By Armie Hammer – This Too Shall Pass: 

The Social Network’s Armie Hammer Discusses How Looking Toward the Future Can Make Today’s Bullying More Bearable

According to the American Justice Department, one out of every four children is bullied.  Studies show that those statistics leap for homosexual youth, who are bullied at an alarming four times the rate of heterosexual youth.  What’s more, 85% of children with disabilities are regular victims of social exclusion and verbal and physical abuse by their peers.  It doesn’t take a statistician or a news reporter to make clear that bullying is an epidemic among today’s children and youth.

Some argue that “mean children” have been around for years.  Others downplay the media’s focus on bullying by saying, “kids will be kids.”  I don’t subscribe to either of these whitewashing, blame-the-victim philosophies, though it is a fair question to ask:

If bullying happens to so many kids, how come only a few suffer dire consequences?

My first answer to this is to clarify that many kids suffer terribly at the hands of bullies.  Recent news stories have drawn attention to a disturbing rash of youth suicides.  Though it is true that not every badgered, teased, harassed, and bullied teen becomes suicidal, it is also true that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, after car accidents and accidental injury,both of which are sometimes euphemisms for reckless, suicidal teen behavior.  To many people, this is new news; the high rate of suicide in America’s young people is one of our country’s dirty little secrets.  My point is, more kids suffer dire consequences from bullying than most of us will ever fully know.

Still, what is it that affords resilience to some young people while others are driven to self-destruction?  It is an important question for parents to ask, since understanding the answer provides clues on how to protect their own children from the life-threatening impact of bullying.

Resilience literature talks about the importance of things like intelligence and creativity in strengthening a child, and champions the role of at least one consistent, loving caregiver in each child’s life.  These factors cannot be understated.  Another protective factor seems to be instilling a positive future orientation in each child.

What is a positive future orientation?  When a child is in the heat of the moment,facing intensely cruel physical and/or mental cruelty at the hands of his peers that makes school attendance unfathomable and daily life unbearable,is that child able to see beyond their current situation and believe that things will get better?  The ability to “take a long view” is difficult for young people who, by their very nature, live in the here and now.  Teaching kids to think about how things will be in the future is a critical factor in helping them move past the torturous moments of the present.

TV personality, Ellen DeGeneres, has been talking a lot lately in the media and on her daily talk show about bullying.  In particular, she has been asking her successful celebrity guests about their personal experiences with bullying.  Each and every one has had a story to tell about the bullies they faced and the pain they felt as the victims of peer abuse.  In this interview with Armie Hammer, star of The Social Network, the now-successful celebrity talks about how in the thick of being bullied, he used to think about how “life would be better when,”  Hammer actively engaged in a thought process that focused on a better future, rather than the terrible days immediately ahead:

See the clip

Instilling a “this too shall pass” mindset is critical in strengthening our kids to endure and persevere through difficult times.  Make it a habit to help your kids think about their future.  Ask them questions like:

  • What do you look forward to being able to do when you become a teenager?  When you turn 16?  When you go to college?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?  What do you need to do to get there?
  • Where do you think you might want to live?  Who would live with you?

The precise questions are not as important as the fact that you are helping your kids develop a view of their future and to stay focused on how life can be, as opposed to the realities of how it might feel in the present.

Protecting children from bullying is a complicated, multi-layered task.  Parents must fortify their children with coping skills and internal strengths to stand up to the bullying their will see, hear, observe, and receive.   Knowing how to take the long view and live with the faith that things can be better is a critical factor in helping kids withstand the here-and-now realities of their world.

Signe Whitson, LSW is the Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute and co-author of The Angry Smile

 

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