not a very fruitful life.
I’m more focused on overtly using techniques for moving to the other side and rapidly taking effective action.
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.
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.
A bullying husband or wife who always points out every mistake with exasperated sarcasm and scolding – accompanied by attacks on their spouse’s personality and character. Even if they don’t say the words, you can hear the silent, “You’re so stupid. You always fail. You’d be nothing if I didn’t straighten you out. Now I have an excuse for being as lazy, dumb, selfish or narcissistic as I want.”
Parents who pick on their children for every mistake, even if the children are too young to have learned the desired behavior. You can hear the justifications, “I’m only trying to teach them right from wrong. I want to make sure they remember the lesson.”
In the workplace, bosses or co-worker know-it-alls gleefully and loudly pointing out every mistake. Or sneakily stabbing some one in the back by revealing mistakes in confidence.
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.
The fundamental problem with that approach is our willingness to debate and argue because outside experts tell us that we’re right or that we’ve been wronged, and, therefore, our spouses should change.
The better course, the winning way is to ask our inner expert.
We ask ourselves, not if they’re bullying us, but simply whether we like or don’t like what they do. We know what we like and don’t like; we know how much we like or hate it; we know what we’re willing to compromise about or put up with and what we’re not.
We begin with our judgment and act on that judgment.
The fundamental and true justifications for what we do are “I want to” and “I don’t want to.” Not necessarily as a snap judgment, but as a source of energy and power. Later, we supply a thin coating of logical reasons to make people think we’re rational.
A declaration of what we want or don’t want is unassailable by outside experts. We know right away that any who tries to talk us out of what we want by saying, “That’s dumb. That’s crazy. That’s silly. That’s unreasonable. That’s selfish. That’s arrogant. That’s too demanding. That’s not loving,” is not a person we want to keep as a lover, friend or relative.
Acting because we want to is more than enough justification.
Acting as our own expert, on our own best judgment, because we want to is how we take charge of our present and future.
But what if we’re wrong or too picky?
On the one hand we do know that experts are wrong. For example, expert advice for the best way to parent has changed every few years during my lifetime. There are no guarantees.
This choice is wonderfully illustrated in the Daniel Day-Lewis movie version of “The Last of The Mohicans”.
British Major Duncan wants Cora to marry him. Her father wants her to marry him. But Cora hesitates. Cora is thinking about breaking away from the cage of her upbringing. She tells him of her hesitation.
Duncan says, “Why not let those whom you trust, like your father, help settle what is best for you. In view of your indecision, you should rely on their judgment and mine. Will you consider that?”
At first she’s not sure, but later she sees a side of Major Duncan she would never let herself live with. She tells Duncan, “I have considered your offer. The decision I have come to is that I would rather make the gravest of mistakes than surrender my own judgment. My answer to you must be, ‘No.’”
She will follow her own judgment, not theirs. She will not let those “experts” rule her life.
Be brave. We can get help to access the expert within us and learn to trust our inner expert. We can act because we want to and be the hero of our lives.
Being judgmental has gotten a bad name and for good reasons.
Our whole world has experienced the horror wrought by people who felt superior and righteous in destroying other people they thought were inferior or even non-human. Also, in our personal lives, we’ve experienced the damage done by arrogant, righteous spouses, parents, relatives and others who always knew best and felt entitled to taunt, tease, harass, bully and abuse us or to cast us out.
However, it’s a mistake to use these examples of righteous people with poor judgment as proof that:
The process of making judgments is bad. It’s not. It’s necessary.
We should accept all perspectives and ways of living in the world as equal or as equally valid. They’re not.
But that’s all abstract. The real questions are whether we need to be more or less judgmental and which of our judgments are worth keeping and how. Take the quick quiz.
Before you take the quick quiz, see “Being Judgmental” as having four parts:
Discerning; making judgments, estimating what the consequences of some action will be, deciding what we like and what we don’t like.
Deciding which ways of behaving are acceptable in our personal space.
Making these boundaries in our personal lives stick.
Do people ignore, laugh, argue or avoid what you want when you insist that they act in certain ways in your personal space? ?
Do people trample over your boundaries? Do they get away with not changing? Do you let them stay in your life? Do they wear you down? Is life an endless struggle?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions – if you feel bossed and controlled, if you get taken advantage of, if you’re the one who almost always gives in or tries to make peace, if you rarely get your way, if you have to justify everything you do or ask permission before you can do anything – then you’re not protecting yourself enough, you’re not being judgmental enough and you’re not acting based on what you know in your heart-of-hearts to be true.
That way of thinking leads us no where. That way of thinking puts us under the control of someone else who thinks they know better than we do. There’s no chance for happiness down that path – only submission.
The path that has a chance of yielding happiness and joy and fulfillment is the path of being discerning, of having more and better judgments, and of making our judgments stick in our lives.
Getting angry, righteous and indignant are motivation strategies. We typically generate those feelings to get ourselves angry enough to act. The problem with that method of motivation is contained in “The Emotional Motivation Cycle” (See “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up). This method usually isn’t effective long-term.
That doesn’t tell us how to accomplish what we need; that doesn’t tell us how to get free from oppression we’ve previously accepted, but that tells us that we must. All plans and tactics must be designed to fit us and our specific situation. That’s why we need expert coaching and, maybe, legal advice. But now we know the direction we must set in our lives.
Many bullies succeed in getting what they want by being angry. Even if they don’t hit physically, they beat their targets verbally, mentally and emotionally. And the threat of physical violence makes other people give in. These bullies have enough control that they haven’t been arrested and sent to prison. That’s why I think of their anger as a tactic.
I’ve coached many of these bullies through the stage of anger management to finally ending anger and creating a different way of Being in the world.
But let’s focus here on what the spouses of these bullies can do in order to have bully-free lives.
For many of these bullies anger is a whole way of life. Their rage is a tactic operating 24/7. No matter what’s going on, no matter what we do to try to please them, they always find something to be angry about. Any moment of peace is just the calm before the storm.
However these bullies got that way – and there are only a small number of typical scenarios – they mastered the use of anger years ago so it feels natural, like that’s who they are, like it’s their identity.
They love “revving their engines.” They feel strong and powerful when they’re angry. They always find good reasons and excuses to be angry, they always find people who are wrong and dumb in the news of the world or in their personal lives. And they always focus on what’s wrong or dumb, and respond to it by getting angry and enraged.
If something in the moment isn’t worth getting angry about, they think of bad things that happened or that might happen so they can get angry. Then they “kick the dog” – whoever happens to be around and does or says something wrong, or does or says nothing and that’s what’s wrong. You or the kids think you’re having an innocent conversation when suddenly you’re attacked for being dumb, stupid, ignorant, wrong, insulting – or simply breathing.
The attack escalates into a listing of all your faults – which loser in the family you’re just like, you’ll always be a loser, you’re lucky to be alive and with them because you’d fail without them. Their anger is never their fault; you’re always to blame. Even if they don’t brutally beat you and the kids, the verbal and emotional abuse takes its toll.
Victims feel blame, shame and guilt. Victims suffer anxiety, fear, frustration, panic and terror. They lose self-confidence and self-esteem. They feel like they have to be perfect in order to deserve good treatment. They feel isolated and helpless. Targeted children often grow up with negative self-talk and self-doubt; they often move on to self-mutilation or rage and revenge of their own. They often grow up playing out the roles of bully or victim in their marriages.
Seven tips to keep anger out of your personal space:
Don’t be an understanding therapist. Your understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t change or cure them. And you’re not being paid as a therapist. Those approaches simply prolong the behavior and the typical cycle of anger and rage, followed by guilt and remorse, followed by promises and good behavior temporarily, followed by the next episode of angry and rage. Or the typical escalating spiral of anger, rage and self-righteous justification. The reason the bullying continues is not that those bullies haven’t been loved enough; it’s that the behavior is a success strategy. It’s never been stopped with strong enough consequences that the bully has enough reason to learn a new way of Being in the world.
Don’t minimize, excuse or accept justifications. See anger as a choice. If you accept that anger is a normal or appropriate response to what they’re angry at, if you accept that anger or any emotion is too big to manage (e.g., that they’re in the grips of something bigger than themselves) them you’re right back to “the devil made me do it.” That’s the same excuse, even though the modern words for “the devil” are heredity, brain chemistry, what their parents did to them, how they never learned better.
The best thing you can do to help both of you is to have consequences that matter. That’s the only way to stimulate change.
Face your fears.Don’t be defeated by defeat. Protect yourself. Be a good parent and model for yourself and your children. Emotional control – control of moods, attitudes and actions – and focus of attention are the first things we all must learn. These bullies haven’t learned. Lack of success in this area gets big, painful consequences.
Make your space anger-free. You and the children are targets, not victims. Their anger is not your fault. Dedicate yourself to protecting yourself and the children. Decide that only behavior counts, not psychoanalysis. Clear your space. Don’t give an infinite number of second chances. Either they leave or you and the kids leave, depending on the circumstances.
Promises no longer count. The lesson for your children is that when we’re very young, we get by on a lot of promises and potential, but when we become older than about 10, only performance counts. Let these bullies learn to practice changing on other people’s bodies. How much time do you need before you become convinced that they’ve faced a lot of potential triggers and mastered a different way of dealing with them? A year? Two? Three? Forever? Do this because you want and need to in order to have a chance at the happiness you want, in order to have a chance to find people who treat you the way you want.
Be smart and tactical. Of course, the longer you’ve known them, the harder it will be. Dump angry jerks on the first date; don’t hook up with them. Get legal advice. Get help and support. Get witnesses. Don’t listen to people who want you to be a more understanding therapist. File for divorce. Get custody of the children. Get the police on your side.
Post #176 – How to Know if You’re Bullied and Abused
Men aren’t the only angry bullies. We all know about angry, vicious women on dates or in marriage. There are clichés about venomous wives and mothers-in-law because there are so many. Everything I’ve said applies to them also.
At work, angry, bullying bosses and co-workers are also clichés because there are so many. Anger often succeeds at work. Both the feeling of power and the success at making people do what bullies want function as aphrodisiacs. And the addiction must be fed.
Be strong nside. Ask for what you want. You’ll get what you’re willing to put up with. So only put up with good behavior.
One of the favorite tactics of sneaky, stealth bullies is to set traps for you. When you fall into their snare, they’re gleefully smug, “Gotcha! See, I told you!” Their hidden agenda is to prove you’re wrong, dumb and bad and they’re right, smart and good. They’re not interested in truth or equal relationships; they’re interested in putting you down and dragging themselves up.
For example Micky and Donald comment in the blog post, “Repeated Bullying Tolerated by School Officials,” (http://www.bulliesbegoneblog.com/2008/03/24/repeated-bullying-tolerated-by-school-officials/) “Just out of curiosity are you a single parent?” I don’t know them and their hidden agendas, but I’ll use their comments because their typical of that type of stealth bully. They never ask, “Just out of curiosity.” They’re always setting traps and they always have hidden agendas.
They’re waiting to pounce with, “I told you so! You’re over-reacting because you’re a single parent. Normal people wouldn’t make such a big deal out of their daughter being tormented, bullied and abused.” They think the bullying behavior was mild or negligible or normal and that we should ignore it, which to me means that they’re just like the school officials who ignore the torment, harassment, bullying and abuse.
But they won’t be straightforward and declare their opinion. They won’t get into a discussion in which they might be proven wrong and have to change their ideas. For example, they won’t say that they believe you’re over-reacting because you’re a too-sensitive, single parent or because your mommy and daddy were bad to you or because you’re afraid of the dark. That’s too open for them and doesn’t have the payoff they want.
Instead, because they’re sneaky, manipulative, controlling bullies, they’ll simply, almost innocently ask a leading question, “Are you a single parent?” or “Were your mommy and daddy were bad to you?” or “Are you afraid of the dark?”
They’re hoping you’ll say “Yes.” Then they can sneer and pounce – “See. I’m right. You’re merely over-reacting because mommy and daddy were bad to you” or “You’re only over reacting because you’re a foolish single parent.”
They feel safe and smug. Since they didn’t declare their opinions openly, if you say No” to those questions, they won’t have to admit that their theories or opinions were wrong. They won’t have to change their beliefs. Their harassment, bullying and abuse won’t stop. They’ll simply move on and try to lead you into another trap.
Pin them down to expressing an opinion before you answer the question. You might ask directly, “What’s your point about whether I’m a single parent? Tell me directly what you think.” Or, “What’s your point about whether or not mommy and daddy were bad to me years ago? Tell me directly what you think.”
Be persevering. Wait for an answer. Then follow-up with a statement about their belief and whether your evidence will change their opinions. “So you think I’m overreacting because I’m a single parent? So if I’m married, will you change your opinion and will you accept that I’m not overreacting?” Or, “So you think that people get upset about bullying because their mommies and daddies were bad to them? So if my mommy and daddy were good to me, will you change your opinion and will you accept that I’m not overreacting?”
Laugh at the hidden connection. “That’s really silly to think that only single-parents get upset when heir children are bullied. You sound like a person who thinks bullying is fine.”
Simply ignore the question. You don’t have to answer every question that someone asks you.
Reverse the question onto them. “Oh, so you think we should ignore the pain inflicted on that defenseless target. Were you a bully when you were younger? Were you bullied when you were younger? Were you afraid to fight back?”
Laugh at the entrapment. “Oh, you really got me with that question. You look smug, superior and righteous. As if that means you’re smart and right. How childish and silly to play that game at your age.”
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.