Anti-Gay Bullying: Why You Need To Talk To YOUR Kids (and how!)
Justin Aaberg, 15 years old. Billy Lucas, also 15. Seth Walsh and Asher Brown, both 13 years old. Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old freshman at Rutger’s University.
These are just a few of the many kids across our country who have killed themselves because they were tormented, bullied, outted, or believed to be gay.
As the numbers of suicides grow, the rest of us struggle to support those who find themselves targeted.
A new slogan has been gaining in popularity: it gets better. The idea behind these words is to let kids know there really is light at the end of the tunnel. I was bullied as a kid. It was impossible to see beyond that situation and into a future where I wouldn’t have to see those kids and where I could be accepted for who I was.
So even though I think the “it gets better message is really important, I confess it leaves me a little uneasy. Yeah, it really does get better later, but what about right now? Am I really making a difference by changing my facebook status or wearing purple for a day? Does that stop the cycle of hate and disrespect or am I just making myself feel better by signaling to the world that I’m not one of those people?
As adults we want to express support for our kids, we want them to have hope. But nine times out of ten, that’s after the fact. Bullying doesn’t really go down in front of us. Kids do it out of our sight, and especially at school. I got to thinking, I’ve never had an in depth conversation with my kids about bullying. Last week I did just that and I urge you to as well. If you aren’t sure how here’s what I did:
First, when you’re talking to kids, you have to remember sometimes they don’t hear what you’re saying the way you intend. You might think you’re being clear as a bell, but it still might not be registering for them. The best way to figure out if you’re on target and they’re really getting it, is to ask them throughout the conversation what they are hearing you say. I ask my kids all the time, tell me what you heard me say using your own words.
Second, you have to have an understanding of the construct of bullying before you talk about it. It’s not just one kid being a jerk towards another kid. Most accepted curriculum says there are three components to almost every bullying situation: the bully, the victim, and the silent bully.
The role of the bully and the victim speak for themselves, but it’s the silent bully most kids need to understand, because in real life, that’s the role they’re most in danger of playing- even good kids can get caught up as the silent bully; the one who sees bullying, who knows about it, but says nothing, does nothing. They stay silent because they don’t want to be bullied themselves- they’re scared. What they don’t realize is their silence only makes the bully grow stronger. Their silence helps the bully get away with it and encourages them to do it again.
With my kids, I started the conversation focused on some of the kids who have already taken their lives. I explained in very simple terms, kids have shot themselves, hung themselves or jumped to their deaths to escape the pain and humiliation bullying caused.
From there we talked about the structure of bullying; the bully, the victim and the silent bully.
We talked about how to identify bully-behavior, especially anti-gay bullying. We talked about bully language and words like: fag, faggot, homo, queer, lesbo- all words they’ve heard at school before.
Now let me be clear, I’ve got great, loving, kind kids. I don’t think they would ever go to school and bully other kids or taunt them for their sexual orientation. I doubt your kids would do that either. My bottom line message to my kids was this- do not be the silent bully. Don’t be that kid that just stands there and doesn’t say or do anything. If you hear a kid at school tell another he’s a fag, don’t be silent. Don’t giggle or joke around. Find a teacher and tell them what happened- right away. Say the right thing, do the right thing in the moment. Do not contribute to the cycle.
They asked questions, talked about things they had seen and heard at school, and event went through a few potential scenarios and talked about what they would do. I don’t expect my kids to be angels and I don’t expect them to save the world- but every child can be empowered to break the cycle of bullying if we give them the tools.
Without them, ultimately we adults are powerless to stop bullying of any kind, no matter how many encouraging videos we post online, or policies or laws we put in place.