Saturday, June 18, 2016

Grown-up Bullies

Three years ago my parents decided to move into an assisted living facility (ALF) while they were still able to make their own decisions, get around, and make new friends.  My dad was the gregarious, outgoing one, he never forgot a name or a face.  That man could talk to a post.  My mom is the meek, quiet one who depended on Dad to meet people and provide the friendships in their couple relationship. Unfortunately, just one short year after moving into the ALF my dad passed away leaving my mom to figure out the friendship thing on her own. Mom is trying. She puts herself out there each day in the dining room, at the Bingo table, and on the facility bus trips around town. It is her experiences in each of these situations that  have brought to the front of my consciousness the fact there are grown-up bullies. Whether it is the nasty comments by a child hating table mate when my Mom had her great grandson of 8 have dinner with her, or the saving of seats at Bingo and telling my Mom you can't sit here, this seat is for "Velma" (who never comes), or the rude comments, to her face, because Mom took the full 90 minutes scheduled for the Wal-Mart bus run when the other residents were ready to go in 60. I help kids with this sort of thing everyday, but I was unprepared to help my Mom deal with her bullies.

Now you are probably thinking, I knew there were adult bullies I work with several or listened to one rant on the phone last week.   Of course, you can  just turn on the TV or listen to talk radio and find bullies too.  I guess I always thought of those things as adults with opposite views loudly expressing their opinions.  Although I know bullies are not just children making fun of or excluding one another, it was my mother's predicament that got me thinking about the bullies at every age and the grown-up bullies I realized I have dealt with this past school year.

As I considered my Mom's experiences, and my own, I came up with 4 types of adult bullies I have dealt with this year. Your experiences, however, may have taught you there are more.

The Boss:   This person thinks they are the boss of you, the teachers, the school. and well, the world actually.  They "know" what is right for you and everyone else and are not afraid to tell you to your face.  They point out everything that is wrong with a situation, but fail to take any responsibility for their part in it. They are part of the problem, never part of the solution.   I think of a recent phone call with a mom regarding the "bullying" of her daughter.  This parent DEMANDS I set up a meeting with the offending child and her mother so they can all meet and deal with this. She tells me there is no law that prevents me from doing that. And I will do it. Now you and I both know THAT is a recipe for disaster!  This mom was quite insistent until I quoted district and state statute about the process for handling complaints of bullying.  Then she backed down.  Strategy:  Remain calm and know your state and district policies.  Always do what's best for all kids no matter what the adults want. 

The Condescender: This is the most closed-minded of bullies.  They are visibly angry most of the time and their tone of voice is frightening. Everyone who is different than them is a target.  Whatever your gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status, it doesn't matter.  If you are different than the Condescender you are a target for verbal abuse and ridicule. My poor intern and I had to meet with a family where the dad was a Condescender.  She was quite sure he would pull out a gun and shoot us, he was really that hostile.  Very little was addressed about the problem with his child, but we heard plenty about all the other "losers" in our school and in the world. Now personally, I love this kind of conference.  I take it as a personal challenge to turn the situation around.  Did I change this Condescender? No, but we were able to reach an understanding.  Strategy:  Show no fear, be the best listener you can be, and find some common ground you can agree on. It is not important to be right.

The Thug:  This bully is not necessarily a thug like you might think of in a stereo-typical-criminal sort of way.  I use the term to denote power, might, and intimidation. Like an enforcer.  This person may be physically large or hold an important position in the school or community, or think they do.  When meeting with you they refuse to sit, but rather stand over you looking down, making references about who they know, who will hear about this meeting, what their attorney has said, and which TV station they are going to call.  Stategies: Always match their posture whether sitting or standing, listen more than you talk, remain calm, take notes, and only say things you can back up. Remember, in most cases, it's all just a lot of  talk.

The Sneak:  This bully is a very dangerous grown-up bully.  The trouble with the Sneak is you don't know about them until it is too late. This person is nice to your face, always polite and respectful. You may not see this person as a friend, maybe more like a friendly acquaintance, but you certainly don't see them for the toxic "pot stirrer" that they are.  However, what is said behind your back, in emails, texts, Facebook, and in private conversations to other faculty or parents is shocking.  You wonder what did I do to them?  Maybe they didn't get their way, they don't like the way you responded to a situation, or who knows?  Maybe they have issues of their own or just like the attention.  After all, why does anyone bully?  Strategies: Stay out of the fray.  Maintain your dignity, rise above their petty gossip, and trust that your honest and trustworthy actions speak for themselves. 

Have you encountered grown-up bullies?  At home, at work, in life?  Maybe you just thought of them as difficult colleagues or parents. How would you describe those you have met in your role as a School Counselor or even as member of the grown-up world?   It's easy to get discouraged and feel threatened in our jobs and personal lives by these bullies.  I know that's how my Mom feels. Now she just wants to hide in her apartment and not come out. So what did I tell my Mom?  What any good School Counselor  and daughter would say. Stand up for yourself, use your words, and stay strong! I'm here if you need me!


  1. In my school the adult bullies are some of the teachers! Not a good situation :(

  2. Unfortunately, you both are right. We really don't think much about the adults we work with as being bullies, but little bullies grow up to be big bullies. If only we are able to take the skills for handling bullies we teach our students and apply them to our adult situations, maybe we can handle them more effectively.

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