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Bullying Within Our Culture, Part Two

19 Sep

Reporting Bullying

I realized early on I needed to make my boys aware of the possibility of both being bullied or being the bully. I don’t want to be cavalier and say “It’s part of life” or “we just have to learn to deal with it” even though it’s a bit true. However, I do understand when bullying becomes more than a part of life. I don’t think it is very easy for parents to know it many times because our kids tend not to tell us early on or we aren’t paying attention until some definitive physical or psychological damage has occurred. By then the bullying has already created it’s deeper effects that often last the rest of ones life to some extent or another. Far too often the parents are the last to know. Our teachers, our sport coaches, and adult supervisors typically will know before we do. I don’t necessarily think this is out of the ordinary but I believe this should be the first line of defense for all kids and our parents should definitively empower these supervisory roles to inform the respective parents when they believe bullying is evident. I see many instances of this happening but there are too many offenses that do not get reported soon enough.

The Lasting Effects

We occasionally hear horrendous stories about bullying and that many parents are strangely reluctant to associate their child with either side of it. Most of the time our kids try to manage it on their own especially if there is no responsible adult around willing to help and, in part, because it is simply embarrassing otherwise. Unfortunately embarrassment is the real challenge in most of these situations and it is the feeling that lingers long after the event. When and/or if bulling occurs with your children it needs to be addressed with care, logic and above all understanding that the embarrassment is real and has the single most significant impact and we should not diminish its effect both in the short term and the long term.

Bullying and My Boys

Bullying is not new, nor is it an epidemic, but it is indeed a part of most social organized life behavior. Even monkeys do it. That said, it should never be condoned. It should be exposed and all parties involved should use those opportunities to open a collaborative discussion with regard to the embarrassment it causes. I began those discussions with my boys when they were relatively young and as far as I am aware they did no bullying. I think I will ask them again though next time we get a good conversation going. I’d like to ask them what they think of the more recent bullying behavior on the internet. I wonder if they think it is more difficult to manage nowadays or causes more harm.

Any thoughts?

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Control Does Not Build Relationships

31 May

{This post is part of a recurring series of thoughts about control and children.}

Image via Andre Bulber

If we persist in basing too much of our relationship with our children on our desire to control, we will most certainly lose touch with them as they strive to develop their own sense of independence. We may then spend too much of our valuable time trying to constantly re-establish control and waste opportunities to become more positively engaged in their lives in an actual way. This is a lot to lose because we cannot get this time back. Our kids want guidance; they need structure and deeply appreciate connection, but they do not want control. There is a distinct difference. Our willingness to help them with their issues is what they want, they just don’t always want us to do it for them. By attempting to control their lives, they truly believe that we are limiting their opportunities. This may not alway be the case, but is the way they see it- hence why their instinctive reaction of resistance and rejection generally follows. From a child’s perspective, what we often see as meaningless experiences can mean a great deal to them and are not easily released without a fight. This fight has no winners.

Control through intimidation, fear, and authority does not last long in any meaningful and loving relationship at any level. Unfortunately it exists in some aspect or another in most relationships, until it stops working. In some cases, we even continue to try when control is no longer working and end up creating more unnecessary tension and possibly separation.

Many parents will cling to the illusion that control is an essential component of their relationship as the parent of their children, but they are wrong. It is not essential. It is often a critical aspect of the relationship that can be put into balance and weighed against the true safety and genuine concerns of both parties. Although it is almost completely the parents responsibility, once we find that ‘balance’ a beautiful and extremely dynamic begins to grow and remains part of the relationship forever.

The Struggle For Control

29 May

{This post is part of a recurring series of thoughts about control and children.}

 Truthfully, early childhood is similar to incarceration, because children can do little without their parents’ assistance, their direct participation, or their approval; nor do they have any significant responsibilities. They are completely dependent and can neither choose their options, nor remove themselves from their controlled environment. The older our children get, the more they strive for independence and freedom from this perceived incarceration. At about six months old, kids/children begin subtly expressing that their personal wishes don’t coincide with our own; putting us squarely in conflict practically from the get go! This is the beginning of their natural resistance to control.

The simple but social fact that our opposition to control, on a much larger scale, has generated most of the monumental changes in our world; and has been an important and critical process of progress and change. It is how we are wired. We humans seem to resist control even more than we resist change…at any age!

It is easy to create the illusion of control. When my boys were young, if I spoke in a loud, sharp voice, they would stop instantly; and for a moment, I was sure I had them! I believed I could control my kids with my voice and sheer determination, but they were really just being forced to pay attention by my strong action and louder-than-normal voice. This is not control, but rather just directs their attention to my issue. I remember the time when I tossed Ian (my older son at age 11) because of his completely unacceptable behavior. Although it was a very short toss to a comfortable landing in the couch, it seemed like I had control at the time because I held the power for a brief moment. But power is not the same as control. It was my fortunate opportunity to establish my dominant position at that time and that time only. Although it came from a place of anger and frustration and is not what I believe is good parenting, it straightened out his attitude and created a clear understanding. However, I never attempted it again.

At age 17, did you really believe that your parent had control over you? At what point do you think your parents lost control and you gained it? These are important questions to ask ourselves because they reach the root of our perceptions of control, as well as our instinct to rebel against anything that resembles it. The illusion of parental control develops during the child’s early state of dependency, but this temporary dominance will pass quickly and we probably will not become aware of its fading until it is too late to do much about it.

I remember when I first realized that my idea of control was an illusion. Ian, my first son, was just starting to talk, which was wonderful for me because I could begin to communicate with and relate to him. One of his first strongest first words was “no.” When I heard the first “no” from Ian, I was dumbstruck. I could not fathom how he could choose to use it so perfectly and be able to clearly express his choice. When he said, “No,” he was telling me that he wanted to make a different decision. Of course, he was too young to understand all the ramifications of most any decision at that age, but nonetheless, he felt compelled to decide for himself, and was already beginning to wrestle control from me, control I really didn’t have. By trying not to exert my control I was able to focus on other aspects of our expanding relationship with more joy, less tension, and depth.

Please check back with me on 5/31/2012 for more on this topic! Until then, feel free to let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.

Communication Versus Control

16 May

{This post is part of a recurring series of thoughts about control and children.}

As parents, we need to clearly articulate our concerns so our children know what is driving our decisions and what is most important to us, and then we have to really listen to their feedback. Listening is crucial. In most cases, children will be willing to modify their behavior with a greater sense of accommodation and acceptance if the parent truly listens to the child’s thoughts and interests. Both parties gain some understanding of what the other needs, not necessarily what the other party wants. This is one of the most important and critical building blocks for mutual respect. The parent needs to go into this type of conversation with a flexible defense, but it should not be a negotiation either. The initial intent should be to gather information without necessarily abandoning either position, especially if either party has a strong feeling about the specific issue. Most children are generally willing to accommodate their parents’ rules (although with normal reluctance and most likely some grumping), if they understand some of the reasoning behind them. They genuinely believe their parent has their best interests at heart and kids actually want to believe this.

In my previous post, I spoke of a situation between a daughter and her mother that showed the result of too much control. The daughter did not even want to open up a discussion because she was convinced her mother was going to be unreasonable no matter what she said. Therefore, she would risk being caught rather than become bound by rules that she believed were unfair. In essence, however, both lose. The child carries a considerable amount of anxiety about being caught and hence compromises the very freedom she is risking. The parent is under the illusion that she has the situation under control, when, in fact, the child is out doing whatever she wants, perhaps even acting out her frustrations in more dramatic and dangerous ways than she would otherwise.

If the child gets into trouble, it is highly possible she will be reluctant to call home for help unless the situation becomes unreasonably dangerous. This is definitely not the type of control a parent has in mind, nor the end game. When parents try to impose an operating structure on their kids based mostly on the parent’s comfort level, it will often trigger a counter-response that may escalate into a more complex situation that could generate considerable and adversarial tension. It happens all the time. This could quite easily grow into an untenable situation that might require intervention (police, principals, other parents), which can lead to even bigger challenges for everybody involved, ultimately creating long periods of hardship, anxiety, and emotional distress; none of which is much fun or the desired outcome. There are many challenges that we, as parents, will not be able to avoid. However, intensifying them by not fully understanding both sides of an issue is definitely avoidable. Most parents navigate through these times with true understanding and sensitivity. We have to be aware that kids will inevitably challenge our rules and decisions, which is quite normal.

Please check back with me on 5/17/2012 for more on this topic! Until then, feel free to let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.

Control: The Ultimate Illusion

10 May

{This post is part of a recurring series of thoughts about control and children. I welcome your thoughts!}

Control dictates entirely too many relationships, especially for parents. Control versus management; control versus agreement; control versus structure; control versus influence—is the difference just a question of semantics, or are they different ideas and practices altogether? This is a big topic and could be the better half of an entire book because the practice of using control potentially changes every critical relationship. Attempting to control our kids may directly affect our ability to stay connected and have a genuine and honest relationship.

A 16-year-old girl once confided in me that her mother set a rigid 10:00 PM curfew on weekends but that she sneaks out often after her mom falls asleep, ignoring the parental edict. By setting the early curfew, the mother assumes she is controlling her daughter’s activity and preventing her from getting into trouble, and the child cleverly allows her to believe this. Who is in control? When the daughter sneaks out of the house to join her friends late at night, the relative comfort in the mom’s mind and the reality of her daughter’s actual safety and whereabouts is seriously compromised. The daughter chooses to act out against her mother’s restrictive action. The daughter is not completely in control of her motives or actions because they are, in part, a reaction to the unreasonable restriction imposed by the mother. Sneaking out while her mother sleeps is not a clear and free choice for her; it is blurred by her conflict to obey and her drive for freedom, a very typical dynamic for many teenagers. The young girl told me it was not an easy choice. Inevitably, one day, the daughter will be caught sneaking out, eliciting a major confrontation. What happens then? If the mother lays down the law the daughter might just walk out and threaten not to return (which she actually did a few months later). Unfortunately, the situation never improved because both people in this relationship wanted control and each believed they were right.

Flashing forward to present day, the daughter is now 26 years old and raising a child by herself. The mother and daughter have endured years of conflict and are currently not speaking because the mother is still attempting to control her by telling the daughter how to raise her baby. There seems to be no end in sight. Control is a relationship-breaker not a builder. If only the mother and daughter could have felt comfortable collaborating and discussing what was most important to them in the early years of their relationship, they might have found their respective motives were not far apart. Looks like they will never know now. For the most part this challenging mother daughter relationship is not the norm. Many parents have indeed developed enough communication and trust that getting through the landmines of the teenage experiences with some fun and joy. We just have to be aware that kids will naturally resist control and begin building independence earlier than we expect.

Please check back with me on 5/15/2012 for more on this topic! Until then, feel free to let me know if you have any questions or share your own opinion. We are all in this together.