My mother taught me when I was growing up that 'sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me.' It's an old rhyme taught to kids that, ostensibly, will help them deal with the slings and arrows of playground teasing, where kids can turn on you in a second if they think you can be turned on -- because kids can be real buttheads, especially those who are seemingly rewarded for such anti-social behaviour through laughter and approval from their peers. We know now that sticks and stones may break bones, but harsh words can break spirits – and those take a lot longer to mend than bones do.
I've come to learn that no matter how much you prepare your child for what might be coming, they've got to be able to deal with it on their own, because the aggressive 'those shoes are ugly – just like you,' comments don't get uttered when mom and dad are around to cast a disapproving glare at the offender, but I assure you, they're there. We can't teach them what to think when that happens, but we can teach them how to think – which is a much more interesting thought, to my mind.
Boys are a little less complex, and a little more prone to settle things with physical altercations – in my experience, anyway – while girls like to let things simmer just below the surface, and that's when you've got to be careful. We try to have an open dialogue with our daughter about empathy, and about judging other people – and how everybody is different, but it’s hard to know if that's sinking in, because you almost never see that side of a child's personality when they're around authority figures. That's when you start to hear about whispers of 'I don't like you,' or girls shunning friends because they're not the right kind of friend for their new friends. Of course, those friends are just fine when some of the new 'right' friends are not around to influence their 'friend' on who she should be friends with. Got it?
I told you it was complex.
You see this issue in boys sometimes, but it’s far more prevalent with girls – something I'm only coming to understand at the ripe old age of 35.
That's why we owe it to our kids – and to the community in which we've chosen to raise them – that bullying on- or off-line, is not acceptable in any fashion. Sometimes the bully doesn't understand the consequence of his or her behaviour and we have to make them aware of the fact that bullying has long-range consequences and repercussions.