Back in the 90s, when PE consisted of a heated bullrush game and the only offence that was frowned upon by teachers was bringing a knife into school, my days as the new, quiet foreign girl were filled with hiding from bullies during lunchtime.
I’d come home with the odd black eye and know that the gossip and laughter from the girls behind me had something to do with the weird food I brought in for lunch. We never had anti-bullying speakers come in, and the playground was literally survival of the fittest where you’d have to outrun your bullies otherwise, well…hello, black eye!
The greatest thing I learned through this is that just like bullies have strength in numbers, those who may be “victims” can also use this tactic against them both online and offline. For example, a boy in our class was always being bullied in every aspect imaginable for being fat. He would try to fight classmates, which only fuelled the fire, so I just started being nice to him and we became friends. Of course we both knew the other person was being bullied and we didn’t want to join forces only to be bullied together two-fold, but somehow it worked; after initial romance rumours, the bullying stopped because we simply ignored it and carried on with our friendship.
Fast forward almost 13 years on: he got his weight under control and now works as a police officer with strong connections to schools with anti-bullying talks. From my experience, 95 per cent of bullying cases go away in minimal time if the one being bullied simply rejects the idea of being put into the “victim” spot.
A good thing to ask your preteen if they come to you with a bullying problem is: “how did you handle the situation?” Turn the tables to illustrate to them that they hold power in how the situation plays out. Analyse with them: talk to them about what they can do differently next time. Is there an opportunity to ignore it? Befriend someone? Or maybe it’s just about understanding that the bully themselves may be going through a rough time and just being nice to them (weird, but it works!).
These days, the word “victim” is widely used, and I hate that this is the word used to describe the person being on the receiving end of a bully. The word “victim” almost puts the assumption that this person has no control or power to change the situation, which I believe is not the case. The greatest asset you can give your preteen is the strength and problem-solving skills to assure them that if they ever get bullied, they do not fall “victim” to it, but instead take control of the situation and take the high road to get out of it without any damage to their self-esteem.
Eva-Maria is an inter-generational relationships expert and author of bestselling book You Shut Up! and sequel Shush, You!. Visit www.eva-maria.co.nz.