TRUTH: Bullies are Not Leaders
The summer of 2016 is one I will always remember, not because of a great vacation or joyous occasion, but because of the bully.
My 8 year-old daughter, "Kenzie", started the summer off with her usual perky quest to book the calendar with friend sleepovers and creative adventures.
Within the first few weeks, she went into entrepreneur mode and concocted a cupcake bakery, a nail salon, and a dog walking business. Her passion was fueled each time one of her neighborhood friends partook in the business experiments with her. The end result would always be incessant laughing and of course, a sleepover.
As June rounded the corner, Kenzie befriended a girl down the street who was a year older (we will call her Darcy). I thought it was odd that this girl had lived nearby and Kenzie had never mentioned her, until now.
The relationship bloomed fast, and the two girls were nonstop, along with the girl's younger sister, who was always present and always quiet. They bounced back and forth between houses, constant texting and face timing when they were apart, and eventually the sleepovers began. The girls were inseparable.
Then, the relationship went dark.
Kenzie has always been a free spirit. She soon ventured out to reconnect with some of her other friends who had returned from trips and other activities.
Unbeknownst to me, she encountered an increase in anxious texts and calls from Darcy. At one point, Kenzie mentioned this to me, and was bothered by the nature of the messages.
Halfway paying attention, I encouraged her to let Darcy know she just needed some space and to politely explain that she didn't feel like talking at the moment. Problem solved, right?
I later found out that the solution backfired.
Not only did the communication continue, Darcy's texts and calls intensified to outright harassment. 15 FaceTime calls in 15 minutes. Darcy recruited another girl, Sonya, who texted Kenzie repeatedly with harassing messages and threats on a minute by minute basis.
Kenzie became highly emotional at home and even had a breakdown during one of her sports practices. She had fallen apart. Her whole demeanor changed from bright and shiny to sad and pessimistic. I was alarmed at her sudden shift in outlook and her lack of motivation.
After confiscating Kenzie's iPad and seeing the venomous texts and infinite number of calls, I woke up. This wasn't some passing phase. Although I was extremely proud of my daughter's level of maturity in her responses, this was a real live bully situation, and it had to stop.
My husband sent a message to Darcy that Kenzie would not be communicating with her anymore, then he deleted all of the threatening messages and blocked her number. We were done with all of this "being nice stuff".
Over the next several days, we worked on a recovery process with Kenzie and even took a trip to Kings Island to somehow get our kid back. What helped her the most was talking through the experience, and understanding why Darcy had behaved the way she did. I wanted her to get that Darcy's actions had nothing to do with her.
My daughter knows that I work with leaders, so I gave her the truth about bullies, and a few critical leadership lessons from this experience:
1. Bullying is a learned behavior and a coping mechanism for people who are fearful.
2. Bullies are bullies because they are insecure about themselves and need to dominate others to feel secure.
3. Bullies recruit weak and fearful people (who eventually become cronies) to support their bullying work, and they condition their cronies through bullying.
4. Those "close" to bullies have learned to be quiet so they don't get injured.
5. Bully kids grow up to be bully adults and are difficult, if not impossible, to change.
6. Bully adults tend to bully their way into leadership positions.
7. Bullies are not leaders. They are bullies (and organizational wrecking balls).
Kenzie went back to school yesterday. As we stood at the bus stop in anticipation, I saw a bit of that glimmer and bright shine in my little girl.
"I hope I find a new friend today!"
My heart smiled. She was slowly coming back to herself, although at the end of the day she was still a little skeptical. Not quite 100% yet.
Today, I looked in her backpack, and she had the book, How Full Is Your Bucket? My heart yelled in triumph this time. The kid is on the road to recovery, and her goal is to encourage others through her harrowing experience. A few more percentage points for Kenzie! Still not 100%, but working her way up.
I want to continue this article next week because there are really a few parts to dealing with bullies. The first is understanding/awareness, and the second is how to address them.