When you ask a group of kids why someone gets bullied, one will say it’s because they’re too big, another will say they’re too small. One will say too smart, one will say too stupid. One will say too sporty, one will say not sporty enough. There is a broad spectrum on which being an individual can be picked at for whatever reason.
Realistically, what we are talking about is difference. A lack of tolerance of difference, so we encourage our children to look around and pick out those exactly the same or indeed those that are different. Being the same is impossible, yet we are a nation of people intolerant of difference. David Norris can't walk down the street without people telling him he is different. So why are we not all stopped, spat at, punched, called names?
Let's look at the research for childhood bullying. Olweus (1996) stated that those who are targeted (we don't call children victims and never should, it's a label that can stick) are typically passive or submissive. They are cautious, sensitive, quiet, withdrawn and shy. They are often anxious, insecure, unhappy and have low self-esteem They are known to relate better to adults than to peers and if they are boys, they may be physically weaker.
So for the child who is targeted, the list of reasons can be endless. An embarrassing incident, hair, eyes, skin colour. Not good at sports, too smart in class, a difficult home life, different shoes, music taste etc. So, do these children just sit back and take it? Absolutely not. We must encourage our children to stand up for themselves, and not to always rely on teachers and parents to fix conflict for them.
They must be empowered to accept themselves for who they are and ensure others know that. It's ok for them to say stop to someone or object to harm.
We can be sure that just as bullying starts for any reason in the world, it will continue if the child hangs his or her head and walks away with such body language that says, yep, you've got me.
For general good parenting, we must encourage our child to accept differences, to tolerate all their peers regardless of differences. To encourage your child to own who they are and be proud of themselves, to be assertive, especially in the face of conflict or adversity.
I listened to the theme tune of a cartoon Sofia the First recently and I was disappointed to hear the message being sent to young girls, the lyrics go something like this: “all you gotta do is fit in, then it's the perfect slumber party”.
It's ok if you don't fit in and aren't the same, never try and change your child, just encourage them to accept and be proud of who they are and what they are great at, not what they are missing. Unfortunately, for the ages of 9-16, this is easier said than done.