Beyond her own acceptance that she somehow deserved this treatment, there are factors that Nao cannot control: primarily the lack of critical knowledge withheld by her parents who conspire to enforce the victim mindset, and witnessing her father’s demoralizing behavior after he supposedly lost his job in California. But one pivotal point saves her: she owns her inner strength, empowering her. She herself knows that she has this “superpower”, as she states herself, thinking about her life that she “…grew up in Sunnyvale, in my heart I’m American, and I believe I have a free will and can take charge of my own destiny.”(page 2,003), but it is her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, who gives her the gift of insight.
Two things are going on here: one, Nao does not have the skills to fight back against the bullies until she steps outside the acceptable role she has been forced into, and, two, it is vital that parents and teachers and family reinforce self-worth in a child and teach life skills. Nao’s mother, beleaguered by marital and economic crises, does go to the school once she discovers the physical wounds all over her daughter’s body, but, as so often happens, confronting the principal, making a scene, only worsened the situation for Nao; there was no agreement that the situation would change or that there would be consequences for those who participated in the bullying, and no follow-up. Nao’s mother merely threw a Nerf ball at the problem; but fortunately for Nao, her parents had the good sense to send her to the temple where her grandmother lived for the summer. Although this is a fictional account of a young woman’s travail, it is too often the scenario that bullied children endure.
Oh, sure, blame the victim. It seems more than unfair to put all the responsibility back onto the very one who is being targeted, but the truth is only by changing one’s attitude, internalizing “NO!” can the victim step outside the reality of being victimized. Ultimately, Nao could choose to live her life without blame, through enlightenment, or continue down the self-destructive path. This is a lot of responsibility for a teenager, to determine the course of her life when she has the victim mind set.
How can a parent differentiate typical teen angst and drama from serious self-worth issues? That is the most daunting task for a parent, because there are few teenagers who will confide in a parent that he or she is being bullied. Physical signs of abuse--bruising, scarring, withdrawal, anxiety, avoidance behaviors, food issues, change of habits, and deteriorating grades--are certain red flags. A parent must initiate the conversation with reassurance that the child will not be judged, that you, the parent, will listen respectfully, and discuss the course of action to be taken on behalf of your child. Physical abuse is never to be tolerated, but there are many methods of mental abuse including taunting, name-calling, shunning and stalking. The most insidious bully game now is cyberbullying and cyberstalking through social media sites.
While not every child who is bullied has an advocate who is a Buddhist nun, parents can be role models for children, primarily by treating the child with respect and expecting respect from the child. I would not tell my child that he or she could hit, punch, pinch, bite or swear but I would give permission to fight back with words or attitude; if, and only if, threatened with physical violence, then strike back. The one empowering ploy for my child was taking a program in self-defense; although she never had to use it, she knew she had the physical strength and skill to defend herself. The important change was her attitude, her vibes made it clear that she would not be anyone’s victim.
I outlined in a previous article what parents and educators can do. It bears repeating. It is in the school classrooms and especially on the playground where a child is most likely to be bullied. It is the primary arena where teachers, principals, crossing guards and supervisors can effectively intervene. Aggressive behavior cannot be ignored or shrugged off as something that children must learn to deal with--bullying is never a normal experience for children. There is a difference between conflict resolution and bullying; and that must be clearly defined, stated and enforced by teachers, cafeteria workers, crossing guards, playground supervisors, parents, and the students themselves.
Awareness of the problem can be highlighted in the classroom by the teachers openly discussing the effects that bullying has on others. The act of isolating a target, making a child vulnerable to taunts, physical and emotional abuse has to be clearly stated and outlined as unacceptable behavior. Oftentimes, students stand by, not knowing how to help another child who is being attacked verbally or physically, and both the target and bystander suffer from anxiety, fear and insecurity. This has severe consequences on concentration and feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.
Another way of helping children to understand the effects of harassment is by role playing; having the student act as the target, and reverse the role and be the bully. This can be done in the classroom with the teacher participating in the discussion and redirecting the aggressive behavior towards resolving a conflict, or as a written assignment. Children can be told it is okay ignore the jibes, walk away, say “NO!”, or get adult intervention for a physical threat. Adults must be available and understand it is important for a child to have protection against the bully. The school administration must have and enforce a policy against all forms of bullying, even having students sign pledges that they will not participate or tolerate bullies. A parent can role play at home, literally and figuratively standing behind your child and encouraging the child to stand tall, speak up, speak out, and take ownership of the power of “NO!” Let that be the mantra that changes the mindset of the lamb to the mindset of a lion.