When we think about and discuss anti-social behaviours, stereotypes abound. Perhaps most strikingly obvious is the once widely accepted profile of a child molester as a stranger in a trenchcoat luring little kids into the bushes or enticing them into his car with lollies. Like any stereotype, there is a grain of truth. There are child molesters who are strangers who trick children into their control. But statistically speaking, most child molesters or pedophiles are adults known to the child – parent, priest, teacher, neighbour, uncle, coach, etc. We have come some way in dispelling the myth that crimes against children are committed by strangers, but we still have a way to go.
Other anti-social and criminal behaviours similarly need to be unmasked from stereotypes. A small amount of rapists are men who break into houses and assault women at knife point. But many rapists are known to their victims, as they are their dates, boyfriends, husbands, colleagues and social acquaintances.
When it comes to bullying, stereotypes flourish, both about bullies and their family life. We often characterise bullies as physically dominant, like Nelson Muntz from ‘The Simpsons’. They are thought of as thuggish, often from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes, and/or they have parents who are bullies, who have passed on their physical and verbally dominating behaviour. This is simply not accurate. Bullies come from all sorts of home lives, and all manner of socioeconomic backgrounds. With the increase in social media and internet use, bullies are now everyday kids and adults, often hiding behind their smartphone screens or computer keyboards. Bullies can be everyday people from stable homes and good neighbourhoods.
So, if anyone can be a bully, every parent must consider the possibility, even likelihood, that their child engages in bullying behaviour/s. When we address the issue of bullying we must *all* consider both victims and perpetrators. Yes, we should supply our children (and ourselves) with information about dealing with being bullied, addressing self-esteem and self-confidence issues, ensuring there is support and other resources in place, and sitting our kids down, talking with them and helping them feel they can come to us and share their feelings/worries. But we should also be having conversations with them about *being* bullies and bullying behaviour. These discussions can easily come about in the course of hearing about their day. What are their interactions like with their friends, classmates, and peers? What sort of language do they use in conversation with their contemporaries and about them? Do they understand that exclusion is a form of bullying? Open and non-confrontational discussion is important, allowing kids/teenagers to be honest and candid without feeling judgement or fearing punishment. But we need to be clear with our children, and each other, that bullying is not okay. Bullying is never okay. We should not dismiss the possibility that our kids are bullies, merely because they don’t fit the stereotype. We must not “pass the buck” and think antisocial behaviour is something outside of our family or social circle. Bullying is a destructive behaviour, and it can cause long term issues for victims, and can be the cause of suicidal ideation, self harm, and too often death. Let us be proactive about, and responsible for the behaviour and language we model for our kids. We not only *should* talk to our children about being bullies, we *must*!