Bullying through exclusion: looking for the middle ground

Imagine having your child lying in your lap sobbing because her own friends were hurting her feelings during her birthday party. That’s a special pain.

“what’s going on baby? Why are you so upset?”
[long involved tale of being excluded over and over] “…and then they told me I wasn’t their friend!”

[struggling to stay calm and sane] “oh honey… it’s your special day..”
“YES AND THEY ARE JUST MAKING ME FEEL NOT SPECIAL AT ALL”
*heart breaks and breaks and breaks*

There’s no pain quite like comforting your child when their feelings have been hurt, especially when they were hurt by people they love. It’s a unique kind of tenderness fused with white-hot rage tempered by the knowledge that your rage will ironically hurt your child even more were you to act upon it. I have spent many a night holding a sobbing son while he wondered why his dad did not show up, so this is not a new situation for me. I already know that to be comforting as a mom, all I have to do is hold my child, stroke their hair and murmur soothing words.
In order to help them heal, however, I need concrete answers to their questions and solutions to their pain… which I cannot realistically give.

This is the problem of peer exclusion.

Believe it or not, peer exclusion is part and parcel of bullying. As defined by psychologists and developmental specialists, peer exclusion (past the age of 5) is both a part of bullying and a form of bullying on its own. Some studies suggest peer exclusion and ridicule (without accompanying physical abuse) is more common among female peer groups. In any case, it is an aspect of bullying that has very little attention. Much like verbal an psychological abuse, however, peer exclusion merits attention right alongside “regular” bullying. The effects of this type of bullying are just as damaging and can have longer-lasting effects.

But how do we tackle this? How do we, as parents, approach something that straddles the line between self-formed identity and subtle cruelty?

The question is how do I give my child the respect as an individual to make her own social choices while instilling in her the values of being open-minded, tolerant and gentle with other people’s feelings? How do I teach her “include others” while teaching her “don’t be an emotional doormat”? While I want her to be loving and accepting of everyone, I don’t want her thinking that she is wrong to have preferences. I want her to see the shining light of humanity within each person while understanding that not everyone is a good person. I want her to learn love and tolerance and forgiveness, but I don’t want her thinking its her obligation to tolerate all behavior or forgive all trespassers. Just how do we define “accepting” anyway? Where do we draw the line at “other people making choices” and “other people being mean”?

In the most recent example of my child being excluded, I sat with her for a while, soothing her sobs until we could talk. She sat up and I said “maybe you need to find someone else to play with. If people aren’t letting you have your special day, then let them go”
I could tell this idea pained her: she wanted to enjoy everyone at her party, even if they refused to enjoy her. These were her friends- kids she’d grown up knowing. Some of them she’d known in the crib. These were people she had dubbed her favorites; its why they’d been invited to the party to begin with. But what I couldn’t make her see was that sometimes friendships form between your friends that you are not a part of and that soemtimes means you get left out. True, good friends will be happy to let you back in, find ways to include you, but sometimes kids just don’t want to do that… or they don’t care.

She went off to play with someone else… a relatively new friend and we continued with the party.

…until the next episode happened. It just so happened I was there for it and I was able to intervene in a way that made the whole situation very clear. I told the repeat offenders that they were guests in our house and they were there because Lil Miss wanted to spend time with them and that if they were not going to include her in playing with her toys that she got for her birthday, I’d be happy to call their parents and have them taken home. The kids in question looked at me completely stunned. One of them tried to explain why they needed to exclude her and I interrupted with no uncertainty. “I don’t care what your issue is with her, you are NOT going to take her toys, push her out of her room and not let her play. Make your choice” Suddenly all kids involved decided that perhaps playing with her was not such a bad thing after all. Ten minutes later they were all having a great time. Mind you, these are kids who, when playing with Lil Miss all alone have absolutely no problem playing with her and often ask for her company. This is how I know this isn’t just making social choices. This is about deliberate exclusion.

Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened to Lil Miss. And though similar situations have arisen at school, her teacher has assured me that she has intervened whenever possible – because its already well known that Lil Miss is easily upset by being excluded. Which makes her a prime target for bullying by peer exclusion. So this isn’t just something I talk about because I think “those uncouth kids…” this is a real problem that could dog her throughout childhood and beyond. This is an issue of self-esteem and fear of rejection. But its not something I will sit by and blame my daughter for. Yes, she needs to learn how to stand up for herself in a reasonable manner that shows she will not be manipulated. But its the other kids who are either unwittingly or cruelly choosing to exploit the biggest emotional pitfall she has right now and I won’t stand by and make her think its all on her to fix that problem. I’m not going to turn my head and make her believe that she’s overreacting to a make-believe problem. I’m not going to gas-light my own child just because other kids are being mean but not using actual violence. I’m going to speak up for her whenever I can and teach her to speak up too. Hopefully through our unified efforts, she will be ready by high school to shrug off the deliberate efforts to provoke and hurt her. Because I can see that coming a mile away. Conversely, its always possible that she may decide to go on the offensive and do the same to others to prevent it happening to her. I hope our talking and modeling together she will not go that route either. I hope I can raise her to understand the difference between being careless with someone’s feelings and being cruel.

I hope I raise her to understand how important it is to speak up, whether its for herself or for someone else.

Advertisements

a message from me to future Lil Miss

I put my hands on my daughter’s face, brushed hair out of her eyes and asked her to look at me. I said “you will not know, for a long time, how much I really love you. One day, when you are grown up, maybe you’ll have a daughter and you’ll look at her and you’ll wonder ‘is this how my mother felt about me?’ and the answer to that question is ‘yes. that is exactly how I felt about you.’

Right now you know that I love you but you won’t really know how much I do until you’re older. So never forget that”

She looked at me the whole time I was speaking, letting my words sink into her skin, her eyes, her mouth, and she said “but will my daughter know?” and her face crumbled with fear and sadness and I knew what she was thinking. She leaned forward into my smile and I pulled her close and stroked her hair as I said quietly into her ear “maybe I won’t meet your daughter, I hope I do someday, I know I really want to, but if I don’t, you can tell her the same thing and *you’ll* know that I would have loved her as much as you do”

still figuring things out on this intarwebby thing

i want to keep in touch with my friends. I want to hear what they have to say. I want to know what’s going on in their lives and how they feel and if anything is going on that they want me to be a part of.

That’s why Facebook is so important for me.

BUT…. its turned into a place of very little appeal now…. its

soapbox
ranty
snarky
scary
sad
and self-congratulating

None of which would be a big problem (gawd knows I am those things too) except those qualities have become the only times it is not superficial. All the news is sad and scary and angry-making. Or else its cute kitties and puppies. Once in a great while its inspiration-porn which is uncomfortable.

Mostly its just a daily outrage machine. Which isn’t to say the subjects brought up aren’t important but I can’t get behind the exhausting barrage of competing culture-wide problems.

I’m more interested in knowing how everyone’s doing but most of what I get is everyone hiding behind the liberal cause de jeur.

One of the reasons I still love Livejournal more than facebook is because when we were ALL on Livejournal we had more categories and thus we could be friends with more than one type of person. I was in political groups, social groups, parent groups etc
Not to say we didn’t get into arguments, dear gawd of course we did, but they happened mostly on the group pages. Most of us reserve our personal page for personal things. The political posts were not as frequent or common. Because when we posted to our page, we took our time, thought it out and assumed we were addressing all our close friends.

Facebook has gone beyond being a big cocktail party and turned into an sort of online state fair – everyone has a booth where they simultaniously sell their wares AND hawk their views AND hob-nob with friends and family. If you’re close you get to visit behind the booth and everyone plays musical booths all day long in some sort of complicated square dance that involves more steps and rules than I can keep up with.

I’m so tired. I just want to talk about how we’re all DOING. I don’t want to stand on a soapbox and scream any more (well, okay maybe every now and then?) I just want to explore each other and feel close again, not what was the latest violation of decency in the news today. I pretty much know all my friends and family’s political and social views.

Maybe that’s part of the problem – there’s nothing left to LEARN anymore.

Yes I’m still around

I’m trying to change how I view my life and how I approach it. I think, because of the divorce, I have spent the last year in a weird haze of just being swept along with whatever is happening and not really putting forth any effort of any kind. I’m done with that. Anyone who knows me well knows I cannot stay ineffective for long. I hate being inactive, non-productive… I have to do something to feel like I”m working towards my own happiness.

Whenever a change in life is necessary, a change in attitude is primary. I absolutely must alter the way I relate to my own problems. I spent most of my marriage bending over, bowing down and generally trying to paint all problems as transitory. Eventually my own attitude could not stand by any longer and continue the charade of nonchalance. I DO care about my life. I DO care about my happiness. I DO care about how things work out for myself. I’m not a martyr whatsoever. I never will be. I thought I could sacrifice my happiness in order to stay in that relationship but not only was that wrong but it wouldn’t have worked anyway. You can’t give up yourself and maintain a duality at the same time. Sacrifice of the self only begets a monarchy.

So here I am, trying to figure out how to take the helm again and plow forward. I feel like I took a break from my own life and I guess that’s what I did… no more. I once had a goal, an inspiration and many dreams. The expression of those concepts may have changed, but the drive toward realization remains.

Let’s begin.

Cultural Similarities

I remember having the talk with my parents.
When I was pregnant for the first time I actually thought about how I would deal with the talk with my kids.
I dread the day I have to have the talk with Lil Miss.
I realized there’s just no good way to say it.

Our “people” got where they are today by slaughtering millions of people who had every right to hate us and want to kill us. Because originally there was enough room for all of us but we weren’t content with that. We felt threatened by their very existence. There were decent folk who were willing to live in harmony (on both sides) but overall, war was what prevailed. And we “won”. Because we had “superior firepower”. We also had other countries backing us. So of course we “won”

Won what?

Why the right to claim this land as OURS. The right to make the rules. The right to go back and whitewash history to make us look like “the good guys”

“Are there any of those people left?” is the inevitable question.
“yes, actually there are. A very very few. We pushed them into tiny patches of land that we didn’t want”

And I will have to explain how we acted as if this was very magnanimous on our part. How we have a history of pushing Stockholm syndrome on the people who were here first. I can spend all day talking about the various nuances of the history. I can talk about how some of the “other side” were in fact scary horrible people who never had any intention of letting us live in peace. I can talk about how some of “our side” were good decent folk who really wanted the rest of our people to stop warring the original inhabitants. Even so, I will have to talk about greed and how discovery of the land’s riches made most people willing to step all over anyone in order to be the first in line to lay claim to more of the sanctified earth. How even our moral views were warped enough to pretend that we had some intrinsic right to be here and take over this land. How our pretense at compromise was torn down again and again as we decided again and again that the tiny patches of land we gave them were actually worth something to us after all. Our pretense that we were ever interested in letting the other side continue as a people

I will have to explain how our people also had others backing us, how we would never run out of firepower. I can explain how we used propaganda to paint the other side as evil and savage and bloodthirsty. I can talk about how our people came to truly believe the other side weren’t even human beings, just disgusting animals worthy of death. I will definitely talk about how we incorporated this disdain and disgust into our culture so that generations to come would also distrust, despise and demean the other side – so that our children and their children’s children would never successfully make peace.

This talk will happen. Its part of where we come from. Its not the only history we have. It doesn’t negate the good things we have done any more than the good things negate this part. I hope that when we have this talk, my daughter will be suitably horrified and sad that our cultural lives rose from the bloody pyre of vanquished people whose only crime were to be here before us, live differently than us, and want different things from life than we did.

Then the inevitable end question will come.

“We don’t still do this, do we?”

Everyone is not beautiful

DISCLAIMER: I am speaking primarily of women here. Not becaues I don’t think these issues affect men, but because not being a man myself I can only theorize based on a few comments and brief discussions Ive had with men about these issues. I wish more men would discuss these things honestly. I suspect the reason my empathy is so shallow for men is because they really feel uncomfortable being open about body and image and self-esteem issues. That’s the main message I get from them. For every man who runs to up to point out “men have these problems  too!” there’s twenty men who change the subject. And sadly, the ones who run up to inject themselves into the female-based discussion only do so to derail, not to add to an overall conversation. I think the primary problem for men and image has to do with shame and secrecy. Society pressures men to strut and act like they don’t care about their image. I find it hard to believe men are really so different from women in that regard. So ultimately, I leave the male version of the issue alone – its not my story to tell and thus far I don’t have enough input to incorporate their story into ours. But I do believe the discomfort and anxiety that goes along with image issues affects men just as often and just as clearly as women. 

 

Here’s the thing, I actually don’t believe everyone is “beautiful”. To be frank, I haven’t yet met anyone I didn’t find attractive, but I can’t get behind the “everyone is beautiful” campaign. I also don’t think that campaign is ever going to really take root. Because really, not everyone is “beautiful”.  Perhaps that’s a semantics game because I’m going by a definition of beauty that I am pretty sure is the most common one. I am also pretty sure the “everyone is beautiful” campaign is going by a different definition. The common understanding of beauty is “the arrangement of symmetrical features and lack of aberrations that society deems to be most attractive” 

 

The fact is that not everyone can possibly measure up that way.

 

I think the real issue is how people merit themselves. I am not talking about potential, either. We can potential people all over the place and it doesn’t mean squat. That starts venturing into “you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it!” territory which I *know* is bullshit. If you disagree, fine but answer this question: can I ski through a revolving door if I put my mind to it?

I say that not to ruin a very nice uplifting sentiment but to place the parameters of the discussion. We can’t truly discuss human traits if we don’t have roughly the same vocabulary.

 

 

 

The beauty we usually talk about when we talk about strangers is the outside appearance – their attractiveness. The beauty we talk about when we talk about people we know is the inside – their persona. But we can’t conflate the two. The outside beauty, while nice, isn’t something we can do anything with. It may enhance the landscape when its around but it doesn’t really affect us just by existing. Beauty from the inside is so called precisely because it *does* affect us. It is some quality (or a group of qualities) that enhances our actual existence even if only for a moment. Someone’s beautiful persona can lift us up, give us solace, urge us on or calm us down. How incredibly versatile for a quality that is so incredibly undefined!

 

This is why I don’t like calling someone “beautiful” unless I am speaking strictly of their outward appearance. Attractive – maybe because sometimes what’s attractive isn’t in the looks at all, but beauty is something I *see*. 

 

Beauty is skin-deep. Beauty is as beauty does. Beauty glows in love. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is truth. Beauty is pain.

 

Beauty is subjective.

Well, if beauty is subjective, why is it that so many people have decided on some particular traits and made them “the standards”?

Is excitement a subjective thing? Can I label anyone I like with that word and say “well I just think everyone is exciting?” I could but how believable is that really? What about joy? Is everyone joyful? Smart? Helpful? Generous? Thoughtful? Spontaneous?

 

I want us to talk more about the inner awesomeness that each person carries within. I want to cheer on the people who need it most. I want to say encouraging things to the ones who sit at home, feeling scared and sad because society has told them again and again that they don’t measure up. I want *that* campaign to happen and be successful. I just dont’ think its going to work if we keep using the word “beautiful”

Because those people know better. They know that society isn’t lying to them. Society dictates what is “beautiful” and they didnt’ make the grade. We can talk all day about overcoming the pressures of society and feeling good about yourself and empowerment and reclaiming terms but ultimately we ARE society. Society is people. Its the people around us too. And when the majority of the people around you are telling you that your looks don’t make them happy, there’s no arguing it. We can argue facts until one of us discovers the valid truth but arguing opinions is ridiculous. I’m not going to continue to argue against the opinions of MILLIONS either. I can disagree all I want but trying to change those people’s opinions is ludicrous. And who am I to arbitrarily decide when the majority of society is wrong in their personal preferences?

 

I’ve known an awful lot of people in my near-half-decade of life. Like I said, I’ve yet to meet someone I didn’t think was attractive on some level. But I’m odd like that. I didn’t, however, think everyone I’ve ever met was “beautiful”

 

And I am totally okay with that. What I’d like to see, rather than a minority of society working so hard to change the majority’s opinion, is an acceptance of the differences. What I’d like to see is us embracing the other qualities of people instead of “beauty” and making it a point to exalt those qualities just as much. Every time we push this “everyone is beautiful” campaign, we reinforce the notion that beauty is the most important thing of all.

 

Why can’t we try just as hard to tear down the notion that beauty trumps all?

 

Why can’t we try just as hard to exalt other forms of attractiveness?

 

That’s what I want to see.