When Bullies Hurt More Than Your Feelings: Are Parents Making Today’s Kids Too Sensitive To Handle Conflict?

August 31, 2012  |  


One of the things I enjoy most about Facebook is that through a simple “Accept Friend Request” you can see exactly who’s still involved in childish drama that was once entertaining as a teen, but is now plain pathetic. On a positive note, you can also see slivers of success from not just the over-achievers, but the underdogs who are having the last laugh.  But what also becomes apparent in my adventures in social networking is the need for people to obsess over their glory days in the high school hallways, because clearly their adult lives are paling in comparison.  I’m not talking about joining a group to be updated about the ten-year reunion or occasional passing memory about a beloved teacher who passed away.  I’m talking about the folks who are trapped in their prom king/queen reign while the rest of us are living real life.

I bring this all up to say that high school was definitely not chock full of my fondest memories.  In fact, I don’t even remember much of it.  While I wasn’t exactly bullied, there was a clear defining line between the “cool” kids and everyone else.  I had my moments, but I definitely didn’t make the cut for senior superlatives. I wasn’t drowning in ridicule but I wasn’t sunbathing on the shores of the socially elite.  With a few close friends and some funny memories, I happily spent my school career staying afloat somewhere in the middle.

Today’s teens are definitely growing up in a different element.  I have my fair share of awkward memories of classmates rubbing my five-head like a genie lamp and joking about premiering movies on my high hairline.  There was a guy or two who publicly rejected my silent love letter advances. But even on my worst days, I knew that when that bell rang at 3:00 p.m., I could return to a place where people loved me and not have to deal with any of that nonsense for at least 18 hours. Today, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are giving teens their own digital spotlight and making it difficult for them to at least just blend in somewhere in the middle.  Either you’re the most popular person at school with 2000 followers to prove it or there are message boards dedicated solely to unite people who hate you for the most random reason.  Social networking at its worst is giving cruel kids more opportunities to bully even after the last bell rings.

Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.  The CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost seven percent have attempted it.  As a result, more and more parents are opting to home school their children or allowing them to enroll in cyber school, but I question if this is helping or hurting the problem.  Whether you’re dealing with a Twitter thug or a good old-fashioned jock stuffing a student into a locker, three things are usually true:

  • Bullies thrive in numbers.  You may have a ringleader, but they usually crumble if they don’t have a crew to back them up.
  • Bullies thrive on weakness and intimidation.  Your fear is their motivation.
  • The best defense is a good offense. Bullies don’t have nearly as much influence on someone dealing with someone who is self-assured and has a strong support system in the first place.

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  • Nan

    I was an extremely sensitive child. I was also taller than every other girl (and boy) in my grade. I was teased, a lot. As per my mother’s advice, I ignored it most of the time, though there was one particularly mean boy (he had failed grade 3 and was bitter, lol) whom I told my big brother about. My brother had a little chat (no violence) with him and that was that. In junior high I was placed in the gifted program. Knowing that I was smart gave me the confidence to persevere through the bullying. It also helped me know my own mind. I was never one to succumb to peer pressure. If I didn’t want to do what the rest of my friends were doing, I didn’t.
    Bullying didn’t just go away. It continued through all my years in school. I had the last laugh in high school when one girl “Debbie” didn’t graduate with her class (a year ahead of mine) and had to retake everything with my grade. This girl, who had been bullying me from the first day of junior high suddenly found herself at the bottom, while I was at the top. It was even more amusing when she got knocked up and ended up dropping out before graduation. 24 years later she’s on Facebook and always whining about how she can’t get a man or a good job. I smile because I’ve done very well and despite life throwing me some tragic curveballs, I’m happy.
    The best way to handle the bullies is to build self confidence. I know it’s difficult, but parents can encourage their children to find something they love and do well at it. A little bit of self confidence goes a long way. And yes it’s important for kids to experience pain. Life is not easy, and it’s worse if you are coddled through your entire childhood. That big brother I mentioned above, well he was killed 4 years ago, not long after my father died. I credit the inner strength I developed as a child for helping me navigate my way through the pain of the grieving process. That which doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger.

  • Pivyque

    You can’t please everyone. Our kids need to know and understand that. In this age of cyber bullying, it is too easy to bring the drama home from school. That’s why I tell my kids to focus on schoolwork, their friends and their activities. They aren’t allowed to have a facebook, twitter or whatever. I let them have a blog and that’s as far as it goes. One of my girls told me that some girl was calling her a “throwaway” because her parents didn’t want her (she was my daughter’s best friend, we took her in). I was furious and SHE told ME not to worry about it! She just said, “Mom, they’re just mad because they don’t have the love that I have. Hopefully God can get through to her because the Devil seems to be working overtime.” Lol I just started laughing.

  • Guest360

    Kids nowadays are really sensitive. Partly because they have parents who do everything for them and partly because they have no strong parental influence at all. The only thing that has really changed with bullying is the level of parental involvement and the ammunition kids are exposed to now. It’s not as easy to say “if you get hit, hit back” given how fights are video taped now, arrests happen, or worse, people don’t fight fair and bring in real weapons. The best thing you can do as a parent is teach your kids to not let this stuff ruffle their feathers. To build up their confidence and self-worth. If you need to, limit their time on the internet for hw only or sites approved by you. For the life of me I don’t understand how parents let their kids have a facebook or twitter knowing that their kids are being bullied over social media or better yet, aren’t involved enough to know that they’re being bullied online. It all starts at home. Kids can get through anything if you give them the right tools to get through it.

  • Kayo

    One cannot be made to be sensitive. We all have different personalities and just because something may not hurt you, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t hurt another person.

  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    I blame all this new age parenting crap and lack of parenting. Parents need to start dropping the hammer and get their bad a$$ kids together. On the other hand, kids are soft as goat’s milk these days. . .

  • L-Boogie

    What about adult bullies?

  • Lets face the facts. Kids just arent tough anymore. Yes there are quite a few bad seeds out there but in general kids are hypersensitive and dont know how to stand up for themselves. I remember growing up playing the dozens and everyone played. These kids these days hear 1 joke about being ashy, scuffed shoes or not matching clothes and they are ready to go home and put a gun to their head. What happened to making fun back at people? Parents telling their kids “if someone tries to fight you go tell an adult”. smh really? SWING BACK! Remember the movie a christmas story when that red headed kid kept picking on ralphy until ralphy finally put his foot down? He beat the snot out of that boy. Yes its a movie but the point is all the same. Stand up for yourself!

    • elsebeth

      It was easier for generations before facebook and twitter. These
      kids are humiliating and beating each other up and putting it all online for the world to see. It’s never been easier to harass, bully or blackmail someone.
      That’s tough to handle as a teen. You can’t go around the corner and
      fight your enemy anymore, because once someone posts it online the cops
      get involved, and your life is pretty much ruined. This isn’t the old days.

    • VelvetStaccato

      The problem with your “swing back” theory is that, unlike when we were kids, we didn’t get arrested and thrown in jail for swinging back. Nowadays, they arrest children as young a 9 years old for acts of violence. Most school systems (and almost all teachers) have adopted a policy of “One Strike” so it’s self-defeating to tell our children to be ready to “man up” when the consquence they’ll face is more suitable for a man, not the child that they are! It’s our jobs as parents to stay in our kids’ business (yes, I said that, sans shame, mind you) and be proactive in a positive manner so that our children are not victims nor do they become perputrators of the same kind of bullying/violence. The sooner they learn to resolve issues without violence AND teachers start being more proactive in stopping bullying that many of them see but do nothing about, the better off our children will be and we won’t have to worry about them becoming productive members of society! I believe in my child standing up for himself but not at the expense of ruining his future by catching a charge for simply defending himself.

  • Curious

    Nice post. I get that you’re an educator but do you have children of your own? What type of community do you live in?