While I'm away at the Johnson and Johnson's Camp Baby, please enjoy this guest post by The Backpacking Dad.
I am a new father. And being a new father I am consumed with worry and dread about the things my daughter will have to face in her life.
I'm not worried about the near future, of course. Because I am a big, strong, guy and I carry her on my back, and I will do that figuratively long after I can no longer do it literally. So as far as the near future is concerned, I'm pretty certain I can protect her as much as she needs to be protected; and I hope I have the wisdom to recognize when she doesn't need protection.
But no, my real worries, and I developed them almost instantly when I saw her face in the delivery room, are worries about her adolescence. How can I raise her to be smart about boys (or girls?) when most people are just stupid about that stuff when they are teenagers? How can I raise her to be self-confident, when most teenagers are constant self-doubters.
How can I raise her to deal with bullying?
There is some folk wisdom about bullying that says: "Bullies just want to control you, so ignore them and they'll go away."
I have heard this advice my whole life, and I've made use of it when I had to deal with bullies in my own adolescence and pre-adolescence. But because of my own experience implementing this little tidbit in real life I've had to conclude that this advice is just plain dangerous and wrong.
Now, I don't mean that there aren't cases in which the bully can be ignored into irrelevance. But the advice assumes something about every bully, or even most bullies, that is just not true in my experience with them.
It is a common assumption that bullies are bullying you to control <i>you</i>. And this is false in many, many cases.
I think I can identify three types of bullies that I've encountered in my own life. There are probably more, but I think three is enough to show that the common assumption about is missing something.
- The Psychopath: This bully is driven by a need to see which of your buttons can be pushed, and how you will react to him pushing them. He wants to control you. He lacks both empathy and fear, so neither reasoned argument nor violent reactions work to dissuade him. This is the classic bully profile, and the one against whom ignoring might actually work. If you are uninteresting, this bully might just leave you alone because you are no fun.
- The Sadist: This bully is actually driven by a need to cause pain and discomfort in other people so that he can change the way <i>he</i> feels; he does it to control his own emotions, not necessarily yours. Unlike the Psychopath, the Sadist does not bully out of curiosity and and a lack of fear and empathy. This bully actually feels things very acutely, and it is his very empathy that makes him so good at causing pain. This bully cannot be ignored; he takes pleasure in even the imagined pain he is causing you, so it doesn't matter if you give no outward sign of your discomfort. The Sadist has a good imagination. But, having a good imagination also comes with a good dose of fear; this is the type of bully that will most quickly cease his activities if he is hurt badly enough. If you are going to react violently to a bully, this is the one to do it against. This one is the coward.
- The Glory Hound:
This bully is actually not out to control either you or himself, but
the crowd. He wants to be in charge of the group around him, and you
are just the convenient tool that he can use to intimidate or entertain
the crowd. He is the one most likely to subtly marginalize an individual,
forcing them to the outside of the social group, and then once this
marginalization is accomplished he will use more overt tactics (violence,
intimidation, mockery) to keep his victim from rejoining the crowd and
regaining the protection it affords. Violence will not work against
this bully, because he cannot afford to lose control of the group, so
he will fight long past his own pain to make sure he does not lose that
advantage. Ignoring him will not work either, because he cannot let
himself be seen as ineffective at intimidation, so his behavior will
escalate rather than taper off when he is presented with a victim who
ignores him. Unfortunately, the only way to rid yourself of this nuisance
is to find some way to be protected by the crowd again, by either wresting
control of the crowd away from him entirely, or otherwise blending in
with the group and thereby becoming useless as a tool of crowd control.
Unfortunately, the classic tactic of ignoring the bully will only work against one of the types I've encountered. When I tried to deploy it as a tactic against the Sadist and the Glory Hound I just ended up drawing out my own torment.
Now that I'm 6'1, 200 lbs, I don't worry about bullies in my own life. But I hope that my experience with them will help my daughter when she has to deal with them. I want to be able to tell her something more than "Just ignore them." That kind of wishful thinking might get her hurt.