Arlene is on the SCENE

Empathy and Bullying

Posted on: February 21, 2013

Just watched Emily Bazelon talk about her new book about empathy and bullying on Steven Colbert‘s show. Loved what she said and can’t wait to read the book.

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One of the things that caught my attention was her argument that we are probably now overusing the term bullying. I had a personal experience that made me think the same thing. Well, my daughter had the experience. I just screamed from the sidelines.

Emily had it right when she said “drama” can be mistaken for “bullying.” My daughter got caught up a couple of years ago in a major shifting of alliances within her social group. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. A canyon suddenly splits your circle right down the middle, and you either jump on one side or you get sucked into a black hole by yourself. What made the situation so much worse is that the word bullying was suddenly being thrown about, and school staff grabbed on and ran with it. Soon, my daughter was being summoned to the principal’s office, being lectured about not being a bully. No call to me, nor to the other parents, who by the way were all talking about what was happening, working together to help the girls navigate through this sticky mess. It was startling how fast this thing got escalated.

I think Emily has it right. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive. The concept of empathy should be in every character education curriculum, which should be in every school from the moment those kids walk through the doors. And when I talk to kids at schools around the country, I always talk about “practicing empathy.” Let’s be honest, it doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes we have to stop ourselves and think about the best way to respond in a situation, the empathetic way. So we need to talk to kids about it, and give them concrete examples. Empathy means listening, reflecting, asking questions, eye contact. In my presentations lately the kids and I have been role-playing empathetic responses, and it feels right to present it as something we can actually learn to do, for those times when it doesn’t just bubble up on its own.

We as parents and teachers can model empathy, and perhaps more importantly, point out concrete examples, especially to our youngest. Plant the seeds early on, and by the time our kids get to that jungle they call middle school, they will be empathy experts!

 

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