Raising Socially Responsible Kids:
A Parent’s Role in Bullying Prevention
The bullying epidemic will never be reigned in unless parents start promoting socially responsible values in the home. We have a number of resources devoted towards this and other character education issues throughout our site, but here are some important ones that relate specifically to bullying prevention:
1. Promote moral and intellectual modesty in the home
One of the ways parents prime their child towards bullying behavior is to raise them in a rigid and inflexible belief system, one that teaches your way of life is right and righteous but every other lifestyle is wrong and should be changed. If this is done without strict controls about respecting the rights of others, children will take bigotry and inflexibility with them into the classroom, believing it is their right and duty to punish anyone else whose life or mannerisms they think are wrong.
Instead, promote the idea that everyone’s view of the world has some degree of merit and is truthful for them, and that it is every individuals right to choose what is right or wrong for themselves. When it comes to any given issue, usually there is not one point of view, but many – different angles of approaching a universal goal or of viewing a particular situation. Encourage kids to take an interest in and examine the views and differences in others, with the idea that greater understanding and knowledge can be gained by considering the differing views of others. Doing so will mean the difference between a child who is intrigued by diversity and one who is threatened by it.
2. Reward children for doing what’s right
Parents tend to punish wrongdoing more than they reward kind and compassionate behavior. It’s important to try and reverse this trend, showering children with praise and affection whenever you see them acting compassionately towards others. Just as importantly, make a habit to regularly talk about how happy and proud you are when they display these behaviors toward others. “Consistently rewarding specific good behaviors gives kids the courage to go against the grain even if it’s going to cost them with their peers,” says Nancy Darling, PhD., a professor of developmental psychology at Oberline College in Ohio. (Larsen, 2009)
3. Point out group stupidity
Whenever you get the chance, talk to your children about the herd mentality that often exists within groups. Point out examples of how groups can act in horribly irrational ways: the news clips of mobs shouting at American Muslims to “go home,” examples of teenagers doing stupid things because their friends do it, the way our elected representatives bicker and squabble along party lines while the country’s problems grow bigger and bigger. It’s a child’s instinct to trust that what others say and do is right. It takes quite a bit of conditioning before kids can recognize that other people, even large groups of people, can seem quite sure of themselves and yet be entirely wrong in what they do at the same time. The more you point this out, the less susceptible they’ll be to peer pressure as a whole, and they’ll be better equipped to go against group hostility should the situation arise.
4. Talk up the value of going against the status-quo
It’s no exaggeration to say that just about every single person who has ever earned a noble reputation throughout history has been someone who stood up against group conformity or oppression to advocate for what was right: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Galileo, Nelson Mandela; every single person who accomplished something worthwhile has encountered strong headwinds as they pushed for the betterment or education of humanity. In fact, most of our heroes ended up in jail or prison at one time or another, because they so ired the group in going against the status quo.
Just as the old saying “if it were easy to accomplish, it wouldn’t be worthwhile” rings true, it’s also a general rule for life that standing up for true morality and compassion almost always means swimming against the current. This is because A) Groups lack intelligence – they think emotionally, not rationally, using the same primitive parts of the brain that sheep and monkeys possess, which is why group-think can so often be dumb and dangerous; B) Whenever the herd goes astray, the only two options are to follow along or do what’s right and go against your peers. So those who do what’s right are almost always ostracized by the mob.
Humans today are no less prone to absurd behavior than the people in the 1700’s who burned little girls alive at the stake because they believed they were witches. We commit just as many atrocities today, possibly more. We’ve simply moved on to different witches to burn, and different people to serve as scapegoats for society’s neurosis. We merely fool ourselves in different ways today, putting our hostilities behind different issues directed at different people because our false and irrational beliefs lead us to presume these people really are more evil, threatening, or deserving of punishment than others.
Regularly talk up this point with children, reminding them that doing the right thing quite frequently means going against the grain. It means promoting forgiveness when everyone else is pushing to condemn. It means questioning the validity of universal truths. As philosophers often remark, “there’s nothing so dangerous as an obvious fact.” It means trying to see other viewpoints when the group is busy advocating for one and trying to get everybody to think alike. It means accepting as unique what everyone else is trying to push off as hideous and strange. And it’s for this reason that doing what’s right isn’t easy. If it was, humanity would have solved its problems long ago, rather than be forever teetering on the edge of self-imposed annihilation as we are now. But in the long run, it is worth the effort, and those who do it well will earn the admiration and respect they so deserve.