We really need to do something to stop bullies

Remember not all that long ago when people would talk about how bullies are just acting out or that they themselves were the victims of someone else’s bullying? Turns out that isn’t true. Some kids (not mine, of course, or yours) are just mean.

With kids spending more and more time online, it’s increasingly hard to protect them from bullies. It used to be that bullies would have to be in same place as their victims. But no longer. I’m sure you’ve read the tragic stories about kids who’ve committed suicide after being bullied online.

Even if you trust our children completely, you can’t control for what other people are going to do. A few years back, one my daughters–an incredibly responsible, clear-thinking girl–was being bullied through Facebook and a few other places. We eventually figured out who was doing it and came down hard (not hard enough, in my view–that little punk should have gone to jail). But it was still a traumatic experience.

A recent article from the Birmingham Patch (Michigan) cites stats from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Safe and Drug-Free Schools: more than 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the United States.

More info and some excellent resources here: http://birmingham.patch.com/articles/panel-urges-parents-educators-and-kids-to-stand-up-against-bullying

Wait a Second–She Did What?!

Dear Mr. Dad. My 16-year old son has been coming home with bruises on his face and arms. At first, I assumed they were from sports. But when I asked, he got very embarrassed and refused to talk about it. Thinking maybe he was getting bullied at school, I pushed the issue and eventually he told me that his girlfriend was hitting him. I was shocked—I’ve never heard of a girl beating up a guy before. How common is this?

A: Sadly, it’s incredibly common—far more than most people would like to admit. If you look at official statistics you’ll find that nearly all the perpetrators of domestic violence are male. Unfortunately, official statistics don’t reflect reality. Men—including young men, like your son–almost never admit to being the victim of any crime at all, much less a violent one committed by a woman. And there’s good reason. Violence by women against men is generally ignored or seen as funny. Just think of all the movies and TV shows where a woman slaps, kicks, or punches a man. The reaction? Laughter, applause, cheers. The message to women (and girls) is that it’s okay to hit other people—especially males. And the message to men (and boys) is that if you ever get hurt by a female people are going to laugh at you.

So what are the real statistics? According to Murray A. Strauss, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, intimate partner violence (violence by people in relationships) is far from one sided. In most violent relationships, physical aggression is mutual, with both sides swinging at each other. But when violence is initiated by one person only, it’s usually the woman. Strauss is no crank. He’s been researching and writing about relationship violence for decades. And he’s far from alone. Dozens of other researchers have also found that females are at least as violent as males. (There’s a good bibliography at mediaradar.org/research.php.)
Critics say that even if that’s true, men do more damage than women. But the research shows that men tend to use their hands while women use weapons. So even assuming that men do more damage, they certainly don’t do ALL the damage.

So why have male victims and female perpetrators been ignored? In part, it’s because there’s a societal belief that women just aren’t capable of violence. I wrote an article a few years ago about male victims of domestic violence and received the only death threat I’ve ever had in more than 15 years of writing. It was from a woman who—without noticing the irony—insisted that women are never violent. And she was going to kill me to prove it.

There’s also a knee-jerk reaction to female-on-male violence: the guy deserves it. ABC news did a segment that explored how people react when seeing a woman abusing a man in public. The URL is too long to give you here, but go to YouTube and enter “reaction to women abusing men in public.” I think (and hope) that you’ll be shocked.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the problem is going away anytime soon. We keep talking about “violence against women” as if it’s the only kind of violence out there. As a result, very few female offenders will get the treatment they need and even fewer male victims will get the support they and their children need. We need to decide that violence—not just violence by men—is a problem. Then, and only then, will we be able to solve it.

Okay, Folks, Take It Outside

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I sometimes fight when our children, eight and ten, are present. We know we probably shouldn’t argue in front of them but things are sometimes so tense that we can’t stop ourselves (I recently lost my job and we’re facing possible foreclosure). How damaging is it to argue in front of children, and how can we stop?

A: You’re right: you probably shouldn’t argue in front of your children. Some studies have found that kids whose parents fight a lot may become depressed, anxious, or withdrawn. They may also imitate their parents and pick fights with siblings, friends, and even other adults.

That said, it’s completely unrealistic to think that you and your wife should never argue at all. Disagreements are a natural part of even the best relationships. In fact, not having any arguments might be worse than an occasional flare-up. Small quarrels are good for letting off steam—and given your precarious financial situation, you’re producing enough steam to supply your whole neighborhood with electricity. Keeping it all bottled up will eventually lead to a huge explosion. Exposing your kids to small amounts of conflict—along with the same number of make-ups—demonstrates effective problem-solving skills and shows that fighting with someone you love is not the end of the world.

So your challenge isn’t really to step arguing at all, but to find ways to handle your disagreements constructively. One excellent approach is to agree that when you see that an argument is in danger of turning ugly, you’ll stop and give yourselves time to cool off. Come up with a secret word or phrase that either one of you can say that signals it’s time for a break. If you’re able to postpone the argument for a bit, chances are that one of three things will happen: You’ll be able to discuss things more calmly, you’ll realize that the issue wasn’t as big a deal as you thought, or you’ll forget what you were arguing about in the first place.

Of course, despite your best intentions, you’re never going to be able to stop yourselves every time. Here are some things to do when your kids end up with front-row seats:

  • Fight fair. No yelling, no swearing, no personal insults, no threats, no door slamming or vase throwing, and certainly no physical violence of any kind, ever.
  • Damage control. Talk to your children about what they saw. Don’t go into details or lay any blame. Simply tell them that you and mom disagreed and lost your tempers, but now you’ve made up and everything is okay.
  • Don’t pretend things are fine when they aren’t. Your kids are old enough to understand that you’ll all need to make some sacrifices for the good of the family. But don’t panic them—they need to know that no matter what happens, you’ll be there to care for them.
  • Reassure. Children often blame themselves for their parents’ conflicts. Let them know it’s not their fault.
  • Explain. If possible, tell your children how you resolved the issue. For example: “We disagreed on where to spend the holidays, but compromised by going to grandma’s on Christmas Eve and to Aunt Mary’s on Christmas Day.”
  • Have some fun, either as a family or in smaller groups. And make sure your kids see you and their mom are genuinely happy and in love.

Finally, if your fights become more frequent, more aggressive, or if either of you can’t control or manage your temper, get some professional counseling.

Call in the Professionals. Now.

Dear Mr. Dad: My six-year-old son is behaving aggressively. Just yesterday, he was suspended from school for two days because he poked another child in the eye with a pencil. Fortunately, the other kid wasn’t seriously injured. And not long before that, he poked his sister (who’s ten) with a pair of scissors. I’ve tried time-outs, talking to him, removing toys from his room, not letting him have playdates or watch TV, and I’m not sure what to do next. Can you recommend any books on discipline?

A: It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. And yes, there are a lot of great discipline books out there. But you’re way, way beyond the book stage. If your son were just pushing kids or snatching toys away from them, some new discipline strategies might help. But he’s doing things that could cause serious damage to others; taking away his toys and not letting him watch cartoons isn’t going to do the trick You need to get your son evaluated right away by a good child psychologist. The school nurse or the principal will probably have a list. If they don’t, ask your pediatrician for some recommendations. Clearly, there’s something going on here that’s well beyond anything you can deal with on your own. You’ve been lucky so far. But make an appointment today—before your son does something truly horrific.

The Good News about Violent Video Games

Dear Mr. Dad: My son loves video games and spends a ton of time playing on them. Some are sports games, but others are fairly violent war-related games. I’ve heard the warnings about violent games breeding violent behavior, and I’m worried. Should I be?

A: I certainly understand why you’re worried. Every time a new game hits the shelves, alarm bells start ringing all over the country. It sometimes seems that the entire city of Washington, DC is filled with politicians or pundits who have tried to connect video games to real-world violence. It’s a sure-fire way to gain political points and a reputation for moral crusading. But as with most crusades, the reality is more complex.
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