I think we all know how influential our peers are in our growth.
As a teacher, I know I have seen the impact of peers influencing others in a positive way far less often than I see them influence others negatively. We even coined the term: ‘Peer Pressure.’ It's usually not positive peer pressure that we ever really think about, it's all of those negative pressures that peers put on each other.
So why, then, was I surprised when someone so dear to me told me his inner voice was the meanest when he was being teased by his peers?
Why was I surprised that what started out as a funny ribbing here and there became emotional bullying, and broke his confidence, little by little?
Why is the person I see sitting across from me at the dinner table, or in front of his computer screen struggling to see himself (quite literally) as the caring, funny, thoughtful, empathetic boy that I see and know so deeply?
It's because of his peers, his peers have told him that he's a crybaby, that he makes things up, he's a liar, that he's not good at this or that. No mom can counter the voices of those peers - day in and day out - telling that child those things that he sees as truths. If I could quiet those inner voices I would, and I assure you my husband and I have tried, but he keeps coming back to what he hears. The voices of his peers who have become his inner voice of self doubt. We all have big emotions, and boys especially are not allowed to show them.
I write this with permission from my child.
I talk with him about that inner voice, and how powerful it can be. The power comes from who we believe we are, and he saw himself as a good friend, a kind person, a funny kid, but when you are 8, 9, and 10, even 11 or 12 (gosh, maybe always…), those outer voices that are most negative tend to become our inner voices.
We all have those inner voices, as I have told my son, “Even me, buddy. It’s just that I've learned to talk to them, I've learned to make them quiet on occasion,” but we all have those inner voices, and we call them, ‘self doubt.’
I know there are a lot of strategies for how to help students and children with bullying, but not all bullying is obvious, or happens often enough for adults to see. Think about your inner voice, of self doubt. Whose voices are they, really?
Are they a peer who judged you?
Are they a teacher who didn't believe in you?
Are they a family member who cut you down?
Who are you today, and what influences you?
I spent years working with a variety of student leaders, many of whom were not in my leadership program, and trying to counter the negative inner voices for them, and with them. Yet when I walked out into the halls of school, I would see their peers justifying and amplifying those negative thoughts.
It’s silly, but I guess I didn't realize just how powerful those voices are. I should have known from personal experience.
Even some little jab or sarcastic remark that is meant to be silly and funny can be internalized, and prevent someone who is so capable of being a strong leader from seeing themselves as such. It’s truly heartbreaking.
Here’s what I am going to do about it, and hopefully you will too.
I will stop my classes tomorrow, and ask them to turn to their neighbor, and say something nice, even if it's, “I'm glad to see you today.” If you are teaching remotely, ask them to send a chat to a person in class. These little things can amplify your inner voice of self confidence.
We give advice to students who are being bullied: walk away, don’t engage.
We tell others to be upstanders.
We also say that bullies are hurting, and probably being bullied by somebody else.
What if we offer a word of kindness? What if we shed some light on each other's positives?
Don't walk away, say something nice to that bully.
Upstanders: Don't just defend those who are being bullied, point out their positive qualities, and the bullies positive qualities.
Words have such power to hurt, and they can cut us deep! They can last forever…
They also have such an amazing power to lift us up. Why not choose this option instead.