By Theresa Wells
The troubling news of the suicide of a young woman in our community has prompted a lot of dialogue about many facets of raising our children, including the ability to promptly access mental health services for young adults and how to deal with both in-person and online bullying, dialogues we desperately need to have.
One of the sad aspects of bullying, though, is that no matter how we work to address bullying in schools and online it is likely at some point a child or young adult we love will be a victim of some form of bullying and while we can work to end bullying we also must find ways to “bully proof” our kids or create resiliency in them so that we can lessen the effects a potential bully will have on them. There is of course no way to completely protect our kids from bullies (except for daily application of bubble wrap), but how do we help them to develop in a way so they are less vulnerable?
I believe the development of self-esteem must start very young. I know there are those who think we have gone too far in developing self-esteem in our kids, leading to a world where kids feel they have more worth than they should and a certain degree of arrogance and entitlement. Perhaps in some cases this is true, although to be honest I would rather see kids veer slightly in the direction of arrogance than in the direction of under-valuing themselves. Helping kids to see their own self-worth and value is absolutely fundamental and it is, I believe, a daily exercise in ensuring that they know they are loved, valued and have worth even beyond their roles in our lives.
It is tremendously important to help kids develop a sense of their place in the community. I have spent time with our local youth and I am on occasion troubled by those who feel they have no role or place here beyond their lives at school and home. If school is a place where they do not feel valued or where they have trouble connecting with their peers it becomes even more crucial to help them find other ways to connect. Minor sports are a great option but even for the non-athletes there are so many options. Locally we have groups like Girls Inc. and the Justin Slade Youth Foundation where kids can connect with peers their own age, dance groups like the hip-hop focused Northern Elements Crew and groups like cadets that can provide that sense of community and belonging that young adults often need. There are also so many local non-profit organizations where youth can volunteer, and while there they can find not only other youth but adult mentors who can often help them develop those bonds and relationships they need to feel connected to their world as well as developing their self-worth through volunteerism.
For young adults school can be a challenging place in terms of interpersonal relationships, which is where those extracurricular activities come into play. From robotics to drama, I think it is of tremendous value to foster our young adults’ interest in specific activities and encourage them to get involved in those activities, as they will often find other young adults with similar interests with whom they can form a bond based on that interest.
None of this is meant to excuse the behaviour of bullies in our children’s lives or to assume that doing these things will ensure our children will never be the target of bullies or be hurt by them. In some situations the bullying may be so severe or persistent that even the most resilient young adult will struggle to cope with it, and these thoughts are in no way meant to imply that those young adults are lacking in some way. I hope though that if we work to raise our children to be resilient – to find ways to build connections, to develop relationships both inside and outside of school and to understand their own value – we may help them to both navigate those difficult young adult years and blossom into strong, capable adults.
We can do all these things and our children may still be the victim of a bully, but if they have some of these connections and resources perhaps they will be better equipped to take the necessary steps to handle the situation, including the courage to tell someone as far too often young adults will hide that they are being bullied or minimize the impact it is having on them.
The dialogue about young adults, mental health and bullying is ongoing. It is a conversation with tremendous importance and relevance, and while we must discuss how we deal with bullies, how we minimize incidents of bullying and how we ensure access to mental health care for our kids we also need to think about how we build resiliency – or “bully proof” – them. We can help them to not only develop their self-esteem and confidence so that they are less vulnerable but also help them become the young adults who will not be silent bystanders of bullying, as bullying involves the trifecta of the bullied, the bully and the bystander. It is just another facet of a dialogue that is far too important to be neglected a moment longer, because we never know when our kids will encounter a bully and need the skills and lessons we have taught them. Growing up can be hard – but we can try to make it easier by helping our kids learn their value, worth and place in our world – and maybe, just maybe, make them bully-proof.
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