Like most of you, I witnessed the sad and heart-wrenching video clip of young Keaton Jones as he shared his experiences with bullying. Although there has been lots of backlash and anger as a result of his mother’s actions since the release of the video, it doesn’t change the seriousness of the effects of bullying and the fact that this is the reality for many children today.
As I watched him speak about the hurt, pain, and confusion caused by bullies at his school with tears rolling down his face it immediately brought me back to my own experiences of being bullied as a child. As a former professional athlete, most people that look at me would probably never guess that I too was once a victim of bullying. As the great Maya Angelou wrote, “ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s the truth. No matter who you become in life, bullying and the feeling that comes from it are one of those things you never forget. Like Keaton, I could never understand why I was called an African booty scratcher, made fun of for my clothes, and laughed at for the things I couldn’t control like how much I sucked at basketball. As I look back I realize that a lot of it was just part of being a kid, discovering your identity, and the immaturity of not understanding the value of being different. I’m sure that most kids have no idea of the damage caused by bullying, bringing someone down by laughing at them, or not speaking up to show support. I have also been in the position of being a bully because of someone I didn’t like as well. Although I knew it was wrong to be ugly to someone, in some weird way I made myself believe that they somehow deserved that type of treatment. The group I surrounded myself with at the time justified my beliefs and I acted on them without thinking twice. As I recall both sides of my experience, I am left with the thought of how to keep incidents like this from ever happening again.
I have also been in the position of being a bully because of someone I didn’t like as well. Although I knew it was wrong to be ugly to someone, in some weird way I made myself believe that they somehow deserved that type of treatment. The group I surrounded myself with at the time justified my beliefs and I acted on them without thinking twice. As I recall both sides of my experience, I am left with the thought of how to keep incidents like this from ever happening again.
Regardless of which side you have been on, I believe there is a responsibility that comes with the experiences you have in life. When it comes to bullying there is a responsibility to guide, to teach, and to make sure that no other child has to go through the same thing. I believe that prevention starts right at home. There is no amount of academia or programming that can replace the role of parenting. As the father of a beautiful little girl, my goal is to do everything I can to prepare my daughter when it comes to facing life’s greatest challenges by giving her the right tools to protect herself against things like bullying and more importantly making sure she never becomes one. I realize that although this is something she may or may not learn about in school, it is up to me to make sure it becomes part of who she is not just by telling her the right way, but by modeling what it looks like to be a good person as well.
I believe the first step to supporting your child or any child when it comes to bullying is to make sure that you are instilling the right values in them, especially self-confidence. If children do not feel valued by their support system or given a sense of self-worth from those who they love most then any child they come in contact with will be able to have a field day with their emotions. You must have constant communication with your child and be a powerful force in educating them on who they are. It’s so important to let your child know that they can freely talk to you when it comes to any of their struggles.
Let’s face it, pretending like bullies will just go away if you tell your child to just ignore them, thinking that you can get angry at the other child, or complain to school administration will never completely solve the problem. Luckily for Keaton, he was able to have an overwhelming amount of support from celebrities and other influencers around the world but think about how many kids there are with this same exact story. Its bigger than Keaton. No amount of social media support or hashtags can solve the overall issue. It is our job as parents to equip our children with the mindset to know that nothing another child says to them has to define them or have the final word on their life.
It is also our job as parents to make sure that our children operate with respect and care for others. Leadership starts and ends with us! We, of course, can’t advise anyone if we ourselves aren’t practicing what we preach. More than anything you can say to your child, the way you live your life will serve as the greatest teacher. The way you interact with those who you don’t like, the way that you handle conflict, and your overall perspective on life has a major impact on your child whether you realize it or not.
Another important thing to consider is the fact that bullying and the effect that it has on others doesn’t just go away once you leave school. If not a child in school, then it will eventually be a colleague or supervisor at work. It may even end up being someone that you are in a relationship with, which is why it is so important that we teach our children the importance of character and how to manage those who are full of negativity.
Besides building the right values and mindset we must guide them in selecting the right friends. My message to my daughter is to understand that she will become whomever she surrounds herself with most. She may only be nine years old, but I make sure to talk to her about who her closest friends are and the dynamics of their friendship. Is it a friend who is only around you because of how you look? Is it a friend who changes on you every other day? We discuss every aspect of the relationship along with how to separate from them if interactions with them repeatedly lead to conflict.
The most important thing to remember is that this is an everyday challenge and as parents, we must never let up. Bullying may not end, but you can certainly give your child the right tools to neither partake nor be affected by it.
Rennie Curran is a speaker, personal development coach, entrepreneur, and the author of “Free Agent” — Intangible Assets For Overcoming Adversity and Times of Transition.” You can follow him on Twitter @RennieCurran53, Instagram @RennieCurran, or visit his website at www.RennieCurran.com.