That's Beatrice. She's the big sister both in age and in size. Especially in size.
That's Bryce. She's the little sister. She's about a foot and a half shorter than Beatrice. They're only two years apart, but when they stand side by side, you'd think it was a much greater age difference.
It's then that Bryce lunges at Beatrice and hits her on the arm. Or on the back. Or on the leg. Or on the head.
Multiple things are happening here at once; the physics of sibling actions and reactions. One moment they're playing cooperatively and all friendly like, which thankfully is most of the moments to date, but then the next moment they're antagonizing each other, going at each other's throats. The oldest can goad her younger sister to spark confrontation and then the youngest is much more physical in her response.
Strike and retaliation and counter-strike. Again, not unusual for siblings. With positive discipline and Kidpower in play, we approach as follows:
- First we sportscast: "It looks like you have trouble solving your problem and you need help."
- Then we encourage them to set clear boundaries without painful retaliation: "Beatrice, you were experimenting with your power but were being unsafe with your words. And Bryce, good job setting your boundary, but make sure to use your trash can and just throw those words away without hitting back."
- Then we encourage them to play something else: "It looks like you both aren't playing the same game so maybe you should both do something different."
- Then lastly: "Can you check in with each other please?"
That last part helps them expand their empathy by ensuring each other are okay both physically and emotionally.
"Are you okay, Beatrice?"
"Yes. Are you okay, Bryce?"
I know what you're thinking: That's nice, but sometimes you gotta be firmer than that. That's where I still gravitate sometimes; it's tough to rise above canceling out a negative with an even stronger negative.
But even I've come a long way from my childhood and I know how it works. I see how it works. The Mama sees how it works and helps to teach us all. And yet, we do have to be firmer sometimes when the girls are way out of bounds. We get mad and yell. We're human. It happens.
When it happens in the confines of home we can learn and grow from it and use our trash cans and throw all that crap away.
Except when it comes from outside the home and that crap is online. When it arises from simply being different and being made fun of, or for making a mistake that you end up paying for over and over and over again.
When "you're an idiot" becomes a painful brand inflicted continuously by legions of cyberbullies and haters. And it's even worse when you're a woman. I read a recent rare interview via The Guardian with Monica Lewinsky, the woman who had an affair with then President Bill Clinton back in the late 1990's. Of course I'm not condoning the what happened between them, and when I imagine it being one of my daughters, I'm sure one of my first thoughts would be you're an idiot.
But then we'd be there for her to help her work through it all and to help her heal and move on. That's no easy trick today considering how much abuse individuals much less iconic than Monica have to put up with online. From the fallout and abuse she still receives today, from both men and women, she's now a respected and perceptive anti-bullying advocate. In fact, she helps out many different organizations including Bystander Revolution, a site that offers video advice on what to do if you’re afraid to go to school, or if you’re a victim of cyberbullying.
The writer of the above article pointed out something that as a parent of girls cuts me to the core:
"I noticed something similar during my two years interviewing publicly shamed people. When a man is shamed, it’s usually, 'I’m going to get you fired.' When a woman is shamed it’s, 'I’m going to rape you and get you fired.'"
I'm going to rape you and get you fired. Jesus H. Christ. It's not enough just to bully the individual, because when it's a woman, you're going to throw in a violent crime to raise the hater power stakes.
When it comes to our children and teens, this is where we must start educating on what cyberbullying is and the harm it causes to all of us. Kidpower, the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, has some great tips on how to do just that including asking kids who are actively using technology for communication what they already know about cyberbullying. They usually have a lot of information and strong ideas. Ask if this has ever happened to them or anyone they know. Make sure that the young people in your life know that:
- Cyber-bullying means using computers, mobile phones, or other technology to hurt, scare, or embarrass other people. Cyber-bullying gets people in serious trouble at school and also with the law. In a growing number of places, certain forms of cyber-bullying are illegal.
- Being mean is being mean, no matter how you do it. Don’t ask if it’s funny. Ask if it will make someone unhappy.
- Even if you think someone was mean to you, being mean back is not a safe way to handle the problem. Instead, get help from an adult you trust.
- Have the courage to speak up if you notice anyone cyber-bullying. Say that this is wrong and that you are not going to keep it a secret.
- Use privacy settings, but never post anything in social medial or send anything out electronically that you don’t want the world to see.
- If you get an upsetting message or see something that is attacking you: Do not reply. Do not delete. Save the message, get a screen shot, print it if you can and get help from an adult you trust. If one adult does not help you, keep asking until you get the help you need.
Again from the above article: Lewinsky has advice for bystanders, too: “Don’t bully the bully. It doesn’t move the conversation forward. I see bullying as similar to cutting. People who cut are trying to localise their pain. I think with bullying, people are suffering for myriad reasons and are projecting it. Instead of cutting themselves, they’re cutting someone else.”
That's positive and quite progressive, something I'd struggle with being the father of a victim of so much visceral hate. Just as I wrote earlier this year about hateful online trolling and the site called Yik Yak, Kidpower also offers up another eight important skills on how to face bullying with confidence.
Skill #2, which is all about "leaving in a powerful, positive way," recommends that the best self-defense tactic is called "target denial." In other words, "don’t be there." Or as I like to call it -- change the channel, kids. Turn the channel and don't give "them" any more power than they already have. I do it all the time, especially online. This doesn't mean I wouldn't face an oppressor and stand up for myself, and there are many options and flavors of defensive responses including physical self-defense if ever needed.
That's really tough advice to give, I know. I'm still conflicted because I'll defend our girls no matter what -- both the Mama and I will -- and we want them to do the same for themselves. And in the same breath of me saying "turn the channel" I sometimes want to say "smack them back."
But instead of a world where victims and haters refer to each other as idiots, regardless of how much we want to believe otherwise about the latter, we should do a lot more checking in with one another before we wreck it all to hell. Because if we're not playing the same game, then for goodness sake do something else.
Like read a book. Adopt a pet. Plant a garden. Go for a walk. Don't be an idiot.