My friend Rachel called me yesterday and told me a story about a bullying incident that her daughter had witnessed regarding summer camp. A group of teenage girls were gathering for a “get to know each other” dinner prior to a three-week community service camp. Not all the girls going to the camp were able to go to the dinner, but quite a few were present. During the dinner one girl turned to another and said, “Let’s choose a girl to pick on for the summer.” The girl then began looking around the room for her victim.
Rachel’s daughter told Rachel about the incident. She was upset with herself that she hadn’t said anything at the time and didn’t know what to do about it. Rachel sat with her daughter in distress and uncertainty. “Maybe there’s still something you can do,” she suggested, not really sure herself what that might be. Her daughter thought for a moment and then she had an idea. “Maybe I can call the owner and let him know,” she said. Rachel smiled, promptly got the number for her and her daughter called the owner of the camp. She described the incident and, to her surprise, the camp owner’s reaction was, “Girls will be girls and most likely they were just talking about stuff that will never happen.” After a lengthy conversation in which Rachel’s daughter forcefully convinced him otherwise, the camp owner agreed to speak with the children at the beginning of the trip. Rachel’s daughter hung up feeling much better about her upcoming summer.
I expressed admiration for Rachel’s daughter and Rachel was pleasantly surprised by her daughter’s resourcefulness. I, too, have a daughter who is going away for a few weeks this summer and this story led Rachel and I to a discussion on how we can teach our children to take care of themselves when they are away from home or have a new, challenging experience. We agreed that most of girls around that table probably knew that it was wrong to pick a target to bully, but we were unsure how many had the strength to stand up and say that was wrong, either in the moment or afterwards. We wondered how many would follow the bully during the summer if she decided to act on her plan of persecution. Even if we trust camp owners or program directors, they might not see everything that goes on between certain children or their reaction could be a bit “hands-off” like the initial response of Rachel’s daughter’s camp owner.
So how can we prepare our children to face the bullies whether they are targets themselves or are asked to go along with the crowd this summer? How can we teach our children who a bully really is and bullies are not always as strong and mighty as they seem? Maybe we can take a page out of Rachel’s daughter’s book and look for creative solutions. Maybe, too, we can continuously teach our children about real strength. This will give them courage to stand up for themselves wherever they are and, when necessary, to stand up for those around them.
Here is a set of ideas that I try to teach my children that I hope that you find useful:
- It takes more strength to stick up for someone than to put them down.
- It takes more strength to compromise with a friend than to force your way on someone else.
- It takes more strength to listen to someone with whom you disagree than to ignore them, yell at them or scorn their ideas.
- It takes more strength to understand someone that is different and try to include them instead of excluding them from an activity.
- It takes more strength to express yourself with your words than to resort to physical force.
- It takes more strength to be peaceful, loving and kind in the face of adversity than to yell and scream and hurt the ones around you.
- It takes more strength to be humble in the face of triumph than to recklessly brag.
- It takes more strength to act on what you know is right than to follow the crowd.
- A person of real strength does not need to prove anything. True strength speaks for itself and that is real power.
Many of our children will be in new social situations this summer. My hope is that all our children come to understand their own resourcefulness, that they will appreciate true strength and that their summers will be filled with lasting memories of new friendships, kindness and good times. Maybe, too, like Rachel’s daughter, they are already stronger than we know!