Following a recent discussion with my daughter who is a teacher, I was shocked to find out just how much self harming and talk of suicide is really going in our own backyards. It seems to becoming a daily occurance . Even in affluent areas where the children don’t want for much, it is obvious they are still wanting for something. She finds it absolutely heartbreaking – and we are talking about children who are very young, pre teen and early teens.
As parents we try so hard to do the right thing, and in the modern world we, I feel, tend to sit back and give our children space to try and let them “evolve” without too much interference, but this approach doesn’t seem to be working. We allow our children access to tools of information and learning but often give them no guidance. Neither does an attitude of banning everything such as facebook, mobile phones etc , that just isolates our children and tends to make them more inclined to go further underground and withdrawn. It is harder still for children who may be from disadvantaged backgrounds and feel keenly the effects of not having what many others have. So what are we as parents to do?
The continual issues of bullying, both in the school yard and cyberbullying just don’t want to go away. Our only hope is to keep the conversation going and encourage our children to not be afraid to speak out. Children need to feel empowered in order to be able to self manage.
Why do some children bully? Usually it is because of their own issues of either low confidence or self esteem, or even petty jealousies which they are not yet emotionally mature enough to recognise. There is still a perception among many (and this means adults too) that being tough is somehow cool. We are all for free speech and saying what we feel, but we must take responsibility for the effects our words have on others. Other children bully because they themselves are suffering in some way, either from other children or perhaps at home. Why are some children more susceptible to bullying? For the same reasons! Also because perhaps they are sensitive individuals or because they feel isolated or different. There are many reasons but we have to try and be more aware of exactly what they are going through and what kinds of information they are looking up to try and help themselves, which may be creating a bigger issue. We also need to consider that our children are more sexually aware than ever before and many are experimenting sexually at younger and younger ages, and this can have a huge effect on self esteem. A young girl being bombarded with sexual texts may not be able to understand and become confused. She may feel flattered and end up participating in something which later turns out to not be a fun experience at all.
As much as I love the ability for us to be able to have the world at our finger tips, unfortunately the darker side of life is also more accessible. With a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a screen our children can find out all about suicide or look up articles which may not be based on truth or fact about issues they are facing. Games and movies are increasingly more violent and realistic so that it becomes harder for young minds to determine where fact and fantasy separate, the edges are so blurred. Our children are already so busy and indundated with information – we need to be their filters to offer them some protection whilst they develop the skills they need.
One of the ways which we can encourage more open discussions is to encourage our schools to hold discussion groups and circles where children can talk with their peers and teachers about current issues and how to deal with them. As parents we can talk about what we worry about and why we make certain decisions, and have our children actually participate in that decision making. Starting to be honest about just how horrific suicide is, I think is becoming more important. It is not an easy alternative, but it is a final one. We need to give children alternatives for when they feel the need to cause harm to themselves. Running, punching bags, karate, writing a private (offline) diary can be very therapeutic. Writing down our deep and darkest thoughts is actually a healthy way of healing. I do feel that unfortunately the use of video diaries has often perhaps added fuel to the fire, because children may say they feel a certain way and then actually be pressured to act on what should never have been taken literally. Self harm can be a way of calling for help,” look at me, I’m bleeding”, but they mean inside as well. They might be feeling confused or stressed. It may also be a way of punishing themselves for something they have done, or participated in, or had done to them which they feel bad or guilty about. What we must do is allow them to find the words to express what it is they feel, without filling in the gaps for them, or feeding the words to them. I also feel we need to address the issue and not just medicate children for depression etc. We must treat the cause, not just the symptoms.
As parents we have to be honest – how much pressure do we place on our children to “be the best”, “be winners”, “be a leader” , “get the highest marks” – why? What we should be trying to produce are well balanced young people who understand the amazing opportunities available to them and embrace life. If they fail at something, it’s not the end of the world, because they are still on a path to finding just what it is that will set off their own “lightbulb” moments. We have to try very hard to take our own ego out of the picture, and that is not an easy thing to do.
Social media networks are often blamed for bullying however in my opinion it is NOT the cause of bullying, it becomes a TOOL which may be used to bully – we need to look deeper. Think of the Wizard of Oz – behind the screen it was a whole different story. On the subject of social media networking , this comes back to the misuse of tools which are not being respected. Time and time again I say to my readers and parents that mobile phones, computers and ipads are TOOLS NOT TOYS and we need to understand how to use them properly.
I am not a psychologist or an expert, these words are purely my own opinion, but I put them out there to encourage further debate.
I was motivated to add to the debate after this conversation and also from reading a recent blog from my dear colleage Mel over at Social Ediquette. She and I share the same passion to change the online environment to one where respect and tolerance prevail.
You can read Mel’s blog here.
Don’t forget to take the Be Bold, Stop Bullying pledge against bullying – you will find the link on the right of this blog and throughout our website.
For more assistance check out the Australian Government “Keep it Tame” program – a wonderful initiative to bring respect back into the online space. Find out all about it here.
iRespectOnline is an Australian Government National Cyber Safety Awareness Partner. For more information please visit here.
Fiona is available to speak to parent groups, schools and other interested bodies and holds workshops to educate parents in social media use and safety. She is also available as a keynote speaker. Just drop us a line either via facebook or our website. Fiona services the Eastern States but has aligned with Mel at Social Ediquette in Perth to provide even more coverage. Both Mel and Fiona are passionate about making the online world a safer and happier place.