October is National Bullying Awareness Month, and as we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too. Recent attacks on an overweight female Wisconsin TV anchor — and her response — illustrate the point.
This week, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT responded on air to a viewer’s email that complained that she was not a suitable role model for the community’s young people due to her large size. She responded to the attack by saying:
“That man’s words mean nothing to me, but what really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better…who get emails as critical as the one I received, or in many cases even worse, each and every day. The Internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground and this behavior is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email. If you were at home and you were talking about the fat news lady…guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.”
My article on ParentInvolvementMatters.org this week, How Adults Can Stem the Tide of Bullying, addresses this subject. Children learn what they live, and they pick up disparaging comments and behaviors from the important adults in their lives. Along with various resources, the piece discusses the positive behaviors that adults should engage in to combat bullying. These include:
- Talking to children about both being bullied and about being bullies.
- Being a role model for kindness, caring, and understanding.
- Speaking with children about bullying and cyber-bullying to make sure they are not engaging in it.
- Discussing how hurtful cyber-bullying is, and emphasizing that what is online stays online forever.
- Emphasizing that online misbehavior could affect your child’s future.
- Encouraging your children to tell you if they are bullied off or online.
- Reassuring your child and making sure to remind school personnel that retaliation cannot be condoned.
- Discussing Internet safety with your children, and monitoring what they are doing online.
- Informing schools if there is bullying, and joining with schools to promote bullying awareness and prevention programs.
Concerned that he was being perceived as a bully, TV Host David Letterman recently volunteered to stop his persistent fat jokes about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Letterman’s biting humor is nothing new, but when the charge of bullying was raised he backed off.
To be fair, Letterman has not been alone in targeting Christie. Other comedians, political pundits, and average Americans have also derided Christie’s size.
Politicians are accustomed to being the butt of jokes – Christie even mentioned it when he announced Tuesday his decision not to run for president — but did the Christie fat bashing cross the line?
The criticism has nothing to do with whether you are or are not a supporter of Gov. Christie. And let’s be real, Chris Christie is a tough, centered guy, who can withstand whatever is dished out. But what do these fat jokes say about us – about our tastes, our values, our society?
As we observe National Bullying Awareness Month, and we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too. Are we promoting bullying by repeating and laughing at fat jokes? Are we encouraging bullying by scornful and sarcastic remarks that we make about gays and others? Are we a party to bullying when we don’t step in and say something when we observe it? Are we allowing bullying to fester when we don’t report it to the school?
We know that youngsters learn what they live, and that children, even at a very young age, hear much more than we think they do. They are also very adept at picking up non-verbal cues. What messages are we sending our children? Are we tacitly encouraging them to be bullies?
Most children who are bullied are not as resilient as Chris Christie. When asked about his weight, his standard answer is: “I eat too much.” And few doubt that he is fully capable of destroying the bullies – if he wanted to. Youngsters who are bullied may develop anxiety about seeing the perpetrators at school and elsewhere. Their school performance may be affected and they may shun other activities. They may become depressed, and sadly some even take their own lives as 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer recently did.
Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be vigilant about bullying. We need to talk to children about both being bullied and about being bullies. But first and foremost, we should be role models for kindness, caring, and understanding.
Current and prospective laws against bullying may be too simplistic to solve the problem. Aren’t we as adults essentially responsible for bullying? The prevention of bullying begins with all of us examining our words and our behavior.