One of the typical tactics of sly, sneaky, stealthy, manipulative bullies is to work in the dark; to not be seen to be bullies. Then, when a light is shined on their abusive behavior, they claim that they were just having fun; that they were just kidding around; that they didn’t know their target was offended, hurt or minded their attacks.
This tactic is used at home by bullying, toxic spouses, parents or children, and by bullies and their cliques in schools and at work.
In order to stop these bullies you must protest; you must say “No!”
Often, people decide to ignore the bullying. These targets (on their way to becoming victims):
But what if the bullying doesn’t stop? Usually, determined, relentless bullies are only encouraged by lack of resistance. They see a non-resisting target as holding up a “victim” sign and they escalate. They can’t understand the moral impetus behind such kindness. They’re bullies. They interpret our lack of push-back as fear and weakness, no matter how we interpret it. They’re encouraged to organize cliques to demean, mock, attack and hurt us more.
Other people assume that if we’re not protesting, we must know we’re in the wrong; we must deserve the treatment we’re getting. Our society saw that phenomenon when women didn’t cry “rape!”
But, if we protest, won’t the bullying get worse?
Maybe or maybe not. Remember, what happened we tried the test of not protesting? When we didn’t protest, the harassment, abuse and bullying got worse. So we might as well learn to protest effectively; the first step of which is creating records and documentation.
For some techniques to overcome worry, fear and hesitation, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” available fastest from this web site.
If we protest, will the bullies stop?
Although there’s a guarantee that relentless bullies will escalate if we don’t protest, there’s no guarantee that simply protesting will stop them. Protesting is only the first step in responding effectively. We may need to go up to higher steps to stop a particular bully.
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.
“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.”
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 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.
Laws: Over 40 states have passed laws to specify school bullying behaviors and to make them illegal. That’s a necessary step. Good laws give legal leverage to principals, school district administrators and teachers who try to stop school bullies. Good laws can also force reluctant school principals to implement and enforce effective programs to protect the targets of bullies.
Programs: Laws, by themselves, will not stop bullying. Also, expensive, off-the-shell anti-bullying programs won’t stop bullies as long as the programs remain in their binders and are used merely as window dressing to show the appearance of compliance. Furthermore, programs that are focused on rehabilitating or therapeutizing bullies are ineffective. Since the only consequence for bullies in these programs is lengthy lectures, they have no reason to change their behavior and they victimize their targets more brutally. Real bullies are adept at manipulating the system and do-gooders who run it. Effective programs are designed for specific schools and school districts by participation between a consultant, principal and teachers that broaden to include staff, parents and students.
Effective Programs: The motivating force behind these programs is proactive, responsible adults who don’t wait until a flagrant case is brought to them or they are surprised by a suicide. Effective programs educate teachers and all staff to observe, intervene and report bullying situations. These programs educate all staff, children and parents about behavior that’s acceptable, how that behavior will be rewarded and how to stop behavior that absolutely won’t be tolerated.
Effective programs have clear procedures and consequences at every step of the way. Ineffective programs move much too slowly; they protect the rights of bullies to have a lengthy process of rehabilitation while they give bullies continued access to their targets. Effective programs begin with protecting the victims; they move swiftly to remove bullies even if that interferes with the bully’s educational opportunities. These programs begin the first day of school and are reinforced weekly.
People: Everyone must be involved in backing an effective program. Irresponsible adults pretend that they don’t know who the bullies are or where it occurs or they think that the Golden Rule will change the hearts of real bullies. Responsible adults will have a strong commitment to making their environment safe. The children must be taught what is expected of them and how to respond if they’re bullied or if they witness bullying. Kids must also have a way of finding help with temporary urges to act like a bully.
A critical group is parents. Principals need core groups of parents to support efforts to stop bullies, despite threats from bullying parents. Also, parents can lead the efforts to communicate and to set the tone of acceptable behavior with other parents. Vigilance and involvement are necessary to maintain the standards.
How to recognize real bullies. If you think of all students as fitting on some version of a Bell curve, you’ll see that some kids won’t ever bully while most are in the middle group – they’ll accept the prevailing tone and behave in ways that are praised or tolerated. That’s where education and a tone of no-bullying can influence their behavior.
But no matter how much they are indoctrinated, they’ll try bullying when they’re having a bad day or a bad year in their personal lives. If they’re not stopped, they’ll be encouraged to continue and they’ll even act worse. If cliques get formed to pick on scapegoats, these middle-ground kids will be tempted to join or at least to look the other way. If the individuals in the cliques are stopped and punished, kids in that middle group will tend to remove themselves from the cliques and to fit into the prevailing tone of civilized behavior.
None of the kids in those two groups are what I call real bullies. Real bullies are at the end of the curve. They come into school with bullying as their main tactic to get what they want and to assert themselves. They are predators who won’t change because of lectures and indoctrination. They must be stopped or they’ll set the tone of acceptable behavior and draw other kids into bullying and abuse.
The missing and critical elements: Stop bullies; remove them; deal with their bullying parents. The “one way” Engel and Sandstrom focus on, like most experts in this field, is to educate bullies and encourage other students to befriend and involve the bullies in inclusive activities. They stress expressions like “be good to one another,” “be kind,” “cooperate,” “relationship,” “friendship” and “bullies require our help more than punishment. These are important for everyone to hear and they can set the tone for the kids in the first two groups but they’re not enough to stop real-world bullies.
The missing elements that are critical to stop predators are swift and firm responses of adults to remove and isolate bullies, and to let parents of bullies know what is going on and what behavior will not be tolerated. Principals, teachers and staff set the tone by their actions, not their words. They show what behavior will be accepted and what won’t. Too often, principals won’t be straight forward, clear and firm with the parents of bullies. Too often, principals take the path of least resistance because they’re afraid of bullying parents who threaten law suits.
Good programs also teach children how to “defend” and “stand up” for each other. Good programs make children feel safe in becoming active witnesses instead of remaining passive bystanders or reluctant collaborators.
Real bullies are very strategic in their behavior; they harass, bully and abuse kids who the other kids won’t protect. Or, like little scientists, they’ll bully a kid once and keep score of that kid’s response. If the targeted kid is ineffective in stopping a bully, bullies will take that as an invitation to do whatever they want with impunity. They’ll continue to increase the frequency and severity of the abuse until they’re stopped.
All kids know whether the adults will protect them or if they’re on their own in a jungle in which power, not right, rules. Just as all students know who the bullies are and what areas of school are unsafe, examples of the consequences meted out to bullies will spread instantly.
Are your children and teens resilient? Do they bounce back after they’ve been disappointed or faced hostility, bullies, abuse or trauma? Are you resilient? Do you know how to resist a hostile, abusive, controlling or bullying husband or wife? Can you resist your self-bullying tendencies? How about abusive, controlling or bullying friends, relatives or neighbors? How about at work; hostile, abusive, bullying bosses, managers or co-workers? Do you bounce back from getting passed over, terminated or fired from a hostile workplace? You know – lies, yelling, cursing, back-stabbing, verbal abuse, demeaning insults, harassment, false complaints or accusations.
According to a Newsweek article written by Mary Carmichael (The Resiliency Gene: A genetic variant may protect some abused kids from depression and other long-term effects) the National Institute of Mental Health is funding studies to find the genes associated with resiliency to hostility, abuse and trauma. As a former practicing biochemist, I can say that, of course, we’ll find genes associated with almost every pattern of behavior.
But, I think it’s a dead end if we focus merely on the genetic expressions of what’s going on.
Why do I think it’s a dead end? Because you end up thinking that either you have the right stuff or you don’t. That belief won’t help your children develop strength of character or as much resilience as they can. For example, contrast the behavior of the teen in cyber-bullying suicide case with the teen who was acquitted of punching a racist tormentor .
Worrying about the resiliency gene won’t help you be courageous either. You’ll remain a victim; hoping the system can be made 100 percent safe and fair. You’re better off thinking that you can develop the right stuff to protect yourself, to create a bully-free environment. That approach to make the world totally and completely safe is being tried right now in our schools .
Resiliency is something that we’ve seen and studied throughout history. For example, in their elegant studies of about 700 famous men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962), Victor and Mildred Goertzel, called the eminent survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, “The Invulnerables.” Our history is full of men and women who failed and then bounced back, struggled and succeeded.
In my coaching of adults (including parents wanting to know how to help their children), I encourage them to focus on the “free will” aspects of their lives. You have much more control over what you create in life right now, than you do over your genetics. No matter what life throws at us, whether we’re subjected to natural disasters, large scale human destruction or individual family brutality and trauma, we all must struggle to rise above those events in order to create as great a life as we can. We can take charge of our efforts even though we can’t control the results.
Inspire your children by them to look back at their inheritance. Think of what their ancestors must have lived through. No matter what their ancestry, they come from an unbroken line of men and women who survived drought, flood, plague, famine, disease, war, uprooting, slavery, rape and every other form of disappointment, hostility, control, abuse, brutality and trauma known. Everyone one of their ancestors survived long enough to make a baby who grew up to make a baby who grew up to make a baby … until they were born. If one of their ancestors hadn’t grown up to do his or her part, they wouldn’t be here. They have a legacy of survivors.
Also think of their mental and spiritual inheritance. There must have been people who took in some of their ancestors and nurtured, encouraged and stimulated them; even though they weren’t blood relatives. Despite all the abuse and trauma, here they are. They have the legacy of survivors. Stop worrying about their genes and start training them to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong. Start helping them develop the discipline that’s worthy of all the struggle and effort that went into getting them here.
I remember the stories of what my grandparents went through in order to get here. They didn’t have credit cards, cell phones, health insurance or own their homes. How can I let them down by not living as gloriously as I can? How can I let them down by not encouraging my children to do the same – no matter what their genetics has given them?