From Victims to Victors

A school counselor's thoughts on the bullying "epidemic"

As I was sitting in my doctor's office waiting to hear my name called, I noticed a headline on the November 30, 2009, edition of Time Magazine that immediately drew me into the cover story. It was titled "The Case Against Overparenting." The cover image showed a child suspended by strings like a marionette, and within the article was another picture of a well-intentioned mother wrapping her son in bubble-wrap as he prepares to go off on some adventure.

Many of us are overparenting our kids. As a nation, we are postmodern and increasingly void of moral absolutes. Whatever I say/believe about myself, life, and others is fine as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. We have money, time, information, and technology at our disposal. Parents feel like taxi drivers, appointment keepers, money trees, and therapists these days as they are desperately trying to be all, and give all to their kids. Many parents are living under the belief that their children should not be exposed to struggle or experience pain.

The Time article used a term that I believe was first coined by Foster Cline and Jim Fay and used in their excellent book Parenting with Love and Logic about 20 years ago. "Helicopter pilot parents" are parents who hover over their children, living to protect and serve their children at the first sign of need or want. Our sincere desire to completely protect our children is profoundly impacting their social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual growth. Children of helicopter pilot parents do not grow up to understand accountability. They are not resilient and often act as if they are entitled to everything they desire, even when they clearly are not. When it comes to our response to bullying, I believe many parents, administrators, and politicians are dealing with the issue like "helicopter pilot parents."

As a school counselor, I have noticed that bullying is a constant topic of discussion among many parents, a few teachers, and (due to the rash of anti-bullying laws) all school administrators. Bullying has been on the forefront of the American psyche since the Columbine tragedy. News media thoroughly cover the stories of students who are victims of bullying. In some cases, bullying contributes to suicide victims' feelings of hopelessness and despair—and authorities have even pursued criminal charges for bullies. My heart goes out to the families and friends who grieve these tragic losses.

However, I will contend that our collective response to these tragedies is out of proportion when applied to kids in general. Instead of treating all kids like victims of bullying and begging bullies to be nice, we need to build up and equip the targets of bullying. These are the people who want things to change. These are the pupils who are teachable. We need to start by backing off the "helicopter pilot" style and giving students tools to deal with people who are mean to them. When these tools are used correctly, bullying will cease and we will have socially competent, confident, and resilient young people living their lives.

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