On bullies and social referencing and netflix

Yesterday I found myself home because I had to have a pelvic ultrasound to check on a fibroid I lovingly named Fred. He’s fine by the way, not that you really care but he has grown about 3 mm which accounts for the fact that I’ve been having ridiculous pregnancy dreams. But anyway, this post is not about Fred.

While home in the morning I found myself watching A Girl Like Her on Netflix. I almost turned it off because I thought to myself I must be some kind of masochist to watch a movie about a girl who tries to commit suicide because she’s been relentlessly bullied . But I didn’t turn it off, I watched. And it was quite possibly one of the most important movies I’ve seen in a long time on this particular subject. What I took away from it was just how a bully becomes a bully and about the fact that bullying happens in every part of human existence, not just middle school or high school.

My daughter watched the movie as well and it has sparked some incredible discussions on the matter. She found it very interesting that she felt sorry for the bully even though it was the girl who was bullied who tried to kill herself. And this is because at the end of the day the bullies don’t even know they’re being bullies most of the time. For real. They don’t know it until they see or until their brain develops enough that they can look back on it and understand what they did. As my daughter said, it wasn’t really all her fault. She couldn’t help it because that was what she knew. That was what she was exposed to in her life everyday. That was what she socially referenced to with regards to her actions.

Social referencing happens at a very young age, like infancy. Babies, when presented with an object, a toy, or a person will look to their parents or caregiver for feedback on how to react. If you look at the shiny new toy and smile and ooooh and aaaahhhh over it, the baby is more likely to do the same and to explore it in that way. If you react negatively to it, the baby will not engage with the toy or the person in a positive way. Imitation is born out of social referencing so the next step is for older infants and toddlers to imitate the actions of their parents or caregivers. If you give your friend a big hug then your toddler is apt to react positively to that person and likely to accept and give affection to them as well. If you react negatively such as making faces at them or talking badly about them, your child is apt to do the same. This happens as I say from a very young age.

So what happens in a family where one parent is constantly putting down the other or putting down a sibling or the sibling is putting down other siblings? What happens when kids go to the beach with their parents and they constantly hear them talk about a person in a bathing suit’s weight in a negative way? What happens when then you look on social media and there’s websites like People of Walmart where people are shown in not so favorable light and are picked on and made fun of brutally in a public forum. What happens when kids who have grown up socially referencing to bully behavior see examples of bullying wherever they look on social media and think it’s normal and it’s fine and it’s kind of funny and why not do it, my parents do, that person who has a job and a family does it? Who am I hurting anyway? In talking with my daughter, I asked her whether or not she sees the type of bullying we saw in the movie in her high school and she told me honestly no that it was worse in middle school but people generally don’t act that way in her high school. And then she said that she wasn’t really sure that people really do act the way the girl in the movie did, that maybe it was an over exaggeration of bullying. And I listened to that and thought, hmm, well maybe. But then I looked at a post on Amy Schumer’s facebook page and I determined that nope! Bullying to that horrific extent is alive and well and all over the place. And as we know, it’s not just happening in high school hallways, it’s happening everywhere. It’s happening to kids, teens, and adults. People on Amy Schumer’s posts called her everything from fat pig to cunt to fucking fat bitch to Ms. Piggy. They told her she might as well die because she’s not funny. They told her she was useless and shouldn’t even exist. And it’s not just happening to Amy Schumer. I went to a halloween party this past October dressed as Hillary Clinton (my husband was Donald Trump) and people called me dressed as Hillary horrible things. I could hardly stand to be Hillary for 2 hours, I can’t imagine how she deals with this shit daily and for years.

And people, our kids see this. They socially reference to this. When you bash people in such a horrible way with no regard to possible feelings or for the fact that the person on the other end is a human being, your kids begin to think the same. You may think it’s harmless when you say stuff about people you don’t agree with or don’t like but if you do it in a way that discounts that person as a human being with a human history and human feelings then you are growing a bully if you do it enough in front of your children. Or any children. I’m all done with parents asking what are the schools doing about bullying. What are you doing about bullying? What can you do this minute to stop the perpetuation of hate? Our kids need to see adults speak to others in rational, thoughtful, meaningful ways with respect and dignity even when we don’t agree or even particularly care for what they stand for or who they are. It comes from us. It comes from us in our daily lives, offline and online. I’m outraged by what I see on social media in the comments section and no I don’t think it’s funny, it’s terrible and disgusting and makes me want to vomit. End the cycle. Now.

This post sponsored by Fred who kept me home for a day.

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