Recently we have been having some challenges with our son. He has withdrawn from the family quite a bit, spends hours on the phone (although, not unusual for a teenager), he is disrespectful and rude at every turn to his brothers, to his father and myself. He is not eating with us as a family and he is doing poorly in school. When he gets angry he shouts death threats.
Don't get me wrong, I totally get that teenagers are temperamental and are more interested in their social lives than anything else, however, my son's behaviour has become completely opposite to his natural character and that raises some red flags for me.
We had an incident a couple of evenings ago that prompted a conversation about his behaviour and where it was coming from. He finally admitted that the group of people he hangs around with at school are abusive towards him.
My son is one of the smaller members of the group and so is targeted as the one that gets pushed around, knocked over and tripped repeatedly throughout his day. He is also someone who just wants to be liked and accepted within his circle of friends, so he is for the most part accepting the treatment so that he will be liked. He expressed to me that he hates going to school and that it is really hard for him to focus during the day with all of this on his mind.
I completely understood where he was coming from because I endured the same treatment in public and high school.
My son's behaviour at home was mirroring how he is treated at school. His aggression towards his brothers comes from a need to release built up energy surrounding the circumstances with his friends.
When children (or adults for that matter) behave in a way that compromises another persons integrity and self esteem, they are simply acting out an experience they are having somewhere else in their life that mirrors the situation they are creating with others.
Many schools engage in "anti-bullying" programs. These programs place emphasis on bullying only. They do nothing to strengthen the self esteem and confidence of the children. The key to eliminating the cycle of bullying behaviour comes from empowering the children, not focusing on the behaviour itself.
My middle son has endured bullying behaviour since junior kindergarten. Every afternoon he met me at the door with tears because someone had done something upsetting towards him, we would sit down and discuss what the issue was, usually it was something like the other boy didn't like his hair, clothes, lunch, etc. and since my children all dress themselves, make their own lunches and choose their own hair styles these were personal issues for my son.
I would tell my son everyday. If someone doesn't like your clothes you need to ask yourself "do I like my clothes?". If the answer is yes then everything is good. If the answer is no then you have a problem, but you do not have a problem until you answer no to your own question. I know he used this on multiple occasions and learned that his opinion of himself is the only one that mattered. We even came up with a theme song that would empower him when he heard it.
He is now in grade 7. He said to me the other day "you know Mom, I love all the kids that I hang around with, we have so much fun and we really support one another, it is so nice. And the "cool" kids that were bullying us before don't have a large group anymore, my friends and I have the largest group in our class. It's funny how that turned out". He is acutely aware that the change in his reaction to the behaviour diffused the situation and he has come out on top.
I coached my son to self-empowerment and he defeated the bullying behaviour. It was a rough few years of doing this with many setbacks and triumphs. He was a willing participant and was seeking change, I believe that all children (and adults) can be coached in this way, they can be coached to look for answers within themselves first to determine how they are feeling about the situation.
When we find ourselves within a bullying situation we rarely look into ourselves because we fear that we will find that the person offering insults or who are questioning our right to be who we are, are right in what they are saying. We feel like they have the inside scoop and their behaviour fuels our limiting beliefs about ourselves.
We all have the right to be who we are. We all have the right to a life filled with the support and love of our friends and family. And our children have the right to become self-empowered.