Friday, April 24, 2015

How We Make Bullies

       It all began with a conversation about hats or rather stories about hats, one about a hat that was yanked off and stolen. Soon, one after another of us starting talking about our place in the pecking order and bullying when we were boys. In our men’s group its “cool” to talk about this stuff, giving each of us more perspective on our own lives and drawing us closer to one another.

       Though we were focused on our victim stories, when do we—any of us-- actually talk about who bullies are and where they come from?

       The anti-bullying movement in some schools and communities is well underway. It can often seem like all the other what I would call “Just Say No” efforts (e.g. drugs, sex) this one largely and importantly tending to the needs of the harassed and abused. Certainly helping young people stand up for themselves is critical. Where in this whole perpetrator-victim dynamic do we more fully address the root causes and the perpetrator as well so that we actually can begin to stop it at the source?

       In my sometimes desultory rummaging around for information, I occasionally stumble onto something or someone that addresses the heart of the matter and brings it home, literally home.
A parenting educator by the name of Ashley Trexler is spot on with going beyond the usual suspects in the creation of a bully, notably, overly permissive parenting, violent video games and abuse. She observes that even well meaning parents may be sabotaging their own efforts to raise, kind, caring kids through unconscious modeling and behaviors. She asserts bullying starts and ends with an imbalance of power and that bullying is simply a means to gain more power.

       In her piece, 8 Ways You Might Be Helping To Raise A Bully, some of what parents, grandparents and even non-parents bring or don’t bring to the lives of children reap some counter-productive rewards. Here are the eight in summary.

If you want to raise a mean boy or girl, act like one. Ashley Trexler shares about her young daughter mimicking her after she was on the phone presumably talking trash about someone, which she equated with no better than outright bullying. How often do we do that in the presence of younger people thinking it’s harmless or just as bad, not thinking at all? They watch our every move.

Too busy:
When we don’t have the time or make it a point to tell our partner or family members we love them in front of the children or express affection, they miss out on learning about intimacy. When you show them you care, they learn to show others they care.

The hates:
You hate your job, are dissatisfied with your home or finances or body but do little to change it. That makes us look pretty helpless in the eyes of the young and when we are their heroes but demonstrate powerlessness it can make them feel powerless. They may act that out elsewhere to reclaim power through bullying behavior.

Mini-me syndrome:
Trexler says that today’s culture encourages us to treat children as mini-adults sometimes fully disclosing financial burdens, family illnesses and work issues regularly such that we add more stress to our children’s lives. Bullying can be an outlet for their stress.

Over scheduling:
Another pressure some add to their children’s lives is getting them to participate in everything for fear their children will end up being disadvantaged. Out of that fear they fill their children’s schedule with non-stop extra-curricular activities even though the damaging effects of full schedules are now well documented. Over scheduling can produce anxiety, anger and aggression, paving the way for bullying behavior.

Inconsistent rules:
A parent’s job is often a stressful one and constant enforcing of lots of rules can be a part of that stress, putting the parent in the role of cop. The more rules, the more likely the cop will slip, sending mixed messages through inconsistency. What can help both a parent and a child is to have just a few ground rules that are consistently enforced. Then giving children freedom within those boundaries can foster a healthy sense of power and independence.

Wincing and watching:
When we observe bullying behavior as a bystander and do nothing to intervene while our children are watching, we send them a powerful message that this behavior is okay. Of course we don’t want to be in harm’s way or place our children at risk. But there are different ways to react other than turning a blind eye and how we respond teaches our children much about how to handle this part of life.

Forcing kids to share:
Trexler talks about sharing as a learned skill over time. Forcing kids to share by taking something from them and giving it to someone else, a toy or anything can backfire. Talk about, share about and teach sharing by loaning something they may want to explore, offer a bite of your dessert or help with a difficult chore. Forced sharing results in a feeling of powerlessness.

She says, “Be the person your kid wants you to be, so your kid can grow to be the person you want them to be.”

And by that, I believe she means the kind, caring, sharing, giving, compassionate and collaborative person we as adults may aspire to be. Now that sounds like a hefty insurance policy for doing our best to avoid the making of bullies to me.

Ashley Trexler is dedicated to debunking parenting myths and helping parents raise kind caring kids. She can be found at

Another resource is Sarah Hamaker, a leadership parenting coach and blogger at She is the author of 10 Ways to Help Your Kid Be A Conversationalist