Wearing Purple is Not Enough: 6 Concrete Ways to Combat Bullying

(I originally posted this on my Facebook Notes,’thinking it was too ‘personal’ for my blog. But after receiving enthusiastic commentary on Facebook, I thought it was worth re-posting  here.)

Along with many of you, I was urged to wear purple today in support of anti-bullying efforts, especially relating to LGBT youth.

As co-workers witnessed,  I wore brown and pink, rather than violet or lavender. Why was that? It was certainly not because I don’t support the cause but because I have already worn purple the last two days–on both literal and figurative levels–and my violet-hued clothes are in the laundry basket.

At the risk of sounding dismissive or critical of anyone who advanced the “wear purple” message today, I think we have to do so much more than put on a color. Wearing purple is not enough, just as outsourcing this problem to our educational system or expecting schools to handle this issue for us is not enough. We–parents and other concerned adults–have to take more ownership of the issue, we have to figure out why bullying transpires, we have to demonstrate without a doubt that we value differences,  we need to teach compassion and equip our children to graciously handle the life experience of being almost continuously one-up or one-down, especially in one’s youth.

You may point out that I don’t have special initials after my name that qualify me to speak about this. Well, there is my BSW, my PHR and the fact that I am a part of the LGBT  community. But most importantly, I am a MOM. As such, I have some thoughts. I  think that as parents and concerned adults, we need to:

1. Walk the walk. We need to model being open, accepting and welcoming, having genuine, beloved friends of all hues. Friends who are gay, straight, bi and all the other variations. Friends who have disabilities. Friends with opposite politics. Friends of other religions, socioeconomic status, races, cultures, national origins.

2. Talk the talk. Our kids need to hear us working for change, advancing progressive/welcoming policies, approaches and laws.They need to hear us speaking up for what we believe. They need to hear us speaking up when we hear a disturbing news story or a discriminatory joke. And it wouldn’t hurt if they heard us seeking out and appreciating a rich diversity of inclusive music, food, news, films, TV and other media.

3. Step in when needed, but also teach our children to take care of themselves. Bullies should be swiftly addressed, but we need to spend as much time thinking about the other side of the equation. Kids need to learn to graciously accept wins and losses, the ever changing alchemy of going from being [miraculously] accepted into the inner circle to just as often dealing with the reality of suddenly ending up on the outside, to back again.  The reality is that our child will not always be the most beautiful, gifted, talented, or popular at any given moment, because the popularity meter shifts constantly. We need to teach them to persevere despite rough times, to respectfully and assertively advocate for themselves, regardless of the scenario, while also advocating  for others, especially those less able to stand up for themselves.

4. Teach children to derive their feelings of self worth from their accomplishments; not from random, extrinsic attributes such as their looks, their clothing labels, the latest-and-greatest technology, being associated the ‘in crowd’ or living in a desirable zip code. [And of course, in order to teach this, we need to be modeling it at home.]

5. Partner with our schools and teachers.  A lot has been said about this already.

6. But most of all–and to summarize–teach our children to be kind. Teach empathy, kindness, compassion, openness.

I didn’t wear purple today because all my clothes of that color are in the wash, but also  because I think donning clothing of the requisite color is not nearly enough.  I can imagine so many people jumping on the bandwagon, putting on the color of the day, the flavor of the month, then going back to business-as-usual tomorrow, thinking that they’ve successfully furthered a cause.  I just don’t think so. We all need to do a little more, teach our children to see and experience the world–in all its glorious wonder– in new and different and inclusive ways.

Everything but business as usual.

But those are just my ideas. What do you think? What would make a difference in this tide of bullying we hear about on the daily news?  How can we teach our children to be more compassionate, inviting, inclusive?  Please share your ideas.

If you liked that post, then try these…

Life is Short: Eat More Chocolate by Kfrancis on June 28th, 2009
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Desired SuperPower: Extra Hours in my Day by Krista Ogburn Francis on July 12th, 2010
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