Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
Discovery Institute, P.A. Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County
For some people, my next suggestion for trying to prevent your child from becoming a bully might be a bit obvious. For other parents, however, this is just not something that we think about or if we do, we don’t realize the impact it can have, as well as how much our children are exposed to this factor. I’m talking about your children viewing aggressive material through different forms of media and in person. If you compare the shows and games that are available and popular now to the ones that were 20 or even just 10 years ago, you will notice that a higher percentage of them are violent now than they were in the past. Because we are inundated with violence, it makes it difficult for many parents to limit the amount that children see.
No matter how difficult, however, it is important to limit the amount of aggressive behavior your children see. Children should not be watching television shows, movies or cartoons or playing video games that are violent. Although most older children should be able to tell the difference between a movie or game in which people get hurt and there are no consequences and real life, young children and even some older children have a hard time with this. This results in children not fully understanding the impact that violence has on the victim and others. Although we want children to act appropriately due to internal reasons such as knowing it is wrong, this will not be the case for many children, especially younger ones. According to Kohlberg, the biggest factor that keeps children from engaging in immoral behavior is if they believe they will be punished for the behavior. Media does not always show consequences for the aggressive behavior, and when they do, it may not be in a form that is easily recognized and understood by a child. In addition, repeated exposure desensitizes children (and even adults) to violence to the point where it seems commonplace and acceptable.
Even more important than limiting viewing time of media portrayals of violence is preventing your children from seeing aggressive behaviors in person, especially between parents or other people that the child looks up to. One of the most prominent ways children learn is by example and it is important for your children to be surrounded by positive role models. The more violent behavior your child witnesses within the home and community, the more likely they are to engage in that behavior as well. This link is even stronger than the one between violent behavior in children and media portrayals of violence.
If you are unable to limit this for whatever reason or the child has already been exposed to aggressive behaviors, talk with the child in order to convey that these behaviors are not acceptable in real life. Talk with children about the consequences of violence to all involved. Make it clear that if your child engages in physically aggressive behavior, there will be consequences for them and let them know what those consequences will be. These consequences should be appropriate in terms of the child’s age and the severity of the behavior and also keep in mind that this punishment should not be physical, such as spanking. It is essential that you follow through with these consequences when your child engages in aggressive behavior so they learn that you mean what you say and for the consequence to have the intended effect of limiting this behavior.
If you are in the Rockledge area and looking for a counselor I would be happy to talk with you.