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A Balanced Life: "Mean Peers"

As a parent and a therapist, I was and is such a struggle to know how to guide one's children and counsel clients who have been mistreated by others. This includes being the victim of mean and cruel remarks about the person, spreading untrue rumours, verbal and physical threats. Some people, young and old, respond to such oppressive behaviour by getting angry and retaliating, by feeling hurt, withdrawing and avoiding, by openly condemning such behaviour, or by attempting to ignore. As a child, I remember all the well-meaning advice from adults; don't listen to them, just ignore them and they will stop, tell a teacher, they are the one's with a problem, and so on. I found teachers and parents seemed to just give out the same advice, as did some of my other peers. The accusations of being fat, weak and stupid hurt the most because I felt, fat, weak and stupid. Looking back now, from my adult perspective, I wonder if this was the experience of other kids who were constantly teased and bullied - did they feel that what was being said about them was true? "No one likes you", "You can't do anything right", "You may as well give up now". Most young people seem to be able to ignore the bullying behaviour and it subsides. So, how do these youth process what's being communicated differently that others? Perhaps internally, they have a stronger and more secure self-image - the mean behaviour doesn't penetrate, they don't feel victimized - they actually understand that the problem is the other person's so they can respond differently; "Look who's talking", "You can't talk to people like that", "No one's going to like you if you keep being so mean". Feeling confident within the 'self', allows them to stand up against the meanness and refuse to be treated that way. How can we help those who experience a lack of self-confidence and a sense of inferiority, to respond to meanness in this manner?

Well...there are official 'codes of conduct' - clearly stating that this type of behaviour is not allowed! Now, these impressive plaques posted in every school, in every business, in every hospital, clinic and government agency - they have been there for many years! Clearly, words, plaques, posters and television ads, are not enough. "Calling out" mean, disrespectful and bullying behaviour - whenever and wherever it occurs - is both a natural and powerful response. The responsibility for calling out this unacceptable behaviour, is everyone's, not just a handful of school and Board personnel, or managers and supervisors'. We can't 'leave it to others' to stand up to oppression - it is a human responsibility.

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