Adults Unintentionally Teach Kids The “Art of Bullying”

 Video: Hockey Canada, “Golf”, “Relax, It’s Just A Game” Public Service Ad Campaign, 2004

Concerned about the level of adult bullying in kids’ hockey, the Canadian Hockey Association created a now-famous series of public service announcements called “Relax, It’s Just a Game.”  Beneath the humor of parent-child role reversals, parents discover how humiliating it is to be pressured and shamed to perform. If you’re a parent who’s ever spoken this way to your child (and we pretty much all have at some point), this video will make you uncomfortable. The take away message: when kids bully other kids, they have learned this behavior from the adults in their lives.

How would you feel being “instructed” that way, especially in front of your peers?? How do you think your kid might feel in that situation?

Here’s the irony. We’re actually trying to teach our kids something good – maybe even great. Persistence, better skills, tenacity, strength, focus, sticking with goals – these are all wonderful life skills for kids, in and out of sports, but the package these lessons come wrapped in is just as important as the lessons themselves. At the very least, adults diminish the efficacy of the lesson by pressuring and embarrassing kids. Over time, when kids know that this is the humiliating format in which these lessons are taught, they shut down, further weakening our connection and our influence – especially during the teen years, when they need our guidance the most.

There are several ways that adults show up as bullies or as the teachers of bullying in kids’ lives. Sometimes we bully kids directly, as in the “Golf” video, while trying to teach them some important life lesson or skill. More often, though, we just set bad examples for our kids. Adults tolerate bullying far too often and for far too long, in our workplaces and from our leaders. When we play the roles of [unwilling but accepting] targets or bystanders in our own adult lives, we silently teach kids the lesson that they can expect to be bullied at the hands of others when they grow up, and that they are expected to watch silently while others are bullied right in front of them.

Sometimes, adults bully other adults in front of kids – road rage, parents or ex-spouses fighting unfairly with each other, parents bullying teachers at school, and teachers and principals yelling at each other [yes, schools have typical workplace drama too]. This real life theater has our kids in the front row seats, learning lessons we don’t realize we’re teaching. Kids observe and think: “Hmm, this is what it’s like to be an adult.  When I get bigger, I can rage at anyone. I can do that. I’ll start practicing now, so I look adult and mature” [said in teen or child internal language, of course].

Taking a clear look at and becoming aware of our inadvertent roles as “professors of bullying” goes a long way towards identifying the problem. The next steps are committing to change, keeping our ears tuned for mistakes, and being willing to apologize and try again, with our mistakes guiding our growth.

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  1. It is the most heart breaking things to watch children who are bullied. I remember the day when I was “young” and some children were bullied by name calling, which was absolutely not pleasant for the rest of us. But nowadays, oh my, kids have to go through horror when they get bullied; so sad. I agree that parents play their part knowingly or unknowingly….

  2. Yes, it always boils down to “do as I do.” That is the only way children learn. They mimic what we do and so we have to really stand guard over our actions. Not easy but SO worth it! Nice post!

  3. Yes, I agree that parents play their part knowingly or unknowingly….I was bullied as a child and didn’t really have anyone to turn to at that time. Things have changed and many tools are now available but it does start at home! Great article! Thank you!

  4. I am so glad that bullying has come to the forefront. I can be one of the causes of an eating disorder! I’ve also written an article on bullying on my blog, Good job, Lorna.

  5. What a great thing you are doing to educate this world about bullying. It breaks my heart that people cannot just agree to disagree and treat each other respectfully. Life is too short to accept this behavior!

  6. Great way to view this problem so that all of us can see where we can improve our communication skills! Thanks for posting this.

  7. Well written and the subject matter really needs to be addressed more often. It breaks my heart that people have to hurt other people to feel important.

  8. Bullying is definitely not limited to children. This is a great reminder that we need to be attentive to all of our interactions and not just with children. Our actions teach them so much more than our words ever will.

  9. Bullying has got to stop but I am afraid that as long as people continue to be lovers of themselves and haters of the Absolute Truth it will not. Only with the Power Of Absolute Love can bullying stop.

    • Rex Jarvis on August 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks very much, I witnessed a lot of bullying at school and have to admit just stood by and let most if it happen through fear of reprisals. It’s a very difficult subject to tackle.

  10. Great cause!

    • Nathan Norris on August 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm
    • Reply

    I also Liked your facebook page and am following up on reading the site further after typing this. Bullying is truly a serious topic. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I commented and shared on every platform. It’s a cause I support and believe in. Thank you for sharing.

  12. This is such an important message. We have to lead our children by example, and the only way to do that is to be conscious of every word and every action and what they are teaching our children. Will be sharing this far and wide to help get the message out.

  13. This is such a Powerful post! Thanks for sharing! Unfortunately, children who used to be bullies sometimes never learn and are adults that bully. It is very sad.

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